Serious criminals ‘dodging’ victim compensation

A LEGAL loophole preventing Scotland’s most serious offenders from paying into a fund to help victims should be closed, Scottish Labour has said.

The party has urged the Scottish Government to amend the Victims and Witnesses Bill, to make sure that those who can pay do so.

At present, offenders who are sent to prison will not have to pay into the fund, while those given fines and community punishments will.

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As a result, murderers, rapists, violent thieves and serious and organised criminals will often not contribute.

The fund will provide money for support organisations to help victims following a crime, such as by replacing bedsheets following a sexual attack.

The Scottish Government, which is currently consulting on the bill, said that it would consider changes further down the line.

But Lewis Macdonald, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, urged them to act sooner.

“They need to think about how to make it work better,” he said.

While convicted prisoners cannot earn money to pay the surcharge, that should not be a blanket excuse, he argued.

“That would be a defence for people who go to jail penniless,” Mr Macdonald said. “But many people who commit serious crimes have plenty of money.

“So the idea that this should only be applied to minor offences, because it is too difficult with serious offences, is wrong.”

He added: “I think there’s a very strong case that says victims of crime should be compensated and people who commit the most serious offences, such as fraud or robbery, should pay.”

But there are concerns about how effective the policy will be.

The government is determined that offenders should pay more, either through the victims’ surcharge or direct compensation orders.

However, the authorities have found it difficult extracting money from offenders.

Latest figures last month showed that £18.5 million in court fines remain unpaid, including £4m issued in the last six months.

Victim Support Scotland also believes the government should make offenders being jailed for serious offences pay into the surcharge fund, sooner rather than later.

Head of communications David Sinclair said: “We believe that when someone receives a sentence, there should be a view taken on their ability to pay.

“Where funds are available they should have this charge levied on them.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Victims and Witnesses Bill will introduce a victim surcharge so that offenders contribute to the cost of providing immediate support and assistance to victims.

“The detail of the scheme will be set out but it is proposed that, in the first instance, the victim surcharge should be imposed on anyone given a fine by a court, based on a sliding scale depending on the severity.”