CONTROVERSIAL plans to effectively end prison sentences of less than 12 months have been given the go-ahead by MSPs.

Holyrood’s Justice Committee pushed through the change by seven votes to two – with only the Tories opposing.

The proposals will now go before the Scottish Parliament where they are expected to be passed into law.

Tory MSP Margaret Mitchell, convener of the Justice Committee, said: “I’m not convinced this is a sensible way forward to protect the public, and for that reason I’m not in favour of it.”

She said offences covered by the plans could include causing death by careless driving, charges of multiple housebreaking and possessing indecent photographs of children.

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She added: “By any stretch of the imagination these are very serious potential offences."

But Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf told MSPs community sentences are more effective at rehabilitating offenders.

He said: “The individual sheriffs, the judges – they have the discretion on whether the seriousness of the offence merits a custodial sentence.”

He added: “We have to believe in people’s ability to rehabilitate. I have to believe that people have that ability, regardless of the crime – and, this is perhaps controversial, even those that have committed the most heinous of crimes.

“Now if I believe that, as I do, then I have to ask myself what does the evidence show me and demonstrate is the most effective way to rehabilitate somebody.

“Is it a short sentence – or is it a community alternative that addresses the root causes? It is undoubtedly community alternatives.”

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Mr Yousaf said 35 per cent of those given short sentences end up back in custody.

At present, there is a presumption against jailing people for three months or less, and any sheriff or justice of the peace must justify imposing such a short sentence.

The latest change will see this presumption increased to 12 months, with a greater focus on community sentences and fines.

Scottish Tory shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said the move “completely betrays" victims of crime. 

He said: “People who’ve fallen victim to crime need to have faith the justice system has their back.

“Yet under these plans, potentially thousands of people will walk free from court despite being convicted of crimes like assault, housebreaking and even distributing child pornography.

“And if the SNP is vaguely serious about tackling domestic violence, this move – which will let the majority of absuers off the hook – is a strange way of showing it.

“The SNP devised these plans, but Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats should be equally ashamed for not standing up to them."