THE First Minister has said it is “important” that the Government he leads does not interfere in court sentencing decisions amid anger that a man convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl was spared jail.

Humza Yousaf was asked about the case of Sean Hogg, who was given a community payback order – forcing him to complete 270 hours of unpaid work – after being convicted of the assault which happened when he was 17.

In the wake of the decision, focus has been put on the sentencing guidance which came into force early last year. This says: “A custodial sentence should only be imposed on a young person when the court is satisfied that no other sentence is appropriate."

The Scottish Sentencing Council said its decision was based on evidence that younger people "generally have a lower level of maturity, and a greater capacity for change and rehabilitation, than an older person".

READ MORE: Top lawyer Aamer Anwar speaks out as child rapist spared jail

However, final decisions are ultimately rendered by judges.

Yousaf said the guidelines were a "rightly" matter for the SSC, and it was right that the judiciary was independent from government. But he also said that he understood the concerns raised around Hogg’s case.

The First Minister told LBC: “I can understand the concern that people have raised. I read some of the comments from Rape Crisis Scotland expressing astonishment … at the sentence.

“I also have to be quite careful. It was less than a week ago I was in the Court of Session when the Lord President was rightly making the point that the judiciary is independent of government. Ministers, and most certainly the First Minister, shouldn’t intervene in sentencing decisions. That’s got to be a decision that’s for the courts.”

He noted that prosecutors may be seeking to appeal the sentence, but again said that was a decision to be made “independent of government ministers”.

Yousaf went on: “This is one case, and the reason you’re asking me about it – quite rightly so – is because it’s the exception.

“In the vast overwhelming majority of cases where an individual is convicted of rape, they end up with a custodial sentence.

“I can understand again why people are concerned about this particular case, but it is so important that the government doesn’t intervene or interfere in the decisions that are made by the judiciary.”

Yousaf (below) mentioned the intervention from Rape Crisis Scotland, which said it as a charity was “shocked that the perpetrator of the rape of a 13-year-old girl has not received a custodial sentence”.

The National: Several challenges face new First Minister Humza Yousaf (Andrew Milligan/PA)

It went on: “This is an extremely serious case. Given the gravity of this crime and the fact it was tried at the High Court, this sentence appears to us to be worryingly lenient.

“Our thoughts are with the survivor of this crime. For survivors of any sexual violence, it can be very difficult to see reports of convicted perpetrators walking free from court.”

Tommy Ross KC told the BBC that Hogg had been given "an extraordinary sentence".

"I have been working in the high court for around 20 years and I have never seen anybody avoid prison for rape until yesterday," Ross said.

The Scottish Tories have called for a review of sentencing guidelines, describing the punishment handed to Hogg as “outrageous and appalling”.

Jamie Greene, the Conservatives’ justice spokesperson, said in a letter to new Justice Secretary, Angela Constance: “It is outrageous and appalling that such a despicable crime has not even been punished with a prison sentence and the public will rightly be wondering why this has happened in this case.

“The soft-touch approach to justice taken by the Scottish Government is at least partially to blame in this instance.”

He added: “I implore you to order a review of these sentencing guidelines as is the Scottish Ministers’ right under Section 7 of the 2010 Act with a view to scrapping the guidelines so that rapists and other serious criminals do not avoid prison in future just because they are under 25.

“As a new Justice Secretary you have the ability to change the direction of Scottish Government policy to get tough on serious criminals who commit such horrific crimes and I hope you will consider my request today.”

Greene said the guidelines were explicitly referenced by Judge Lord Lake while sentencing Hogg, now 21.

Lake said that if the offence had been committed by an adult over 25, it would have led to a jail sentence of four or five years.

Hogg was also put under supervision and placed on the sex offenders' register for three years.

The Rape Crisis Scotland helpline is open every night from 5pm to midnight. Call 08088 01 03 02, text 07527 410 027 (the text number will display on your bill), webchat on or email