The case of a teenager who walked free from court after sexually assaulting a six-year-old girl shows sentencing guidelines must be updated as a “matter of urgency”, Labour have said.
Christopher Daniel was found guilty of repeated sexual assaults on the young girl over two years but was granted an absolute discharge by sheriff Gerard Sinclair.
The verdict at Dumbarton Sheriff Court means means Daniel, who was between 15 and 17 at the time of the crimes, will not be on the sex offenders register or have any criminal record.
Following the decision, a Judicial Office for Scotland statement said: “The sheriff considered the offence to be the result of an entirely inappropriate curiosity of an emotionally naive teenager rather than for the purpose of sexual gratification.”
It added any recorded conviction for the offence would have “serious consequences in terms of the accused’s future career” and any sentence would mean Daniel would “probably be unable to continue his university course”.
Scottish Labour are now demanding the sentencing guidelines for sexual assault are changed, particularly for young people.
In a letter to the Sentencing Council, justice spokesman Daniel Johnson wrote: “The response to the verdict and subsequent written report has been one of shock and confusion, not only from the public but also organisations like Scottish Rape Crisis.”
Mr Johnson added: “I am deeply concerned that as well as the distress the verdict has caused for the victim’s family, there is a risk of disillusionment and lack of confidence in our sheriffs.
“I see from your website that you are currently developing guidelines on the sentencing process, the sentencing of young people, death by driving and environmental and wildlife crime.”
“I would ask that in light of the recent choice not to pass sentence on Christopher Daniel and the public response, the Sentencing Council consider making developing guidelines on sexual assault, giving particular attention to sentencing of young people, a matter of urgency.”
Mr Sinclair noted the victim of Daniel’s sexual assaults “appeared to have suffered no injury or long-lasting effects” but at FMQs in January Tory MSP Liam Kerr told Nicolas Sturgeon the decision had “devastated” the child’s family.
Ms Sturgeon said she understood concerns surrounding a “wholly exceptional” court decision to grant an absolute discharge, which has resulted in thousands signing a petition calling for for Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to review the case.
By Thursday afternoon, more than 17,000 people had signed the petition started by Marisa Keegan, who wrote: “Our system is putting criminals’ careers before our children’s welfare.
“What kind of world do we live in that this is seen as an acceptable decision
by the court?”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The issues raised by Daniel Johnson are for the independent Scottish Sentencing Council to respond to.
“We will continue to follow the work of the council closely on this important matter.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Sentencing Council said: “We welcome Mr Johnson’s interest in the work of the council, both in terms of the development of guidelines and our wider role in raising public awareness and understanding of sentencing.
“While the council does not comment on individual cases, which are a matter for the presiding judge, we are aware that sexual offending has increasingly become an area of public concern in recent years.
“Sentencing in such cases often involves difficult decisions in complex circumstances, particularly where the victim, offender, or both, are children.
“We recently announced our intention to develop sentencing guidelines in relation to sexual offences, which we believe will bring significant benefits both to the judiciary and to the public, particularly in explaining how sentencing decisions are reached.
“We are also developing a separate guideline specifically in relation to the sentencing of young people. Any guidelines developed will be subject to a public consultation in due course.”