News

Scottish Government announces plans to reduce unpaid work backlog

28 January, 2021

New measures regarding some elements of Community Payback Orders will help ensure the justice system can operate effectively and ease pressure on local authorities as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues.

Public health restrictions introduced since the outbreak last March have significantly impacted upon unpaid work – the most common element of Community Payback Orders (CPOs) – that can be undertaken safely. Most recently, the Chief Medical Officer has written to Local Authorities recommending that face-to-face unpaid work orders are suspended in those Councils under enhanced Level 4 stay at home restrictions.

The Scottish Government is laying regulations to reduce the unpaid work element imposed in existing CPOs by 35%, with the exception of those imposed for domestic abuse, sexual offences, or stalking.

“We understand that exceptions have been put in place for orders imposed for domestic abuse, sexual offences and stalking. However, we believe this still leaves many people impacted by crime with uncertainty, which can be triggering and traumatic.”

Those categories of CPOs have been excluded to mitigate potential risks to future reporting of these offences, recognising ongoing work over many years by victims organisations, justice partners, government and others to remove the barriers that exist in relation to those offences.

Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, said: 

“Victim Support Scotland recognises and supports any initiative to reinvigorate the justice system during the pandemic, but we are disappointed that we could not find more creative ways of organising and delivering unpaid work in Scotland in a safe way during this pandemic.  We believe the safety of victims and the wider community is paramount. We therefore want reassurances that this reduction in unpaid hours does not compromise people’s safety and wellbeing, and that justice is ultimately being served.

“We understand that exceptions have been put in place for orders imposed for domestic abuse, sexual offences and stalking. However, we believe this still leaves many people impacted by crime with uncertainty, which can be triggering and traumatic. Furthermore, we are aware without the resources in place to monitor and ensure Community Payback Orders are carried out effectively, many existing hours remain unfulfilled. This does not invoke public trust or confidence.

“Victim Support Scotland is therefore seeking assurances that the remaining hours of unpaid work within Community Payback Orders will be carried out, and that the impact of this development will be closely monitored with public safety considered paramount.”

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:

“Scotland’s justice social workers and other community justice staff play a critical – though often unseen – role in ensuring the delivery of community-based sentences that, in recent years, have contributed to record low reconviction rates which in turn help keep crime down and communities safe, with fewer victims.

“The public health challenges they have faced during the pandemic were recognised by Parliament when it approved provisions in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act to allow community orders, including unpaid work, to be varied if necessary.

“It is clearly important for all those involved to ensure justice is carried out swiftly and effectively and that confidence in community orders is retained. This challenge, by no means exclusive to Scotland, requires a balanced and sensitive response.

“While I acknowledge that some may have concerns, I can assure victims of crime and others that the justice system continues to hold those who commit offences to account.

“This proportionate measure will help address the unavoidable build-up of unpaid work resulting from essential public health restrictions, while ensuring that those on community orders still serve the majority of their sentences.”

Victim Support Scotland is here to help anyone affected by crime. If you need support, please contact us via our helpline (0800 160 1985), our webchat service (see bottom right) or our contact form.