DCSIMG

Domestic abuse prosecutor for Scotland appointed

Bill Walker was sentenced to a year in prison - the maximum sentence available. Picture: Neil Hanna

Bill Walker was sentenced to a year in prison - the maximum sentence available. Picture: Neil Hanna

  • by TOM PETERKIN
 

Domestic abuse cases throughout Scotland will be co-ordinated by a newly-created national prosecutor appointed to improve the way such crimes are tackled, it was announced today.

Anne Marie Hicks has been appointed Scotland’s first specialist procurator fiscal for domestic abuse with the power to change prosecution policy.

The appointment comes less than a week after the former SNP MSP Bill Walker was jailed for one year for a series of assaults on his three ex-wives.

Women’s groups and politicians criticised the sentence handed to Walker, believing it to be too lenient. {http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/anger-as-bill-walker-jailed-for-one-year-1-3103333|The disgraced politician received the maximum sentence that could be imposed against him|Link to article}, given that he was tried on a summary complaint.

But politicians said Walker’s case should have been heard by a higher court with the power to hand down a stiffer sentence.

Ms Hicks has been appointed to improve the way domestic abuse cases are dealt with, engage with those involved in tackling abuse to strengthen a collective response, and raise awareness of the dynamics of abuse with police and prosecutors.

Ms Hicks said: “Domestic abuse can be deeply distressing and damaging for victims and their families.

“In recent years we have seen huge steps forward in the confidence of victims to report domestic abuse and a step change in the way that police and prosecutors handle such cases.

“I look forward to working again with the police, ASSIST (Advocacy, Support, Safety, Information, Services Together) and Scottish Women’s Aid to continually improve the way we prepare such cases. Their insights will be invaluable in shaping the response to the needs of victims and their families.”

Lily Greenan, manager of Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “This post recognises that there is scope to consider how we can improve the prosecution of domestic abuse across Scotland. Anne Marie Hicks will bring a wealth of experience to the role.”

Mhairi McGowan, head of service at ASSIST, said: “There have been welcome changes in attitudes to domestic abuse within society and it is important that victims who come forward to report what has been happening to them have confidence that there is a consistent response across Scotland.

“Domestic abuse is a complex set of behaviours that presents particular challenges to the criminal justice system and therefore this appointment will help ensure that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) can answer those challenges.”

Solicitor General Lesley Thomson QC said victims are central to prosecution policy, with prosecutors trained in the preparation of cases and the impact on the ability of victims to come forward.

“While this is an area of crime on which public attitudes have continued to change over recent decades, there is no doubt that there is continuing public approval for prosecutors to gain further understanding of the best ways in which to support victims and deal proportionately with perpetrators,” she said.

“Anne Marie Hicks will return to an area of work that she piloted by leading the domestic abuse unit, which was set up in Glasgow in 2009, and I have asked her to review all areas of COPFS work and training in domestic abuse in consultation with partner agencies ahead of a COPFS domestic abuse conference in spring 2014.

“If her review indicates any changes need to be made to prosecution policy, then such changes will be prioritised. We will continue to deal with prosecution of domestic abuse by means of robust prosecution policy.”

Ms Hicks’ appointment was welcomed by the Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, who led calls for Walker to quit Holyrood after he was convicted of 23 assault charges against his ex-wives and a step-daughter.

“Members of the Scottish Parliament spoke with one voice against domestic violence and Bill Walker when he was convicted,” Mr Rennie said.

“Now this parliament can make something good out of Bill Walker’s repulsive acts. I am pleased that the Government has agreed to a review of the prosecution guidelines for domestic violence. The appointment of a specialist prosecutor will help ensure there is a lasting change to our approach to domestic violence.”

“Where there is a pattern of abuse it is important that we consider the overall impact that weeks, months or even years of violence has had on victims.

“Too often, violent incidents are treated as isolated events.

“We should escalate the seriousness of these matters to reflect the overall impact of the fear and alarm that ongoing, abusive and controlling behaviour has.”

Profile: Work in west gives insight into problem

Anne Marie Hicks is an experienced prosecutor, who has specialised in domestic abuse cases.

Following five years in private practice, she joined the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in 1998. Since then she has worked in several offices, including Linlithgow, Paisley, Greenock and Glasgow, as well as in the Crown Office policy division.

But it was her spell as head of the Domestic Abuse Unit in Glasgow from 2009 until 2012, which gives her a special insight into domestic violence which will prove invaluable as she takes up her new position.

Through her work with Domestic Abuse Unit in Glasgow, she was involved in police training and developing a multi-pronged approach to the problem involving several agencies, including women’s groups.

Her work with the Domestic Abuse Unit included considerable involvement in ongoing multi-agency work aimed at tackling domestic abuse.

Before taking up the new post she worked with the Copfs Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Scottish fatalities investigation unit.

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