Kenny MacAskill rejects Victims Commissioner calls

CALLS for a dedicated Victims Commissioner to be established have been rejected by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

Kenny MacAskill: rejected calls for a Victims Commissioner. Picture: Greg Macvean
Kenny MacAskill: rejected calls for a Victims Commissioner. Picture: Greg Macvean
Kenny MacAskill: rejected calls for a Victims Commissioner. Picture: Greg Macvean

He insisted setting up such a post would duplicate the “excellent” work of existing victim support groups and would create an “extra layer of bureaucracy”.

The Labour party has called for a commissioner in Scotland to act as an independent champion for victims of crime.

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But Mr MacAskill has now told MSPs that he does not believe the case has been made for such a post.

He said Holyrood’s Justice Committee stated that “a compelling case has not been made in relation to the establishment of a Victims Commissioner”.

The Justice Secretary said: “This is a view I share, along with several victim support organisations including Victim Support Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid.

“Given the excellent work carried out by our victim support organisations in Scotland, I continue to believe that the establishment of such a post would simply be a duplication of effort and an extra layer of bureaucracy.”

He argued that “limited resources would be better used in directly helping victims of crime” rather than creating a Victims Commissioner.

He spoke out as Holyrood debated the general principles of new legislation which aims to help both victims and witnesses.

The Scottish Government’s Victims and Witnesses Bill proposes measures to make offenders pay towards the cost of supporting victims of crime.

It includes a victim surcharge, imposed on all offenders who are fined by the courts. The amount they would pay would be on a sliding scale depending on the severity of their offence, but the Government has already estimated such a scheme could raise at least £1.2 million a year which would go towards support and assistance for victims of crime.

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The Bill also plans the introduction of restitution orders which would see those convicted of assaulting the police having to pay towards services which support injured officers.

If passed, the legislation would give victims and witnesses a right to certain information about their case, such as the time and place of the trial, and would allow victims to speak to the Parole Board when it considers releasing offenders who have been given a life sentence.

The Bill would also create a presumption that some types of victim, including those subjected to sexual offences, domestic abuse, stalking and human trafficking, are vulnerable which would allow for special measures to support them, such as giving their evidence from behind a screen or via videolink.

Mr MacAskill said: “The Victims and Witnesses Bill has a clear aim: to put the needs of victims and witnesses at the centre of the criminal justice system.”

It also includes proposals to establish a national confidential forum to give people who were in care when they were children the opportunity to recount their experience in front of an independent panel.

Mr MacAskill said this has been welcomed by those who have been in care, particularly people who experienced abuse or neglect.

“Those survivors have been asking for their experiences to be heard and acknowledged for many years, and we are responding,” he told MSPs.