Providing more help and support for victims is key to building a better criminal justice system.
Justice organisations must work together to ensure that victims and witnesses feel supported, safe and informed at every stage of the legal process.
The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 (the 2014 Act) was passed by the Scottish Parliament in December 2013. It will bring into law a number of changes to improve the experience victims and witnesses have of Scotland's justice system, including:
- creating a duty for justice organisations to set clear standards of service for victims and witnesses
- giving victims and witnesses new rights to certain information about their case
- improving support for vulnerable witnesses in court – for example, changing the definition of 'child witness' to include all those under 18 (instead of under 16), and creating a presumption that certain categories of victim are vulnerable, and giving such victims the right to utilise certain special measures when giving evidence
- introducing a victim surcharge so that offenders contribute to the cost of supporting victims
- introducing restitution orders, allowing the court to require that offenders who assault police officers pay to support the specialist non-NHS services which assist in the recovery of such individuals
- allowing victims to make oral representations about the release of life sentence prisoners.
We are also:
- providing more than £4 million each year to support victims’ organisations such as Victim Support Scotland
- improving communication that reduces witness non-attendance at court, e.g. the use of text message reminders
- giving victims better access to information on how to get help and advice through the crime, justice and the law pages on mygov.scot.
The 2014 Act introduces various measures to improve the support and information available to victims and witnesses of crime in Scotland.
As part of these improvements, new standards of service (the standards) have been developed by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, Police Scotland, Scottish Prison Service and the Parole Board for Scotland. The duty to publish the standards arises from section 2 of the 2014 Act, and they are intended to inform victims and witnesses as to what to expect in their interaction with these organisations. The standards contain information specific to the functions of each organisation including a clear complaints procedure.
The standards have been developed in close consultation with a number of victim organisations in Scotland, and will be reviewed (with further consultation taking place before any proposed changes are made) in accordance with the 2014 Act.
The Strategy for Justice in Scotland sets out our approach to make the Scottish justice system fit for the 21st century.
Improving the experience of victims and witnesses is a key part of our Making Justice Work programme, which brings together a range of reforms to the structure and processes of the courts.
The Scottish Strategy for Victims, published in 2001, set out an action plan based on three principles: that victims should be provided with information; that they should receive appropriate support; and that they should have their voice heard.
In 2012, an EU Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime was finalised. The Victims and Witnesses Bill will help ensure that Scotland complies with the Directive.
Who we’ve consulted
The Victims and Witnesses Act 2014 was developed following several years of consultation with various victim support organisations.
Detailed consultation has also taken place with key stakeholder groups, justice partners and individual victims, including the following organisations:
- Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
- Faculty of Advocates
- Law Society of Scotland
- Scottish Legal Aid Board
- Scottish Court Service
- Victim Support Scotland
- Scottish Woman’s Aid
Bills and Legislation
The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on December 12, 2013 and received Royal Assent on January 17, 2014.
The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 introduced a number of measures to protect the rights of victims and witnesses including a statutory scheme of witness anonymity orders.
The Vulnerable Witness (Scotland) Act aims to improve conditions for vulnerable witnesses by increasing the number of support measures available to help them participate more fully in criminal and any civil court proceedings.
How Scotland is performing
Scotland Performs measures and reports on the progress of government in Scotland. The National Outcomes describe what we want to achieve over the next 10 years.
National Outcome: Our public services are high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people’s needs
If you have been asked to be a witness the crime, justice and the law pages on mygov.scot provide advice about going to court.
If you have been affected by crime or you know someone who has, the crime, justice and the law pages on mygov.scot give information about the criminal justice system as well as how to get help and advice.
If you have been a victim of a violent crime you may be eligible for criminal injuries compensation. Click the following link to access the guide to applying for compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.