Postcode Justice; Plea Bargaining 'Is Root Cause of Inconsistent Sentencing'

By Barnes, Eddie | Daily Mail (London), December 9, 2002 | Go to article overview

Postcode Justice; Plea Bargaining 'Is Root Cause of Inconsistent Sentencing'


Barnes, Eddie, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: EDDIE BARNES

THE scandal of postcode justice is exposed today as we uncover the shocking inconsistency in the way sheriff courts treat criminals.

Official Crown Office figures show serious offenders in some parts of Scotland are three times more likely to have their sentence reduced than those in other areas.

Sheriff courts can hand down sentences of up to three years for crimes such as serious assault and fraud, but their disposals differ hugely depending on their location.

In Glasgow, 42 per cent of serious cases which reached the sheriff court last year were not heard, but 'bargained' away on the day of trial.

In such cases, defence lawyers persuaded the Crown to accept a guilty plea to lesser charges, resulting in a lesser sentence.

The comparable figure inein Grampian is a mere 15 per cent, nearly three times fewer than in Glasgow.

The city's remarkably high figures will fuel claims that its prosecutors accept plea bargains simply to get cases out of the way.

Politicians last night warned that the situation was intolerable and said it proved the price of crime was now weighed, not by its seriousness, but on where the crime was committed.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Bill Aitken said: 'These figures are extremely concerning.

The fact that so many cases are being plea bargained demonstrates that the Crown Office and procurators fiscal are not able to cope.

'In Glasgow, where you may have a huge number of cases each day, it is hardly surprising that, to get rid of the cases, a plea is accepted. This is contrary to the idea of justice.' Paul Martin, Labour MSP for Glasgow Springburn, said: 'Plea bargains should be used only if the criminal justice system demands it and not because of pressure.

'I will be seeking assurances from the Lord Advocate that plea bargaining is not being treated differently in Glasgow because of the volume of cases. …

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