Doing justice: sentencing practices in Scottish sheriff courts

Velasquez Valenzuela, Javier (2018) Doing justice: sentencing practices in Scottish sheriff courts. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis is an examination of the sentencing practices of judges (known as Sheriffs) in criminal cases heard in the Scottish sheriff courts. Despite the importance of sentencing, there is little knowledge of how exactly Sheriffs deal with cases. In particular, little is known about why and in which cases they decide that a custodial sentence is appropriate in the context of summary court proceedings. This research aims to understand the rationales behind the Sheriffs’ sentencing practice and, through this exploration, tries to examine how Sheriffs currently understand their role as sentencers.

To achieve this objective, I negotiated access with the Scottish Judiciary which allowed me to carry out my fieldwork during the winter of 2016/2017. I interviewed, observed and shadowed 16 Sheriffs in 14 different Sheriff Courts throughout the country. The observation entailed shadowing the Sheriffs during what is called the ‘remand court’(RC). This is a day where they deal with all the criminal business - most of it on summary procedure - concerning sentencing diets. By the end of my fieldwork, I had observed Sheriffs dealing with more than 400 cases.

One of the key findings was to confirm the perception that different Sheriffs have distinctive sentencing styles. However, I also found that there were structural legal and non-legal factors that partially explained those differences. Critically, my findings stressed how the Sheriffs' practices are shaped by the distinctive local realities in which they practice. This contextualization of sentencing practices allowed me to explore how different social, economic and geographical differences impacted the Sheriffs’ decision-making. Furthermore, through the observation of the Sheriffs in court and in their chambers, I was able to describe the routines behind sentencing practices. This allowed me to explore at which stages of these routines the Sheriffs’ decision-making begins to differ from one another. As a consequence, I was able to outline two models of sentencing practices. The first one is a depiction of the observable stages of the sentencing process. The second one is related to the fundamental questions the Sheriff faces during the individualisation of punishment which allow us to highlight at which moment the different sentencing styles emerge.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: This work was funded by the Chilean National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research, CONICYT PFCHA / Beca de Doctorado en el Extranjero, Folio 72150042.
Keywords: Sentencing, Bourdieu, practice, theory of practice, criminology, community payback orders, judges, judge, Sheriff, Sheriffs, Scots law, custodial sentences, supervision, probation, unpaid work, suspended sentences, admonitions, social work, solicitors, plea in mitigation, criminal justice system.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
K Law > KD England and Wales > KDC Scotland
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Supervisor's Name: McNeill, Professor Fergus, Schinkel, Dr. Marguerite and Leverick, Professor Fiona
Date of Award: 2018
Depositing User: Dr. Javier Velasquez
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-39042
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2019 14:46
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2020 11:45

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