Offenders ‘must pay costs of crime victim support’

Rights of victims, the accused and witnesses must be balanced. Picture: PA
Rights of victims, the accused and witnesses must be balanced. Picture: PA
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Improvements should be made to legislation aimed at protecting and supporting victims of crime, a Holyrood committee has said.

A report by the justice committee, published today, sets out a series of recommendations to improve the Scottish Government’s Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill.

The legislation includes proposals to make offenders pay towards the cost of supporting victims, rights for victims to see certain information about their case, and provisions for victims of sexual assaults to choose the gender of the police officer who interviews them.

While the committee supports the legislation, it says changes are needed to balance the rights of victims and those who are accused of crimes.

Committee convener Christine Grahame MSP said: “This bill provides overdue support and protection for victims and witnesses, and we hope it will improve their experience of the criminal justice system.

“In particular, we believe the flow of information from criminal justice organisations is not as co-ordinated as it should be.”

Ms Grahame added: “We heard in evidence that victims had to tell their often-traumatic stories around 16 times to various criminal justice organisations. This is clearly is not 
acceptable.

“However, we also believe that improvements are required to certain parts of the bill to 
ensure the rights of both the 
accused and those of victims and witnesses are balanced.

“In particular, while supporting victims and witnesses, we need to ensure that the access to justice and the presumption of innocence of the accused are protected, and we look forward to the Scottish Government’s 
response to these and other 
issues in our report.”

Proposals include a move to establish an online hub to give victims access to information about their individual case, but this “should not replace the vital need for human interaction and support for victims”.

It also believes that the police and courts must be financed and trained to ensure they can provide the case-specific information to victims and witnesses.

However, the legislation has already been criticised by some victims who say it does not go far enough.

Peter Morris, whose sister was killed by her husband Malcolm Webster, said the bill is disappointing and called for further measures such as case companions to act as a single point of contact for victims.

Helen Richardson, whose sister was killed by her husband with an axe, also called for case companions to be introduced following her experience of the criminal justice system.