Thank you very much for allowing me to address the committee. I had a bit of an information technology failure last night and have had to resort to pen and paper this morning, so you will excuse me if I have to pause to read my notes.
I want to address the idea behind the petition by, first of all, looking at some of the reasons why we do not have whole-of-life sentencing on our current statute book and then developing my argument for why we should have such sentences. I came up with four reasons why whole-of-life sentences might not be on our statute book. The first reason that is mentioned is that judges can already effectively sentence for whole of life. Secondly, according to Parole Board for Scotland figures for this year, 73 per cent of life prisoners are not recommended for release. Thirdly, the opportunity for release is required to give prisoners hope and to facilitate their rehabilitation. Finally, the current sentencing regime is a sufficient deterrent.
I will look at those reasons in turn. On the point that judges can effectively sentence for whole of life, I have done some research and can see that that is true. However, the only example that I can find is the World’s End murders, for which Angus Sinclair was sentenced to 37 years; he was 69 at the time of sentencing, so he will be 106 before he will be eligible for parole. The 37-year sentence is therefore largely symbolic, given that he had been at large for 37 years. As I have said, that is the only example that I can find where anything approaching a whole-of-life sentence has been given by a Scottish judge. We can do it, but it does not happen in practice.
On the point that 73 per cent of life prisoners are not recommended for release, which, as I have said, I took from this year’s Parole Board for Scotland report, I note that that report also says that of the 27 per cent that were recommended for release, 38 licences or 14.9 per cent were reviewed—in other words, the people who were let out on licence had to be recalled. Twenty-two or 8.6 per cent of those prisoners were recalled to custody, and 11 or 4.3 per cent were not re-released.
Having looked at some of the English statistics—and I have to say that England has a more comprehensive package of statistics available to the public than the Scottish system—I note that the reoffending rate for violent criminals was approximately 20 per cent, and 20 per cent of that 27 per cent bring us back to that magical 5 per cent number. It equates to the 4.3 per cent or the 11 who according to our Scottish figures were not released. That means that 5 per cent of life prisoners are released and go on to reoffend, and it is that 5 per cent that my petition seeks to target.
The third reason that I highlighted for not putting whole-of-life sentences on the statute book was that the opportunity for release is required to give hope and facilitate rehabilitation. In broad terms, you have to agree with the logic: if you want effective rehabilitation, there has to be some hope. However, I come back to the 5 per cent that I mentioned. Those who disregard the rehabilitation on offer, who show that they have no intention of rehabilitating, who have been through a life sentence and who, when released, go on to reoffend yet again—that 5 per cent—are the people whom we want to target with our petition. Those are the people whom we see as being appropriate for whole-of-life sentencing.
The last reason is that there is sufficient deterrent in current sentencing. I like statistics, and I looked through the Scottish statistics for this year to try to justify that argument and to find out whether current sentencing appeared to be a deterrent. I compared the statistics for 2004-05 and 2011-12, just because they are complete—I know that there are other statistics for 2012-13 and 2013-14. If you look at the 2004-05 and 2011-12 statistics, you will see that reoffending has gone down; in 2004-05, there were 0.61 reoffences per offender and in 2011-12, 0.54. As you will be aware, the overall crime rate, too, is going down; the number of victims of homicide in 2004-05 was 137, whereas in 2011-12, it was 93.
Although crime is dropping, custodial sentences are rising, with 15,011 given in 2004-05 and 15,921 in 2011-12. The prison population is also rising—in 2004-05, it was 6,769 and in 2011-12, 8,176—and the number of people who have been in prison for more than four years has gone from 2,919 to 3,078. Crime is dropping, because we are applying tougher sentencing. If we take that to its logical conclusion, is it not clear that whole-of-life sentencing is the most appropriate deterrent, especially for the 5 per cent that I have mentioned?
However, do I really believe that? Truth be told, I do not—I do not believe that whole-of-life sentencing will be an adequate deterrent to the 5 per cent. The 5 per cent will be deterred by nothing; that is the point. We—the public—need to be protected from that 5 per cent, because there is no adequate deterrent for them.
As you know, life sentences are made up of the punishment part, which is for retribution and deterrence, and the intermediate part, which is for protection of the public. I have talked a little about protection of the public; I have talked a little about deterrence; and I would now like to talk a little about retribution.
Does the punishment fit the crime? When I reviewed the most recent official figures, which are contained in a 1996 report, I found that the average life sentence was 11 years and one month. I did my own calculation based on this year’s Parole Board for Scotland’s report; no exact figures were given, but my rough calculations show that, at the moment, the average amount of time served for a life sentence is approximately 13 and a half years.
I now have to go into my personal situation. The matter that brings me here is very personal, and I make no apologies for that. I realise that the petition addresses a much wider issue and does not address our individual situation, but I think that our situation gives an example of what I am trying to talk about.
My sister Isabelle was 51 years old when she was violently attacked in her own home. She was not just violently attacked—she was chased through the house and stabbed 37 times. She suffered 54 individual injuries. Eventually she fell, jammed between a chair and a cupboard. At least three or four of the stab wounds penetrated vital organs, and she died at the scene. Her partner of 30 years also received three stab wounds.
The offender received a minimum sentence of 26 years. He was 19 when the offence occurred and he will be 45 when he is released, assuming that he gets through the Parole Board. That is the same age as me and six years younger than Isabelle was when she was murdered in her own home. He is a relatively young, fit man, who has already been through the system a number of times, has had custodial sentences and has had many chances of rehabilitation. The situation affects not only me and my sister Lindsay but my mum, who is 82; Isabelle also had six nieces and nephews, the youngest of whom was three at the time of the attack. The individual concerned has already been given opportunities to reform. If we release him, how can we be sure that he will not offend again? How can we be sure that he is not one of the 5 per cent?
Why did we raise the petition? We raised it to protect other families from similar situations. It is about the only action that we can take in our current situation. I hope that the petition shows that there is support for tougher penalties, not in all circumstances, but for those violent repeat offenders who go on to commit murder.
What are we aiming for? From my research to date, I think that the model that I like the best is the English one.