Summary of offences dealt with by courts, sentencing outcomes and characteristics of convicted offenders. Additional information on non-court penalties issued by the Police and Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service.

9. Custodial Sentences by type of crime

(Tables 9 and 10a-d)

Custodial Sentences for Non-sexual Crimes of Violence

Homicide comprises murder, culpable homicide (i.e. without intent) and the statutory crimes of causing death by dangerous or careless driving, causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, driving illegally when involved in a fatal accident and corporate homicide.

Sixty-nine per cent or 55 of the 80 people convicted of homicide in 2014-15 were given a custodial sentence, 19 percentage points lower than in 2013-14 (88 per cent). This is a marked drop and can in part be attributed to a higher proportion of “causing death by careless driving” crimes making up the total of homicide convictions than in previous years. Convictions for these types of homicide tend to attract non-custodial sentences.

Over half of custodial sentences for homicide were life sentences imposed for murder (31 people). The remainder, who were convicted for other types of homicide, were given an average sentence of just over five and a half years (2,075 days), 260 days (11 per cent) shorter than in 2013-14 (nearly six and a half years or 2,335 days).

Other changes in average custodial sentences for non-sexual crimes of violence between 2013-14 and 2014-15 are as follows:

  • A rise of 53 days (6 per cent) for “attempted murder and serious assault”, up from 942 days to 995 days;
  • A rise of 2 per cent for robbery, up by 17 days to two and a half years (914 days).

Custodial Sentences for Sexual Crimes

As shown in chart 9, custody was the most frequently used punishment for “rape and attempted rape”, being served to 93 per cent of people with a charge proven. Custodial sentences for “rape and attempted rape” attracted the longest average custodial sentence of all crime types (other than life sentences for murder), although the average sentence length for this kind of crime declined in 2014-15, down 67 days (3 per cent) to 2,435 days (just over six and a half years).

Sexual assault sentences were, on average, 4 per cent shorter than in 2013-14, falling to 831 days (over two years in length) in 2014-15. Prior to 2013-14 the average sentence length had declined by at least 12 per cent per annum since 2010-11, when it was 1,397 days (just over 4 years).

Custodial Sentences for Crimes of Dishonesty

Over half (58 per cent) of housebreaking convictions received custodial sentences in 2014-15, three percentage points higher than in 2013-14 (55 per cent). This was the highest proportion of housebreaking convictions for which custodial sentences have been imposed in the last decade. In 2014-15 the average custodial sentence for housebreaking was just over a year (382 days), 21 per cent longer than in 2013-14 (317 days). The average sentence length is now 81 per cent longer than ten years earlier in 2005-06 (211 days).

Other noticeable trends for crimes of dishonesty included:

  • Thirty-seven per cent of convictions for theft by opening lockfast places received a custodial sentence, down 5 percentage points from 2013-14. This is the second consecutive annual decline and reflects a return to lower levels seen between 2008-09 and 2010-11. The average sentence length increased by 18 per cent to 231 days in 2014-15 and is now over double the average sentence length of 2005-06 (111 days); and
  • Fraud –the average sentence length for fraud has declined for the second year in a row, down 5 per cent to 250 days in 2014-15. Despite the decline the average sentence length is still longer than it was prior to 2012-13.

Chart 9: Average sentence length (excluding life sentences) and per cent receiving custody, by crime and offence group, 2014-15

Chart 9: Average sentence length (excluding life sentences) and per cent receiving custody, by crime and offence group, 2014-15

Custodial Sentences for Handling Offensive Weapons

Sections 47 and 49 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 make provision for the offences of:

  • Carrying offensive weapons;
  • Having in a public place an article with a blade or point.

Together these two offences make up the crime group “handling offensive weapons”, statistics for which are presented in the standard tables accompanying this publication. In 2014-15 there were 1,580 people convicted of “handling offensive weapons”, of which two-thirds were for carrying knives i.e. “having in a public place an article with a blade or point” (937 convictions). The remainder related to crimes for other weapons such as baseball bats, bottles and pieces of wood. Firearm offences are not included in the “handling offensive weapons” category but are included within “other miscellaneous offences”.

Statistics for carrying knives are not published separately in the standard tables accompanying this bulletin but are presented below alongside trends for all “handling offensive weapons”. This year is the first time table B has been published due to the interest in this topic.

Table B: Sentencing for handling offensive weapons

% receiving custodial sentence

Average sentence length (days)







“Handling offensive weapons”
(as published in tables 9 and 10c)

Having in a public place an article with a blade/point or carrying other offensive weapons







Knife offences only: Having in a public place an article with a blade or point







The proportion of convictions for handling offensive weapons which received a custodial sentence decreased by 1 percentage point from 38 per cent in 2013-14 to 37 per cent in 2014-15. Despite the recent decrease, the proportion of handling offensive weapons offences receiving a custodial conviction has increased by 11 percentage points over the last ten years, from 26 per cent of convictions in 2005-06 to 37 per cent in 2014-15. The trend in custodial sentencing for knife offences is similar, albeit with a higher proportion receiving a custodial sentence, declining by two percentage points from 44 per cent in 2013-14 to 42 per cent in 2014-15.

The average custodial sentence length for handling offensive weapons has tripled over the last ten years, from 118 days in 2005-06 to 370 days in 2014-15. Whilst this is the case, in 2014-15 the average sentence length for this type of offence was similar to the previous year, dipping slightly from 374 days in 2013-14 to 370 days in 2014-15 (a decline of 1 per cent). The trend over the last ten years is similar for knife offences, with the average custodial sentence length being around 6 per cent longer than that of handling offensive weapons, at 391 days in 2014-15.


Email: Gillian Diggins

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