Singh v Scottish Ministers [2021] CSOH 57

A prisoner serving a seven-year sentence for sexual offences has failed in his attempt to challenge a decision by the Scottish Ministers to refuse his release on license.

Harpreet Singh, an Indian citizen who was subject to a deportation order, attempted to argue before the Outer House that, despite committing a serious sexual offence against a vulnerable person, he posed no risk either in the UK or in India and that the Scottish Ministers erred in their assessment of him in respect of the same terms. 

The respondents had denied Mr Singh’s release request in late 2020, which was the earliest possible date he could be released under the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993. Under law, the respondents were required to rely on a recommendation being made by the Parole Board for Scotland in order to make a decision to release the petitioner. Due to concerns over the risk the petitioner posed, no recommendation was made. 

The petitioner submitted that, when considering the risks he may have posed, that it was not for any UK-based court to concern itself with, as the petitioner as willing to leave the UK for good as soon as he was released. Referring to English law provisions, he also argued that he could be deported straight from prison, without being first released into the community in Scotland. The petitioner further submitted that the respondents had failed to duly exercise their discretion in determining whether or not to release him and that this could be done without any recommendation from the Parole Board. 

The opinion of the Court was delivered by Lady Carmichael, who said: “The respondents were entitled to take into account considerations other than those that the Board took into account. Contrary to the petitioner’s submission, it does not follow that the respondents were obliged to do so. There is nothing in the language of the provision to suggest that they were. The discretion is not fettered or qualified by the words of the subsection.”

In deciding whether the fact that the petitioner citizenship entitled him to special consideration, the court held that: “There is no obligation on the respondents to adopt a system for the early release of foreign national prisoners. They are entitled to choose not to have a system of the sort for which provision is made in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. There is nothing obviously irrational in choosing to determine release on the basis of whether the risk posed by an offender is manageable in the community, or by considering that risk in relation to any community in which the offender comes to live at the point of his release.”

Accordingly, the petition was refused.