HC Deb 09 July 1975 vol 895 cc529-30
35. Mr. Fairbairn

asked the Lord Advocate if he is satisfied with the law of rape in Scotland and the penalties applicable to those convicted of rape.

The Lord Advocate

Yes. My deputes who have prosecuted such cases recently do not report any problems.

The maximum penalty for rape is life imprisonment. No such penalty has been imposed this year. The penalties imposed range from four years' imprisonment to 10 years' imprisonment. One accused was committed to the State Hospital in terms of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1960 and in another case the accused was sentenced to two years' probation. Clearly the judges discriminate according to the circumstances of each particular case.

Mr. Fairbairn

In view of the appalling difficulties which the English appear to have in dealing with this comparatively simple crime and the great ease with which, as the Minister has told us, we in Scotland deal with it, may I ask whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman could fit into his busy portfolio a word with the Attorney-General to advise the English how to administer justice with regard to rape without these difficulties, so that the people of Scotland can be spared having to pay their taxes to meet the cost of absurd inquiries before Mrs. Justice Heilbron or whoever is to conduct such an inquiry?

The Lord Advocate

The hon. and learned Member's observation will no doubt be read by the Attorney-General. If it is necessary to make any further representations to him, I shall be happy to do so. I certainly agree that in this area the law of Scotland appears to have a point of view which is understood by the people and is of a commonsense nature. I believe that this area of the law, among others, is not assisted by artificiality and over-elaboration.

Mr. Crawford

When will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tighten up the law of rape, particularly as it affects the rape of Scotland's oil? Does he not agree—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that that point arises out of this Question.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the Lord Advocate agree that the independence of our judiciary has to be maintained at all costs? Can he gives the House an assurance that if any controversy arises in Scotland similar to that which arose south of the border with regard to sentencing for rape or any other crime, he will strongly resist any suggestion to interfere with the security of tenure of members of the judiciary which may come from Members of Parliament or other individuals who happen to disagree with the sentence imposed?

The Lord Advocate

I agree that the independence of the judiciary is a basic constitutional principle of the greatest importance which must be upheld if we are to continue to be a constitutional democracy. On the other hand, it is also a facet of constitutional democracy that just criticism should be made by the public when they are outraged.