Criminal proceedings in Scotland 2016-17: statistics

Statistics on criminal proceedings concluded in Scottish courts and alternatives to prosecution, issued by the police and by the Crown Office.

10. 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. unlawful killing but without intent to do so) 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.

Seventy-four per cent, or 57 of the 77 people convicted of homicide in 2016-17 were given a custodial sentence, a slight increase on the 2015-16 figure of 70%. Crimes such as homicide, which have a relatively small number of convictions attached, are subject to year-on-year fluctuations which means that care is required when interpreting annual changes in conviction rate. During the period from 2007-08 to 2013-14, the proportion of homicide convictions receiving custodial sentences ranged from 69 to 98%. At 74%, the rate in 2016-17 is still close to the lower end of what was recorded during this period. This can, in part, be attributed to a higher proportion of " causing death by careless driving" crimes making up the total of homicide convictions in 2016-17 compared to previous years and the fact that these types of homicide tend to attract non-custodial sentences.

Around 53% of custody sentences for homicide were life sentences imposed for murder (30 people), a little higher than in 2015-16 (44%, 27 people). The remainder, who were convicted for other types of homicide, were given an average sentence of over five years (1,899 days), 14 days shorter than in 2015-16 (1,913 days) and the shortest average for homicide (excluding murder) in ten years.

Other changes in average custodial sentences for non-sexual crimes of violence between 2015-16 and 2016-17 are as follows:

  • Increases of 7% for both " attempted murder and serious assault" and robbery (64 and 57 days respectively); and
  • A fall of 11% for other non-sexual crimes of violence, down by 81 days to under two years (675 days) but still higher than most years in the last decade. It should be noted that this is the smallest category of crimes within the group, and average sentences are therefore more variable.

Custodial Sentences for Sexual Crimes

As shown in chart 9, custody was the most frequently used disposal for " rape and attempted rape", being imposed on 71% 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). The average sentence length for this kind of crime decreased in 2016-17, down 110 days (four per cent) to 2,462 days (more than six and a half years), and 2015-16 aside, retains the highest average sentence for rape and attempted rape since 2008-09. There is no clear recent trend in average sentence length for rape and attempted rape.

Sexual assault sentences were, on average, 74 days (seven per cent) shorter than in 2015-16, falling to 947 days (over two and a half years) in 2016-17. This fall follows two successive increases in sentence length.

Custodial Sentences for Crimes of Dishonesty

Overall, the average custodial sentence length for crimes of dishonesty increased from 193 days in 2015-16 to 205 days in 2016-17; a rise of six per cent and 68 days longer (50%) than in 2007-08 when the average stood at 137 days. The average custodial sentence increased for all crime types with the exception of other dishonesty (which includes such crimes as forgery (other), reset, embezzlement and corruption), down nine per cent (18 days) to 181 days.

Other noticeable trends for crimes of dishonesty included:

Around 62% of housebreaking convictions received custodial sentences in 2016-17, unchanged from 2015-16. This remains the highest proportion of housebreaking convictions for which custodial sentences have been imposed in the last decade. In 2016-17, the average custodial sentence for housebreaking was almost 15 months (451 days), seven per cent longer than in 2015-16 (423 days). The average sentence length is almost twice the length it was in 2007-08 (228 days).

The proportion of convictions for fraud that resulted in a custodial sentence was 26% in 2016-17, a decrease of three percentage points on the previous year. The average sentence length has increased by 62% since 2007-08 up to 334 days, the highest average sentence in ten years.

Chart 9: Average sentence length (excluding life sentences) and proportion receiving custody, by crime and offence group, 2016-17 1

Chart 9: Average sentence length (excluding life sentences) and proportion receiving custody, by crime and offence group, 2016-17

1 - Excludes crime types where the number of people setenced to prison is fewer than 30.

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.

These two offences make up the crime group " handling offensive weapons", statistics for which are presented in the standard tables accompanying this publication. As shown in Table B there were 1,436 people convicted of "handling offensive weapons" in 2016-17, of which more than half were for carrying knives i.e. " having in a public place an article with a blade or point" (917 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".

Table B: Sentencing for handling offensive weapons

2007-08 2015-16 2016-17
"Handling offensive weapons"
(as published in tables 4b, 9 and 10c)
Having in a public place an article with a blade/point or carrying other offensive weapons.
Number convicted 3,405 1,489 1,436
% receiving a custodial sentence 29% 34% 34%
Average custodial sentence (days) 218 364 391
Knife offences only:
"Having in a public place an article with a blade or point"
Number convicted 1,719 941 917
% receiving a custodial sentence 37% 39% 37%
Average custodial sentence (days) 228 377 421

The proportion of convictions for handling offensive weapons which received a custodial sentence remained steady in 2016-17 at 34%, the joint lowest proportion since 2010-11. The rate of custodial sentencing for knife offences remains similar to 2007-08, although the recent decline is continuing, with a fall of two percentage points from 39% in 2015-16 to 37% in 2016-17.

The average custodial sentence length for handling offensive weapons has almost doubled in the last ten years, from 218 days in 2007-08 to 391 days in 2016-17. In 2016-17, the average sentence length for this type of offence increased by seven per cent to 391 from 364 in 2015-16. The trend over the last ten years is similar for knife offences, with the average custodial sentence length being around eight per cent longer than that of handling offensive weapons at 421 days in 2016-17.


Back to top