Scotland's victim support system is 'not good enough', admits Nicola Sturgeon

·3 min read
Nicola Sturgeon - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon has admitted Scotland's system of notifying crime victims about their attackers being freed from prison is "not good enough" after it emerged fewer than one in 100 receive advance warning.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said official figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed the victims of only 37 out of 4,500 criminals serving sentences of 18 months or more had been informed of the proposed release date.

Speaking on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, he told MSPs that the justice system was "stacked against victims" as they were "routinely left in the dark". He also accused Ms Sturgeon of breaking a promise to the family of Michelle Stewart.

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.

Mr Ross said Humza Yousaf, the former justice secretary and now Health Secretary, had promised them a scheme would be "up and running" by this month.

Ms Sturgeon promised to write to the Scottish Tory leader with answers on the progress being made, but did not appear to know what had happened to Michelle's Law.

The exchanges at Holyrood occurred after three people appeared in court charged with the murder of schoolgirl Caroline Glachan more than 25 years ago.

Caroline Glachan - Police Scotland/PA
Caroline Glachan - Police Scotland/PA

The body of the 14-year-old was discovered on the banks of the River Leven, West Dunbartonshire, in August 1996.

Robert O'Brien, 43, Andrew Kelly and Donna Brand, both 42, appeared in private before Dumbarton Sheriff Court. They made no plea or declaration and were remanded in custody.

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Mr Ross cited the case and that of Esther Brown, a pensioner who was attacked and murdered in her own home in May this year by Jason Graham, a registered sex offender with 23 previous convictions.

He also disclosed that Ms Stewart's sister, Lisa, recently wrote to the present Justice Secretary asking for an update on Michellle's Law and specifically about the "GPS monitoring of those who have committed serious and violent crimes but who are released on licence".

Esther Brown - Police Scotland/PA
Esther Brown - Police Scotland/PA

The Scottish Tory leader said: "Tragically more and more women in Scotland become victims of crime each year. It is the first task of government to keep the public safe – and the SNP Government is failing on that front.

"The broken promises to victims of crime are mounting. The Stewart family have asked for updates on the progress of Michelle’s Law because the SNP have dragged their heels instead of acting."

He added: "How can women who suffer from the most horrific crimes – and their families - feel safe when they’re kept in the dark about the release of dangerous offenders?"

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."

But Mr Ross responded that it appeared the "promise" made to the Stewart family would not be kept by ministers.