The Scottish Tories will outline plans for the doubling of sentences against those who attack emergency service staff, the party’s leader has said.
Ahead of the party’s autumn conference this weekend, Douglas Ross has announced proposals to toughen up what he describes as the “soft touch” justice system.
The maximum penalty for attacking an emergency service worker under the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 is one year, which the Tories want to increase to two years.
A freedom of information request by the Tories showed 72% of those convicted under the Act were not given any jail time at all, which Mr Ross attributed to the Scottish Government’s presumption against sentences under one year.
Mr Ross said: “It’s shocking that so many frontline workers are assaulted while serving the people of Scotland by keeping us safe.
“As the husband of a police officer, I know only too well the dangers that those working in our emergency services face and there should be zero tolerance of violence against them.
“The SNP’s soft touch approach has not worked. By effectively banning short-term prison sentences, criminals who assault these key workers are dodging jail.”
He added: “Especially after all they have done for us during this pandemic, our emergency services deserve better and by doubling the sentences for these abhorrent attacks, we can start to stamp out these crimes.”
Official statistics published in September by the Scottish Government show there were 7,519 assaults against emergency service workers in 2019-20 – a 16% rise compared with 2010-11.
When asked about the proposals at First Minister’s Questions by Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr, Nicola Sturgeon she would consider them.
The First Minister added: “I do have a bit of hesitation – particularly around some, not all, of these criminal justice policies from the Conservatives around short sentences – because I think we do need to look at these things carefully.
“The vast majority of people in Scotland understand the reasons (for the presumption against short sentences) – because it helps to cut crime, it helps to rehabilitate offenders, in having alternative sentences rather than short-term prison sentences which often don’t meet those objectives.
“All of us are in unanimity across this chamber about how abhorrent it is for anybody to attack an emergency worker but we need to make sure that we have the right criminal justice policies in place that punish offenders, absolutely, but also contribute towards rehabilitation and cutting crime as well.”
Mr Ross is due to speak alongside pre-recorded messages from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack this weekend in his first conference since taking over as leader from Jackson Carlaw earlier this year.
His speech comes six months before next year’s Holyrood election.
Polls predict the Tories will shore up their position in second place – maintaining the lead over Labour won in 2016 – but with the SNP again expected to return the most MSPs.