NICOLA Sturgeon has hit back at claims “the SNP’s soft touch justice system” puts criminals ahead of victims.

Tory leader Douglas Ross pressed the First Minister over proposals to bring forward the early release trigger for criminal, published in a Scottish Government consultation earlier this week.

The consultation seeks views on proposals which could see some offenders released under certain conditions after serving one third of their sentence, and give ministers the power to free groups of prisoners in exceptional circumstances.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon stressed that Scotland sends more of its population to prison than any other country in western Europe.

Mr Ross had raised the case of Esther Brown, a pensioner who was raped and murdered in her own home in Glasgow.

READ MORE: SNP proposal to consider cutting short trigger for early release of prisoners

Her killer Jason Graham was a registered sex offender who had previously served time in prison for raping another woman.

Mr Ross said: “This case is yet another damning example of the glaring flaws in Scotland’s justice system.

“Jason Graham was released early, he wasn’t monitored properly.

“Yesterday he got 19 years, a long sentence yes, but not nearly enough for such a horrific crime.”

Ms Sturgeon expressed her condolences to the family and friends of Ms Brown, but admitted the systems put in place to protect the public from registered sex offenders “did not work in this particular, tragic case”.

She added that it would be right for there to be a “significant case review”.

But Mr Ross said: “Those processes and procedures didn’t save Esther Brown from being raped and being murdered, so I’m sorry, that does not cut it when we are dealing with lives being lost.”

READ MORE: FMQs: Sturgeon proceeding over 'worst scandal in devolution era' amid hospital death 'cover-up' claims

He also highlighted a consultation opened by the Scottish Government this week on the use of bail and the release of prisoners.

Pointing to the remand and bail consultation, Mr Ross said: “Far too often in the SNP’s soft touch justice system criminals are put first, not victims.

“It’s too late for Esther Brown, but this must change.”

The Tory leader highlighted a bill set to be put forward by his own party, which he claimed would “protect the public and put victims first”.

Any bill put forward by the conservatives would likely clash with the Scottish Government’s proposed legislation set out in the consultation.

Ms Sturgeon said: “It is important that we recognise that it’s necessary to have in place a justice system that punishes those that deserve to be punished.

“But that also promotes rehabilitation and tries to reduce re-offending.

“I know it is an easy soundbite for the Conservatives but to describe a country as soft touch justice when we both have some of the lowest crime rates we’ve had in many years but also, as I’ve said already today, send a higher proportion of our population to prison than any other country in western Europe, is simply not accurate.

“The question we have to ask ourselves is, is our justice system and the approaches that are taken to dealing with offenders always as effective as they should be, both in punishing but also in reducing re-offending?”