Page last updated at 16:21 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 17:21 UK

Sentencing plan attack rejected

Henry Mcleish
Mr McLeish said people would back moving away from short jail terms

The independence of judges will not be threatened by the Scottish Government's proposals for a sentencing council, a former Labour first minister has said.

Henry McLeish also backed ministers' plans to phase out short-term prison sentences, with a presumption against jail terms of six months or less.

Scotland's top judges have said the proposals would compromise the independence of the judiciary.

They are part of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill.

Under the plan the sentencing council would draw up sentencing guidelines, with judges asked to explain any decision to ignore them.

Mr McLeish, who last year chaired the Scottish Prisons Commission, was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's justice committee, which is scrutinising the legislation.

'Payback' measures

The two top judges, Lord Hamilton, the Lord Justice General, and Lord Gill, the Lord Justice Clerk, have said the government's proposals could be unconstitutional.

But Mr McLeish told MSPs on the committee: "I think there will be a natural response from the bench to the perception that the government or parliament wants to meddle in what they regard as their sphere of activity."

He went on to say the public would be "sympathetic" to moving away from shorter jail terms, if they saw greater use of "payback" measures through tougher, community sentences, while arguing they wanted "harder, stiffer" sentences for more serious crimes.

"What people throughout Scotland want is a long-term future where they don't have so much fear of crime," added Mr McLeish.

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