Scottish Government
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Greater rights for victims and witnesses

Victims and witnesses bill clears final parliamentary hurdle.

The bill, which last night passed Stage Three of the bill process, will for the first time place the interests of victims and witnesses at the heart of reforms to Scotland’s justice system by requiring justice organisations to publish clear standards of service in relation to victims and witnesses. It will also improve support for vulnerable witnesses.

It means criminals will now be made to pay into a fund to help support the needs of victims of crime.

The bill will also create a confidential forum allowing those placed in institutional care as children to recount and receive acknowledgement of experiences, including abuse and neglect .

Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, welcomed cross party support for the bill and thanked victims groups whose contributions helped shape it.

He said: “For too long, victims and witnesses have been made to feel like bystanders in our criminal justice system.

“This bill gives greater protection to their rights, ensures more joined up support across the justice system and ultimately, gives victims and witnesses confidence that their voices will be heard.

“This bill is an important step forward. We will continue our work to improve the experience victims and witnesses have of our justice system.”

Alan McCloskey, Acting Deputy Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland added: “Victim Support Scotland warmly welcomes the new legislation.

“This will be a very important step forward towards improving the position of victims and witnesses in Scotland. For the first time ever, crucial rights for victims will be enshrined in law, such as rights to receive information, support, safety and protection.

“We deal with 180,000 people hit by crime every year and we see clearly how much they suffer. We believe that this new legislation is an important start in reducing that suffering.”

Key provisions within the bill include:

  • Introducing a victims surcharge fund, paid for by offenders, to give immediate support and assistance to victims of crime, for example replacing locks or other damage to their homes
  • The setting up of a National Confidential Forum for people placed in institutional care as children enabling them to recount in confidence any experiences, including abuse and neglect
  • Giving victims and witnesses the right to request certain information about their case.
  • Creating a duty for justice organisations to set clear standards of service for victims and witnesses
  • Setting a presumption that witnesses in cases involving sexual offences, domestic abuse, stalking and human trafficking are vulnerable and have the right to use measures such as screens in court and a CCTV link when giving evidence.
  • Requiring the court to consider whether offenders should pay compensation to their victims in relevant cases
  • Introducing restitution orders so that offenders who assault police officers pay to support services benefiting officers’ health and well-being
  • Allowing victims to make oral representations to the parole board in relation to the release of life sentence prisoners
  • Giving victims of sexual assault the right to choose the gender of their interviewer.

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