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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 4 years 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.

Part 2 of the scheme entitles you to information about the offender being considered for parole:

  • 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
  • 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).

The scheme is currently being evaluated and the review will consider whether any changes should be made.

How do I register for the scheme?

The VIA officer will send you a form. When you have filled it in, you send it on to the Scottish Prison Service who will register your details. When the offender is due to be released, they 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.

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. Contact them on 0131 244 8670, write to them at Calton House,
5 Redheughs Rigg, Edinburgh EH12 9HW or visit the website (
www.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.

Just because you have registered with the scheme doesn't mean that you have to send written comments to the Board. Even if you decide not to send in written comments, you will still receive information about what the Parole Board 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 (a discretionary life sentence).

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 licence (this term is explained in section 5.3).

At present an offender sentenced to 4 years or more will be considered for release on parole 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 prisoner will be released on parole 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, they may be taken back into custody and they may lose their licence. This may also happen if they commit another imprisonable offence before the date they would have served the original sentence in full.

5.4 Concerns after the prisoner has been released

The police are automatically told when a prisoner 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.