Summaries of opinions (judgments) provide a short explanation of judicial decisions in order to assist understanding and may be published in cases where there is wider public interest. They provide the main findings, but do not form part of the reasons for the decision.

The judgment published on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals website is the only authoritative document.

Appeal against sentence by Aaron Thomas Campbell


Sep 10, 2019

The Criminal Appeal Court has upheld an appeal against sentence in the case of HMA against Aaron Thomas Campbell. Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, sat with Lord Menzies and Lord Drummond Young and reduced the punishment part of the sentencing for the abduction, murder and rape of a child from 27 to 24 years.



Mr Campbell, who was aged 16 at the time of the offences, was convicted by unanimous verdict at Glasgow High Court of the abduction, murder and rape of a 6 year old girl in the early hours of 2 July 2018. The trial judge imposed a sentence of detention without limit of time with a punishment part of 27 years back dated to 6 July 2018.

Leave to appeal was granted on the grounds that the sentence did not reflect the capacity for the appellant to be rehabilitated.


The defence application

It was accepted that the crime was an uncommonly grave one which, for an adult, would have attracted a substantial punishment part.  It was an appalling and heinous offence. Whatever the result of the appeal, the question of when or if the appellant is ever released will be for the Parole Board and it was accepted that such a day may never come.  

The case referred to the fact that the appellant was a youth of 16 whose behaviour was not aggravated by prior offending or failed rehabilitation attempts in the past.  It was submitted that the trial judge placed undue weight on the pessimistic assessment of the appellant's ability to change. 

The result was that the punishment part selected by the trial judge bore too great a resemblance to what would have been imposed on an adult, rather than the child that the appellant was, and was thus excessive. A period of 27 years before the appellant could apply for parole did not allow for the promotion of maturation, development of a sense of responsibility and a healthy personality. 


Selecting the punishment part

The Appeal Court found that in determining the appropriate punishment part the trial judge took account of several cases where the appellant had been a young person. 

In addition, unlike knife crime, for example, crimes of such depravity as the present case are thankfully rare, highlighting the difficulty of meaningful comparison. The subject matter is highly fact-specific: as the trial judge noted, each case depends on its own circumstances. The matter is further complicated when the offender is a child, where the process of sentencing involves considerations which are different from those which operate in the case of an adult. 

The court further noted that even with a child offender, the minimum period of custody for the crime of murder is likely to be significant in recognition of the need for retribution and deterrence.

Against the cases to which references were made, a punishment part in excess of 20 years was plainly merited. We have concluded that a punishment part of 24 years would be appropriate to reflect the appellant’s youth. We will accordingly allow the appeal to the extent of substituting that period for the sentence imposed. 

As with all punishment parts, this is not an indication of the date when the appellant will be released. It specifies rather the period which must pass before the appellant may even apply for parole.  As the trial judge had observed, and as was recognised by counsel for the appellant, “whether [the appellant] will ever be released will be for others to determine but as matters stand a lot of work will have to be done to change [the appellant] before that could be considered.  It may even be impossible”.

10 September 2019