A legal loophole in terms of which life prisoners could become eligible for parole earlier than those serving sentences of a fixed length will be closed after the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of a new Bill designed to improve the justice system.
The Criminal Cases (Punishment and Review) (Scotland) Bill is intended to resolve a technical anomaly which arose following the Appeal Court's judgment in the case of Petch and Foye v. HMA, which meant that prisoners given a discretionary life sentence or Order for Lifelong Restriction can apply to become eligible for parole earlier than those serving sentences of a fixed length.
Under new legislation passed on 20th June, the courts will regain the discretion to set a 'punishment part' of those sentences that it considers appropriate in all the circumstances of a particular case. This will be the minimum period of time which an offender must serve in prison before they become eligible to apply to the Parole Board for consideration for parole.
The Bill will also provide a framework for the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to decide whether it is appropriate to disclose information concerning cases it has referred to the High Court for appeal against conviction which have subsequently been abandoned or have fallen. Although general in nature, the Bill will apply in the circumstances of the case of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, who was convicted in 2001 of the murder of 270 people in the Lockerbie bombing.
"Protecting the public and punishing serious offenders is the priority here and the passing of this Bill will now ensure that our courts have the sentencing powers they need to make sure that punishment is always appropriate to the offender's crime,“ said Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. “Parole should certainly not be considered for prisoners who have not fulfilled what the court deems to be an adequate period of punishment.”
The changes to the law will not be retrospective and therefore will not impact on cases and appeals currently being heard.