NICOLA Sturgeon has said the “Tory hypocrisy” behind the party’s criticism of the Scottish justice system is “utterly breathtaking”.

The First Minister was speaking in Holyrood during Thursday’s FMQs when she was quizzed on prisoner sentences and “automatic early release” by Scottish Tory MSP Jamie Greene.

Opening the questioning, Greene, filling in for absent party leader Douglas Ross, asked about the number of people who had been wrongly given a lower risk assessment after a computer glitch, and how many had been released from prison “before it was safe to do so”.

The question was in reference to an announcement made by Justice Secretary Keith Brown that eight offenders who had been allowed temporary release had the glitch affect their risk scores.

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An IT glitch led to 1317 risk scores in the system used by the prison service not matching the correct risk level identified by professionals, 285 of which were “open cases”.

Speaking in Holyrood, the First Minister said Brown had already given much of the details to Parliament, but said that of those eight people released, seven were currently still behind bars.

“All 285 open cases that the risk scoring level issue appeared to have affected have also been checked by social work professionals and they have provided assurance again that no public protection issues have been identified,” Sturgeon said.

In response, Greene (below) said this was “all very well”, but said it had been a “blunder” which showed that justice was not a priority for the Scottish Government.

Sturgeon replied: “Greene tries to see it's ‘all very well to say that there were no public protection issues identified’.

“I actually think that is the fundamentally important matter.”

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Commenting on the Tory MSP’s contribution, she went on: “I have confirmed to Parliament today that of those eight, seven of them actually are still behind bars, in jail, in custody, and yet no response at all to that because it doesn't fit the narrative Jamie Greene wants to share with Parliament.

“Actually being able to give an assurance to the public that there were no public protection issues, I think is important whether or not it fits the Tory narrative of this issue.

“In terms of the wider issue, of course it was this government that ended the system of automatically released that actually, I believe a previous Tory government had actually introduced.”

Automatic early release was brought in by the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993, which passed under John Major’s Tory government.

In 2015, the SNP government announced it would end automatic release for anyone serving more than a four-year sentence in prison.

At the time, the Tories said it was “clearly welcome news”, but criticised the SNP for not going far enough, suggesting that those on shorter sentences (below four years) should also not be released early.

As it stands, prisoners can be let out early in order to see out the end of their sentence in the community and to help assimilate back into society. However, breaching the law can see those people returned to jail.

Pointing out that Conservatives had introduced the system that they were now calling to be scrapped altogether, Sturgeon said: “I find the Tory hypocrisy on this utterly breathtaking, and let me set out, very clearly, exactly why.

“This SNP government reformed release arrangements for prisoners serving long-term sentences. What that meant was that most dangerous prisoners no longer received automatic early release, and that ended a system that was introduced by a Tory UK government in 1993.

“Why do I think the Tory position is hypocritical today?. It’s because when we did that in 2016, the Tories in this chamber voted against that change.”

Greene responded that the “only hypocrisy” was Sturgeon’s, claiming she had pledged to end early release and yet still allowed it in shorter-term cases.

He said the Tories believed early release was unfair on the families of victims.

A detailed explanation of Scotland’s early release rules can be found on the “mythbuster” section of the Scottish Sentencing Council’s website.