Putting victims and witnesses at heart of justice system
Legislative reforms introduced to Parliament.
Legislation proposing a significant package of reform to ensure victims are treated with compassion and their voices heard across the justice system has been published.
The Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill will require justice agencies to make efforts to reduce re-traumatisation of victims and witnesses and will address long-standing challenges in the justice system’s approach to serious sexual offences.
Significant reforms proposed in the Bill include abolishing the not proven verdict in all criminal trials to help create a clearer, fairer and more transparent decision-making process. It will reduce juror numbers from 15 to 12 and increase the jury majority required for conviction to at least two-thirds – to ensure fairness, balance and promote confidence that verdicts are decided on a sound and rational basis.
If passed by Parliament, the Bill would also establish an independent Victims and Witnesses Commissioner for Scotland to champion the rights of victims and witnesses and encourage government and criminal justice agencies to put those rights at the heart of the justice system.
The Bill also includes significant new measures to meet the needs of survivors of sexual offences, building on the recommendations of Lady Dorrian’s Review Group on improving the management of sexual offence cases, enabling public confidence in the justice system by:
- protecting the dignity of victims through an automatic lifelong right of anonymity for victims of sexual offences
- establishing a specialist sexual offences court with national jurisdiction to enable complainers to give their best evidence while minimising the potential for re-traumatisation
- providing an automatic right to state-funded independent legal representation for complainers when applications are made to lead evidence of their sexual history or ‘bad character’ in sexual offence cases
- enabling a pilot of single judge trials for cases of rape and attempted rape to take place to gather evidence on their effectiveness
Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs Angela Constance said:
“This Bill will put victims and witnesses at the heart of the justice system. It is testament to the efforts of many campaigners who have worked to ensure that the processes of justice better serve victims, witnesses and vulnerable parties.
“This landmark legislation is among the most significant since devolution and will ensure fairness is cemented into the bedrock of Scotland’s modern-day justice system. Building on the experiences of survivors, victims, and their families, these key reforms will make justice services more sensitive to the trauma it can cause.
“This government has been clear we must take action to improve the experience of those who suffer sexual abuse. The majority are women, who must be supported to have trust and confidence that the processes of justice will serve their needs, allow them to give their best evidence and support them in their recovery.
“By creating an independent Commissioner for Scotland to champion the rights of victims and witnesses we can ensure that they are treated with compassion and their voices are heard.”
The Bill builds on recommendations set out in Lady Dorrian’s Review Group (on improving the management of sexual offences)
The Bill takes forward the work of the Victims’ Taskforce (which was established in 2018 by Mr Yousaf in his role as Cabinet Secretary for Justice) to develop a victim centred, trauma informed approach to justice in Scotland.
It also reflects work and investment in justice and safer communities over recent years to support victims more broadly (including specific funding to tackle violence against women and girls, the establishment of the victim surcharge fund, and funding for victim support organisations through the victim-centred approach fund).
Read the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill and proposals in full
Read an overview of key measures in the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill.
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