Sheriff’s Concern Over Prison Release


By Paul Thornton

A SHOCKED Sheriff has hit out after discovering that a prisoner had been  let out of jail early after serving  little more that a quarter of his sentence.

Sheriff Fiona Reith said “words fail me” as she questioned the point of imposing sentences only for convicts to be freed so early.

Her comments immediately drew sympathy and support from Conservative justice spokesman, Bill Aitken MSP.

But other legal source said the problem has been ongoing ever since new rules were put in place three years ago.

The Scottish Government insists prisoners who do not comply with the conditions of their early release will find themselves back behind bars.

Sheriff Reith was sitting on the bench when she was told an accused had served just nine weeks of an eight-month sentence before being placed on a home detention curfew (HDC) or “the tag”.

Mohammad Sheraz Hamayun, 23, was given the custodial sentence at Glasgow Sheriff Court last November after he was convicted of fraud.

He was pleading guilty to similar charges at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

But after Hamayun’s lawyer, Liam Robertson, told the court his client had been released on a restriction of liberty order on January 7 this year, she admitted her shock.

She said: “Nine weeks?  I don’t understand that.  I have never heard anything like that.”

“Words fail me.  I’m really rather taken aback.  I had no idea that that was what was actually happening.

“Obviously I am aware of Home Detention Curfews, but I did not know that that was the way they were in fact being operated”.

“I’m beginning to wonder what the point is of a court imposing a custodial sentence.”

Mr Robertson said despite the Sheriff’s surprise the early release was not so shocking.

He said: “It is quite common place – that is what happens with all prison sentences these days.

“It is obviously not his fault but it makes a complete mockery of the system.”

Sheriff Reith added: “There seems to be very little relation between the sentence imposed by the court and what actually happens, which is a matter of concern to the court.”

The legislation covering Home Detention Curfew (HDC) states that a prisoner may serve a minimum of a quarter of their sentence before being released on a tag.

It is set out in the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act and insiders say not being aware of this legislation could be a source of embarrassment for Sheriff Reith.

However Conservative justice spokesman, Bill Aitken, said that while case did not surprise him it did highlight the need for tougher guidelines.

He said: “This is another graphic case why we have to end the scandal of early release which means that many prisoners serve barely a quarter of their sentence.

“To make matters worse the SNP has today published a bill to scrap all short-term sentences and allow the muggers, the thugs and the fraudsters to roam free.”

And, Mr Aitken added, he could sympathise with Sheriff Reith’s comments.

He said: “The SNP government need to listen when the judiciary speaks out and tells it that it has got it wrong.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The system of HDC introduced by the previous administration is aimed at low-risk prisoners nearing the end of their sentence.

“They are released with strict conditions and failure to comply with those conditions is very likely to result in their recall to custody.

“The Justice Secretary committed to undertaking a wide-ranging review of the HDC scheme when HMP Addiewell came on stream, and that work is now underway.

Legal expert Dr Paul Arnell, who lectures in law at Robert Gordon University, admitted the comments were unusual.

He said: “Of course it is a presumption that a sheriff should be aware of sentencing rules and legislation, I’m surprised at the comments.”

A spokesman for the SPS said: “We cannot comment on individual prisoners.”