Information for Bereaved Families and Friends Following Murder or Culpable Homicide

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Section 5 What happens after the sentence has been passed?

5.1 The Victim Notification Scheme

What is the Victim Notification Scheme?

If the offender has been sentenced to 18 months or more in prison, you can choose whether or not you want to register with the Victim Notification Scheme.

The scheme has 2 parts and you can opt to receive information under either or both parts. The first part entitles you to information about:

  • when the offender is to be released
  • the date of their death, if they die before being released
  • the date of transfer, if they are transferred to a place outwith Scotland
  • their eligibility for temporary release (for example, for training and rehabilitation programmes or home leave in preparation for release)
  • them escaping or absconding from prison
  • their return to prison for any reason.

Part 2 of the scheme entitles you to information about the offender being considered for parole or release on Home Detention Curfew ( HDC, sometimes known as "tagging"), see section 5.3 for more about consideration for release:

  • when the Parole Board for Scotland is due to consider the case affecting you, you will be given the chance to send written comments to the Board
  • when the Scottish Prison Service ( SPS) is considering a prisoner's release on HDC, you will be given the chance to send written comments to the SPS
  • you will be told whether the Board recommends or directs the release of the offender
  • you will be told whether any conditions have been attached to the licence that relate to you or your family (see section 5.3).

How do I register for the scheme?

VIA will send you a booklet about the scheme and a form to register for it. When you have filled the form in, you send it on to the Scottish Prison Service ( SPS) who will register your details. When the offender is due to be released, SPS will send a letter telling you the date of release.

If, after registering for the Victim Notification Scheme, you decide to opt out of the scheme you should write to the Scottish Prison Service to let them know. You should also tell them if you change address. VIA will send you forms for this at the same time as they send out the form to register for the scheme.

If you didn't originally join the scheme but then decide you would like to register, you can do this at any time until the offender reaches the point in the sentence when they are due to be released. If the offender is just about to be released, or has already been released, then it will not be possible for you to join the scheme.

You can find out more about the Victim Notification Scheme from the Scottish Prison Service ( www.sps.gov.uk). Contact them on 0131 244 8670, write to them at Calton House, 5 Redheughs Rigg, Edinburgh EH12 9HW or email vns@sps.gov.uk.

What will the offender know?

The Prison Service does not tell the offender that you are on the scheme. But if you send written comments to the Parole Board, the offender is likely to see them. This is because offenders are entitled to see all of the information that the Parole Board uses to make their decision. You do not have to state any personal details - like your address or contact details - on the form you send to the Board.

Although the Scottish Prison Service will make every effort to maintain your anonymity, the offender will be made aware of your comments if they have a bearing on the decision about whether to release them or on the specific conditions attached to the prisoner's licence.

Just because you have registered with the scheme doesn't mean that you have to send written comments to the Board (or to the Scottish Prison Service if an offender is being considered for release on HDC). Even if you decide not to send in written comments, you will still receive information about what the Parole Board (or the Scottish Prison Service about releases on HDC) has decided.

5.2 How long will the offender be in prison?

An accused who is convicted of murder will be sentenced to life imprisonment. Someone who is convicted of culpable homicide may be sentenced to a specified period of imprisonment (a determinate sentence) or to life imprisonment.

When passing a life sentence, the court will say how long the offender must spend in custody (known as the 'punishment part'). A life sentence prisoner must spend at least that period in prison before they can be considered for release on life licence (this term is explained in section 5.3).

At present an offender sentenced to 4 years or more will be considered by the Parole Board for Scotland for release on licence after serving one half of their sentence. Being considered for release then or later does not mean it will happen automatically. But the offender will be released on licence after serving two thirds of their sentence.

5.3 Consideration for release

The Parole Board for Scotland is responsible for determining when a life sentence prisoner or one sentenced to 4 years or more will be released on licence. The Board must be satisfied that the offender no longer presents an unacceptable risk to public safety. It also decides the conditions that will apply to the release.

If an offender breaches any of their licence conditions, including re-offending, they may have their licence taken away and be returned to prison. The court can also order a return to prison if the offender commits another imprisonable offence before the date they would have served the original sentence in full.

Home Detention Curfew ( HDC) allows offenders to be released between 2 weeks and 6 months before the date on which they would otherwise leave prison. Offenders serving longer than 4 years in prison will not be released on HDC unless they have already been approved for parole. This means that they are unlikely to be released more than
6 weeks before they were due to be released on parole.

The Scottish Prison Service will carry out a risk assessment of an offender before they are allowed to be released on HDC. Offenders released on HDC must stay within a specific address for around 12 hours every night. This is known as a curfew condition and is monitored remotely by electronic equipment (a "tag").

Offenders released on HDC will continue to serve their sentence during the HDC period and can be recalled to prison if they don't comply with the conditions.

5.4 Concerns after the prisoner has been released

The police are automatically told when a prisoner, who has been sentenced to 4 years or more, is released from prison. If you are worried about your safety, you should contact the police. They will then decide what action, if any, to take. If threats have been made against you, or you have been harassed or intimidated by the person, you may also apply to the civil courts for an interdict to prevent them from coming near you or your home after they leave prison. A solicitor will be able to give you advice on this.