PEOPLE convicted of assaulting police officers could be ordered to pay up to £10,000 in new charges to fund rehabilitation and treatment, under laws passed by MSPs yesterday.
Offenders in general face being hit with a new “surcharge” to support services for victims.
Adults who suffered abuse in residential homes will also get the chance to speak out through the creation of a new National Confidential Forum (NCF), as part of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill.
It will see vulnerable witnesses in cases involving sexual offences, domestic abuse, stalking and human trafficking get new rights to special measures when giving evidence, including video links and screens.
Justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill said: “For too long, victims have been treated and been made to feel like bystanders in the criminal justice system.
“The passage of this bill will see more consideration given to the rights of victims and witnesses of crime, and will improve their experience of the system to which they turn to see justice served.”
Victims and witnesses will get new rights to clearer information about their case.
The police restitution orders and victim surcharges will be imposed on top of any fines or jail sentences handed down to offenders.
The money raised would go towards the cost of caring for, treating and rehabilitating police officers who had been assaulted. The Victim Surcharge Fund would make payments to victims, including measures such as replacing locks or other damage to their homes.
Justice agencies such as the courts and Crown Office will have to publish clear “standards of service”, Mr MacAskill said, to make sure victims and witnesses know “what to expect when they come into contact with the justice system”.
The National Confidential Forum has been established ten years after former First Minister Lord McConnell made a landmark apology to survivors of childhood abuse in Scotland. At the time, the country had been rocked by tales of abuse from institutions including Nazareth House in Aberdeen and the Kerlaw Residential Unit in Ayrshire.
Mr MacAskill said: “The NCF will give people who were placed in institutional care as children the opportunity to share their experiences through a confidential, supportive and non-judgmental process.”
But Labour’s Graeme Pearson said the legislation could have gone further.
“I’m disappointed at the lack of ambition to actually deliver some of the needs of that victims and witnesses have expressed to us,” he said.
“However, in evidence given to the justice committee, it was made very clear in witnesses from the police and other services that, currently, they didn’t have the facilities to deliver the kind of improvement required in a format that witnesses and victims would find acceptable.
“That’s a real worry and concern for the years ahead.”
The changes were largely aimed at bringing Scotland in line with EU law.
A Tory bid to amend the legislation and give rape victims the right to legal advice before personal information is accessed by lawyers was rejected by MSPs.
Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said there were “long-standing concerns over the inappropriate use of victims’ health and other sensitive information in sexual offence trials”.
Alan McCloskey, acting deputy chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, welcomed the new legislation.
“For the first time ever, crucial rights for victims will be enshrined in law,” he said.
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