LIFE in prison should mean life for the most vile criminals in Scotland, a Scottish Tory MSP has said.

Speaking at Holyrood yesterday, Liam Kerr called for the abolition of automatic early release for all short and long-term prisoners, saying it would help to restore public trust in the justice system.

The Scottish Conservative justice spokesman cited cases including that of Aaron Campbell, who raped and murdered six-year-old Alesha MacPhail.

Campbell had his prison term of life with a minimum of 27 years cut by three years following an appeal.

"The reality is that a life sentence is really a lengthy jail term," Mr Kerr said.

"If the prisoner can keep their nose clean, they'll have a second chance at life outside - a second chance that is denied to victims.

"All I'm asking is that we jettison the terms 'life imprisonment' and 'life sentence' when over 70% of such prisoners spend less than 15 years in prison."

He added: "It is right that prisoners get the opportunity to earn early release, we must seek to rehabilitate and therefore conditional, risk-assessed and closely monitored early release has an important role to play in ensuring that an offender is ready to be liberated.

"However, for the most vile criminals who commit the most appalling acts, it is my belief that life should mean life and there should be no chance of relief."

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Mr Kerr also argued judges in Scotland should be handed the power to impose whole-life sentences on offenders - which last until the death of the prisoner.

"At the moment, the fact is that unlike in England and Wales, Scottish judges simply cannot hand out a sentence to ensure that the very worst murderers and sexual offenders are never released to offend again," he said.

"I hear those that say you can engineer it by setting a punishment part that is over the criminal's life expectancy but what is transparent about that?

"The reality is only where you have people like Peter Tobin, who was in his 60s when he was sentenced, is that pretty much no doubt they'll ever be leaving.

"Whole life sentences are clear and unamiguous. A rarely used but vital option. that we should give Scottish judges."

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said the courts must be given the independence to reach their own decisions on sentencing.

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He said: "The heart of the Scottish Government's approach to sentencing policy is a very simple and fundamental position and we cannot, we must not lose sight of this - and this has been absolutely central to debate in the last couple of weeks with events happening in the Supreme Court in London - that in all cases without exception, sentencing decisions are for the independent court and independent judiciary to make based on the facts and circumstances of the case."

The Justice Secretary added: "After all, the courts hear all the evidence, they are best placed to weigh up all the relevant considerations when reaching a sentencing decision.

"That's not to say I agree necessarily with every decision that's made by a court, however, whatever personal view that I may hold on a case is frankly irrelevant.

"It is for the court, they must be allowed to reach decisions without fear or favour to anyone, particularly politicians."

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said increased custodial sentences could add to the overcapacity in Scottish prisons.

Mr McArthur said: "This is a populist, punitive approach that has proved disastrous in the US, leading to mass incarceration and the creation of wider social problems.

"Expanding our prison estate to accommodate the additional numbers required for Liam Kerr's delusional tough justice strategy would come with the heftiest of price tags."

Scottish Labour justice spokesman James Kelly said: "I'm not closed to the idea of having a discussion or a debate about minimum sentencing but any change in such a policy needs to be as a result of thorough engagement and we haven't reached that stage yet.

"The issue for the Conservatives is that they're bringing forward a policy without the evidence to back it up, which would increase the capacity in prisons, but they haven't in any way answered the question of how they would solve that overcrowding crisis."

Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie said: "I have confidence in our judiciary to protect the public from individuals who may bring them harm.

"If we're serious about preventing the creation of new victims, something different is required.

"We need to recognise the benefits and encourage diversion from custodial sentences."