THE Scottish Government have today announced plans to force criminals to pay to support their victims and other measures as part of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill to be put forward at the Scottish Parliament later this year.
The bill will also set up a National Confidential Forum for people placed in institutional care as children to recount their experiences, including experiences of abuse, in confidence and with support. While details will be set out separately, it is proposed that the victim surcharge should be imposed on anyone given a fine by a court, based on a sliding scale, depending on the severity of their offence. It is estimated that this could raise more than £1.2 million a year.
The Scottish Government is also considering rolling the surcharge to cover more serious offences once the new system has bedded in, the same approach that England and Wales took. The victim surcharge will not replace existing financial support to victims’ organisations. Over £5 million per year is provided to support organisations such as Victim Support Scotland and we intend to maintain that level of funding over the next two years.
The key proposals in the bill are:
* giving victims and witnesses a right to certain information about their case, such as the time and place of the trial;
* creating a duty on justice organisations to set clear standards of service for victims and witnesses, creating a presumption that certain categories of victim (of sexual offences, domestic abuse, stalking and human trafficking) are vulnerable, and giving such victims the right to utilise certain special measures when giving evidence, such as a screen or a CCTV link;
* requiring the court to consider compensation to victims in relevant cases;
* introducing a victim surcharge so that offenders contribute to the cost of providing immediate support and assistance to victims;
* introducing restitution orders, allowing the court to require that offenders who assault police officers pay to support specialist non-NHS services;
allowing victims to make oral representations to the parole board in relation to the release of life sentence prisoners; and
* giving victims of sexual assault the right to choose the gender of their interviewer.
The Scottish Government’s Press Release : More support for victims and witnesses
Criminals will be made to pay into a fund to support victims under plans for new legislation set out today.
The Victims and Witnesses Bill, published today, proposes a victim surcharge, meaning that those who commit crimes will contribute to the cost of providing support to victims.
The Bill also sets out plans for police restitution orders, which will make those who assault police officers pay towards services supporting injured officers, and will give victims and witnesses a right to certain information about their cases.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced the plans at a visit to Victim Support Scotland to meet victims of crime. He said: “This bill will put victims’ interests at the heart of improvements to the justice system. We have listened to what people have told us about how the experience of being a victim of or a witness to a crime can be made less traumatic. I am confident that the changes proposed in this bill, alongside the continuing improvements we are making to the justice system, will help make what is often the most difficult episode in someone’s life a bit easier.
Mr MacAskill continued : “The victim surcharge, one of the key proposals in the Bill, provide additional funding to help support the immediate needs of victims of crime. I’m very interested to hear about the VSS victims’ fund today and how this has been used to help those in need - the surcharge fund will likely operate on a similar model and be aimed at meeting the immediate needs of victims of crime.”
Mr MacAskill met Harry Lindsay and Audrey McGuire, who received funding from the Victim Support Scotland Victims’ Fund.
David McKenna, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, said: “VSS has long campaigned for further improvements for victims and witnesses within the criminal justice system in this country and we very much welcome the fact that the Victims & Witnesses Bill is published today.
“The issue of a surcharge on offenders was a major feature of our last manifesto so we are very pleased that this is one of the bill’s key proposals. There is a great deal that could be done with additional funds made available from a victims’ surcharge.
“The VSS Victims Fund has been able to assist about 200 individuals over almost four years. These were people who literally had no access to assistance of any kind, and at a time when they were desperately in need of support. I believe that with access to additional funds we could do a great deal more to help those most in need.”
Louise Johnson of Scottish Women’s Aid said: "Scottish Women’s Aid welcomes the publication of the Victims and Witnesses Bill, taking forward elements of the EU Directive on rights for victims of crime. Particularly welcome are the specific proposals to further protect and support vulnerable witnesses giving evidence in court, including children and those who have experienced domestic abuse, sexual offences and stalking. We look forward to studying the draft Bill in detail and to working with the Scottish Government to ensure that the proposals enhance existing rights and offer the best responses and standards of service from the criminal justice system for women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse."
Mother-of-three Ms McGuire, 33, from Airdrie, Lanarkshire, was attacked with a hammer in her own home by her then partner while her children slept. He was jailed in April 2012, for four and a half years for assault to severe injury. The VSS Victims Fund has paid for an alarm system to be installed at her home, and is paying for the replacement of some flooring and a carpet which are still stained with Audrey’s blood.
Ms McGuire said: “I had no access to funding of any sort and was living in constant fear in my home. The Victims Fund has paid for an alarm system which makes me and my children feel safe again. They are also arranging for bloodstained flooring and carpeting to be replaced. The stains were a constant reminder to me and the children of what occurred when I was attacked in my home. I appreciate all that has been done for me by Victim Support Scotland but realise that they can only help if they have funds available. It makes sense to me as a victim that those who commit crimes and are brought before the courts should contribute to the recovery of victims and their families.”
Mr Lindsay believes his son Christopher Lindsay was murdered in Spain. The Victims’ Fund paid for him to travel to Spain to urge the authorities to investigate the case. During the trip Mr Lindsay was told a judge had instructed police to investigate. Christopher, from Edinburgh, died in hospital on the Costa del Sol in October 2011, five days after a night out with workmates. The 34-year-old father-of-three was found collapsed in the street by police. He was heavily bruised and his money and passport were missing.
Mr Lindsay said: “The Victims Fund came to the rescue of my family at a time when were at the height of a campaign to have the death of my son Christopher formally investigated by the Spanish police. BBC Scotland had decided to make a TV documentary into the circumstances surrounding Christopher’s death but I simply could not afford to go to Spain. “Without the support of the Victims Fund that documentary would not have been made and I am certain there would still not be an investigation. Irrespective of the outcome of that investigation we will be forever grateful to Victim Support Scotland for their continuing support.”