The number of victims of crime signing up for a scheme that would alert them to the perpetrator being released from prison has dropped by more than a third in one year, new figures show.
The Victim Notification Scheme is applicable in cases where someone is found guilty and sentenced to more than 18 months in jail, and allows a victim to know when the offender is due for release or other significant changes to their prisoner status.
A prisoner becoming eligible for temporary release initiatives, being transferred out of the country, or dying while in jail is also among the information that can be conveyed to victims.
But, according to figures released in a parliamentary question, the number of victims registering for the scheme has dropped markedly in the last year.
In 2018-19, 443 victims became part of the scheme, rising to 472 in 2019-20.
But the most recent figure – which also coincides with the coronavirus pandemic – shows just 306 people signing up.
During the 2020-21 financial year, the coronavirus pandemic caused huge levels of disruption to the court system, creating a backlog that is expected to take years to work through.
But Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Jamie Greene said: “Once again the SNP are letting down victims. Their flagship scheme was meant to give victims critical information on offenders but year on year it is failing to support them.
“The evidence is clear that this scheme is not fit for purpose. Only one in four people who are eligible are using it each year and, worst of all, the number has plummeted year on year to a new record low.
“The SNP can’t blame victims for not signing up, when they’re being contacted at a traumatic time and the system is far too difficult to use. They are betraying victims of crime by running a service that is so sub-par.”
The Scottish Tories have proposed a “victims law” which they claim would toughen up the justice system.
“The Scottish Conservatives have put forward proposals for a victims law that would fix these flaws and overhaul the SNP’s soft-touch justice system,” Mr Greene added.
“Our plans would reduce the bureaucracy of the Victims Notification Scheme and offer additional support so that victims and their families are well informed at an early stage that criminals are being considered for release.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Victims and their families who are eligible to join the Victim Notification Scheme are provided with guidance on what the scheme involves, the type of information they will receive and when they will be able to make representations about an offender’s release.
“Victims are therefore able to make an informed decision as to whether they wish to sign up to the scheme, and they can do so at any time. Some victims may ultimately decide that they do not wish to join the scheme.
“We have committed to bringing all relevant partners together to discuss the Victim Notification Scheme and determine where further improvements could be made.
“In addition, we are ensuring victims’ rights are at the heart of our justice system and have invested over £88m via the justice budget to support victims over the past five years and are taking forward a wide range of initiatives to support victims, including the introduction of a Victims’ Commissioner for Scotland.”