COMMENTS by one of ­Scotland's most senior judges about the need for reforms to the country's justice system have prompted furious exchanges across the political divide.

Lord Carloway made a plea for the system to be moved beyond retribution towards greater rehabilitation, arguing this would be in the interest of society.

As The Herald reported yesterday, Lord Carloway said: "A culture of retribution is not what society ought to be aiming at."

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However, Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont criticised the use of "soft-touch language".

He said: "People do want to see a change in the justice system - but not in the direction Lord Carloway proposes.

"The role of prison is one of punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation and keeping the public safe. It seems the Scottish Government places all four of these behind the interests of criminals.

"The public don't like this soft-touch language, and would rather the interests of victims were prioritised over the rights of convicts."

Lord Carloway said ­agencies should look to models in Scandinavia where prison populations have been reduced. In addition, he said judges and sheriffs would go on courses to deal with aspects of sentencing to take them out of the courtroom.

He said: "What ought to be considered is a move away from this type of approach, designed to stigmatise the offender … to a model in which the sentences are far more tailored to the individual offender and more inclusive in taking account of the needs of the community."

SNP MSP Sandra White said: "Lord Carloway raises interesting points and we must ensure prison sentencing is used to benefit both the offender and society.

"That is why the SNP Government continues to work with its partners, police, prisons, health and social work to ensure prisons are for people who have to be there."