Independent Review of the Victim Notification Scheme: terms of reference

Terms of reference for the independent review of the Victim Notification Scheme.


The VNS gives effect to the rights introduced by Part 2 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 as subsequently amended. Eligible victims have rights to receive certain information about the release of a prisoner. In some cases, they also have a right to be told when the prisoner is considered for parole and make representations about their release.

The scheme was first established in 2004 and since then the Scottish Government has legislated to expand the scope of the scheme. The Scottish Government recognises, however, that victims and victim support organisations have concerns about the current operation of the scheme. Accordingly it has asked Alastair MacDonald to launch an independent review to ensure the scheme is fit for purpose and is serving victims effectively.

The Review will form a key part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to transform the way in which justice services are delivered, which includes putting the voices of victims and a trauma-informed approach at the heart of Scottish justice.

Scottish Government has overarching policy responsibility for the VNS and the legislation which underpins it. It is operated by the Scottish Prison Service and also involves:

  • Crown Office
  • Procurator Fiscal Service
  • Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and
  • Parole Board for Scotland

Victim support organisations (VSOs) are also involved through the provision of support to victims who are considering joining or have joined the scheme. 


The independent Review of the VNS will ensure it is fit for purpose and is serving victims effectively in line with Scottish Government’s commitment to create a more person-centred justice system. The Review will include:

  • key partners, victim support organisations and victims being interviewed
  • current processes being mapped and understood
  • links to the Scottish Government’s development of a victim-centred approach and the practical application of the justice system engaging with victims in a trauma-informed manner
  • potential consideration of legal and data protection issues given the statutory nature of the scheme and the sensitive nature of the information involved
  • consideration of the scope of the scheme, for example in relation to non-custodial sentences
  • interactions and dependencies with the VNS for victims of offenders with a mental disorder, operated by SG Mental Health Division
  • development of clear, actionable and costed recommendations for improvement which take account of financial considerations


We anticipate that the Review will take around 12 months to complete, starting in April 2022.

Working group structure

In line with the Victims’ Taskforce recommendation, the Review is led by an independent Chair supported by a working group from the relevant justice agencies. The Chair has been appointed by the Scottish Ministers. 

To strengthen the Review and ensure appropriate support for the Chair, an independent Vice-Chair has also been appointed to the review by the Scottish Ministers. 

The working group will involve representatives from relevant organisations or individuals, on an ad hoc or ongoing basis, whose input can support delivery of the group’s objectives based on views of the Chair and Vice-chair, taking into account as appropriate advice from Scottish Government officials. 

The Scottish Government will provide dedicated secretariat services to the Review. These services will be provided through existing budgets. 

Remuneration and other financial arrangements

Reflecting the specific nature of the contributions to the work of the Review by the Chair and Vice-Chair, these office-holders will receive remuneration in line with the daily fee policy as set out in the Scottish Government’s technical guide on Public Sector Pay Policy .

The Chair and Vice-Chair daily fees are subject to adjustment should the policy approach to daily fees as set out in the technical guide on Public Sector Pay Policy be amended during the course of the Review. 

The Chair, Vice-Chair, and working group members may also be reimbursed for reasonable expenses, such as travel costs, that arise from their contribution to the Review. 

Any individual or representative of an organisation who participates in a Review meeting on an ad hoc basis may also be reimbursed for reasonable expenses such as travel costs. 

Meeting logistics

The Chair and Vice-Chair are to have discretion to set the format of any meetings in a way that best suits the subject matter for discussion, having taken into account the views of working group members or ad hoc participants. As needed, the Scottish Government can provide physical meeting rooms for the purposes of in-person or hybrid meetings. 

Communications and information-sharing

In line with the independence of the Review but reflecting the Scottish Government’s contribution to the Review’s work as secretariat, the Scottish Government will establish secure record-keeping mechanisms that keep material relating to the Review separate from general information held by the Scottish Government. This will make clear that, for the purposes of FOISA, the Scottish Government is holding this information on behalf of the Review.

The Scottish Government, including in its role as secretariat to the Review, is subject to requests for information under FOISA. This means that material provided to Ministers or officials acting in a secretariat role by the Review would be information held by the Scottish Government for the purposes of FOISA. In the event of a request for information being received the Scottish Government would, in the usual way, consider if any exemptions applied to the release of the information. Consideration of exemptions may involve the application of the public interest test. 

Given the subject matter of the Review, it may be necessary to consider some material which may include personal data, special category personal data, or criminal offence data. Where that is the case, the Review and the Scottish Government in its secretariat role will ensure that this data is processed in compliance with the UK General Data Protection Regulations and the Data Protection Act 2018. 

To support public understanding of the work of the Review, it will publish its terms of reference, high level work plan and minutes of meetings. The Review will consider the publication of other information where appropriate. 

Otherwise, Review discussions are confidential. Review materials and any information about the subjects discussed are confidential and not to be shared with third parties.

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