Criminals sentenced to do unpaid community work could see their time reduced by more than a third in plans announced by the Scottish Government.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused delays in the system and justice secretary Humza Yousaf said reducing sentences was necessary to deal with the “unavoidable” backlog.
The proposal would reduce the hours imposed by existing Community Payback Orders (CPOs) by 35%, with the exception of those imposed for domestic abuse, sexual offences, or stalking.
Yousaf said: “It is clearly important for all those involved to ensure justice is carried out swiftly and effectively and that confidence in community orders is retained.
“While I acknowledge that some may have concerns, I can assure victims of crime and others that the justice system continues to hold those who commit offences to account.”
But the Scottish Conservatives criticised the move, claiming the government was letting down victims.
Liam Kerr, the party’s justice spokesman, said: “The SNP have shamefully tried to hide their failures on CPOs by sneaking out a new policy during a budget.
“This confirms the long-held suspicion that the SNP wants to let even more criminals off the hook.
“Rather than funding the Criminal Social Justice budget properly, the SNP have frozen their funding despite the increase in outstanding work hours.”
Community Justice Scotland, the national body responsible for reducing reoffending, welcomed the proposals.
Cheif executive Karyn McCluskey said: “A CPO – or unpaid work – takes place in communities across Scotland and allows people to settle their debt to society. It keeps people in the community, in jobs and connected to family and support networks.
“This measure demonstrates a clear commitment to public safety and the well-being of our dedicated justice workforce who have continued to support people and supervise projects since the beginning of the pandemic.”
The Scottish Government said if court business returned to normal levels in March while unpaid work delivery remained restricted, there could be an excess of 1m hours outstanding by July if action is not taken.
The draft regulations will be laid on Friday, January 29, and will be subject to scrutiny and approval by Parliament.