The system for notifying victims of crime about their attackers’ release dates is “not good enough”, Nicola Sturgeon has conceded after being told that fewer than 1% have been given this advance warning.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said while there are some 4,500 criminals serving sentences of 18 months of more where their victim could be informed of their proposed release date, this has happened in just 37 cases.
He pressed the First Minister on the situation after the Scottish Parliament had stood in silence for a minute to remember all the women who have been killed by men in the past year.
Mr Ross also demanded to know when reforms to the justice system, dubbed Michelle’s Law in memory of teenage murder victim Michelle Stewart, would be brought in.
Since the 17-year-old was killed in Ayrshire in 2008, her family have been campaigning for improvements to the victim notification scheme so families are given details of an offender’s release from prison.
Challenging Ms Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions, the Scottish Tory leader said there are some “4,500 victims of crime who could be informed when their offender will be released from prison”.
But he said only 37 victims knew when their attacker was going to be released, with Mr Ross adding: “Less than 1% of these victims know when that criminal who ruined their live is going to get out.”
“How can women who suffered the most horrific crimes, and their families, feel safe when they are being kept in the dark about the release of dangerous offenders?” he asked.
“They have no idea if they will be walking down the street in their own community and come face to face with their attacker.
“The justice system is stacked against victims; we have to change.”
He then asked: “When will the First Minister’s Government finally take the action desperately needed to keep women safe from these crimes?”
Ms Sturgeon told him she does “not believe it is the case that the justice system is stacked against victims”, insisting that is not a “fair representation”.
But she added: “I do think it is the case that the justice system, like all parts of our society, has to change to respond better to the needs of women who are subject to violence.
“It is the case that the Government is taking forward a range of changes and reforms, because some of what Douglas Ross has cited is not good enough – victim notification is one of those areas.”
While she stressed that action is being taken, the First Minister said “these are often complex reforms that have to be done properly in order that our overall justice system is performing in the way we want it to”.
She also insisted: “There are few issues that I care more passionately about than doing everything possible to keep women in our society safe from the violence that too often women are subjected to.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “There is more we need to do, there is more we are doing, and it is something I take extremely seriously.”
But Mr Ross told her it looks as though another “promise” made to the Stewart family will not be kept by ministers.
They were previously promised that changes to the tagging and GPS monitoring of offenders after their release would be implemented before the end of November 2021, he said.
And he told the First Minister: “This was a promise made to a family that have gone through the worst of circumstances that none of us can imagine, and, with less than a week to go, it sounds like that promise is not going to be kept.”
Ms Sturgeon told him: “I don’t want to say definitively that this is the case here, but everybody in this chamber knows that certain commitments, certain strands of work have unavoidably been affected by what we’ve been dealing with collectively over the past two years.”
She added: “These are important measures we need to continue to take and keep our minds open to taking in order we do all we can to keep women safe, to ensure that those who do commit acts of violence against women are brought to justice, and to deal much more effectively in future than society has done in the past with the underlying causes of violence against women, which is the behaviour of some men in our society.”