10 Impact on Victims
Impact on victims
1 The primary focus of the MAPPA is the risk posed by, and the behaviour of, the offender. In assessing that risk, account needs to be taken of the possible impact of an offender's behaviour on victims of the original offence or offences, as well as the possibility of there being new victims. There are references to victims throughout the MAPPA Guidance, however, this chapter gives a more general description of victim's issues.
2 The risk posed to an existing victim will depend on a range of factors, including the nature of the original offence, the relationship between the offender and the victim and the current location of the victim. Victims can include not only those most easily identified as the victim(s) but those who, whilst not directly involved with the offence itself, have been seriously affected by it - the family of a murder victim, for example.
3 Where there is, or was, an established relationship between the victim and the offender, great care has to be taken to assess the likelihood of the offender attempting to contact the victim, that assessment needs to consider, amongst other things, the proximity of the victim and offender and the chances of them meeting, inadvertently or otherwise.
4 Even when an offence was apparently random and it is deemed unlikely that an offender will seek to contact a particular victim, the victim may be fearful or distressed about the possibility of meeting the offender. Consequently, as part of the MAPPA process consideration should be given not only to the risks posed by an offender to existing victims, but also taking steps to minimise victims' anxiety and, where appropriate, provide reassurance.
5 The possibility of new victims, or, of course, the possibility of existing victims being targeted once more; needs to be considered; it is this that sharpens the focus of risk assessments, which, if they are to be of any use, need to identify anyone who is at risk. In some cases these may not be any named individual(s) but people who are vulnerable by virtue of their location, age, gender, race, religion, sexuality or other distinguishing characteristic. The risks an offender may pose to some particularly vulnerable people, such as children, will require effective links between the responsible authorities and other agencies.
Rights of victims
6 Victims already have some rights to be notified about the release of an offender. The Victim Notification Scheme (VNS) introduced by section 16 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, confers on victim's in cases - where the victim's assailant has been sentenced to 18 months or more in prison - the right to apply to be notified:
- of the date the person is to be released (other than temporary release);
- if the convicted person dies before release, the date of death;
- that the convicted person has been transferred out with Scotland;
- that the convicted person has become eligible for temporary release;
- that the convicted person is unlawfully at large; and
- that the convicted person has, for any reason, in respect of a sentence, returned to a prison or young offenders institution before that sentence has been served in full.
7 In cases where the victims assailant is sentenced to four years or more in prison, they also have the right to apply to:
- receive certain information regarding Parole Board review hearings and licence conditions from the Parole Board; and
- make representations to the Parole Board prior to a decision being taken on the release (and the licence conditions) of the offender and, in certain circumstances, to make representations to the Scottish Ministers prior to a decision being taken by them on licence conditions and to receive certain information concerning licence conditions from the Scottish Ministers.
8 In cases where the victim has died, the VNS allows information to be shared with up to four of the victim's nearest relatives; the list of eligible relatives and the hierarchy of priority is set out in section 14(10) of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003.
9 The legislation provides a lawful basis for the disclosure of information to victims (within the limits set out in the Act). The Victim Notification (Prescribed Offences) (Scotland) Order 2004 and the Victim Notification (Prescribed Offences) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2009 prescribe the offences covered by the VNS.
10 It is important to note that not all victims apply to the VNS, and some of those who have done so do not keep SPS informed of any change in address. Moreover, the VNS does not apply to victims whose case has not been proven in court, for example, a serial rapist might be prosecuted for specimen offences and victims of offences that were not prosecuted would not be eligible to join the VNS. Finally, victims of offences where the offender was sentenced prior to 1997 (which was when the SPS introduced an administrative victim notification scheme) although eligible to join VNS may not be aware of their right to do so.
Support and information for victims
11 Even in cases that date back many years, victims may be supported by a support organisation, and may feel it helpful to have that organisation involved if agencies are in contact with them about the MAPPA process. Even if victims are not being currently supported, it may be helpful to consider suggesting the involvement of a support agency when victims are being approached, particularly if the victim is vulnerable. Typically, Victim Support Scotland or Women's Aid and Rape Crisis services offer support to victims, but there are a range of other agencies that might be involved in providing practical and emotional support to victims.
12 In addition to voluntary agencies, Victim Information and Advice (VIA) which is part of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, provides factual advice and support to victims of certain crimes including sexual offences and to the families of homicide victims on the progress of their case, from the time that it is reported to the Procurator Fiscal through to the trial. If the offender lodges an appeal, victims will normally be kept informed of developments by the local Procurator Fiscal's office.
13 The challenge for the MAPPA is to ensure that the risk assessment and risk management plan developed by the responsible authorities for the offender takes full account of the known concerns of any specified victim(s). The responsible authorities must satisfy themselves that they have thoroughly considered the potential risks to which any victim may be exposed and put in place appropriate robust plans to minimise the likelihood of the offender causing further serious harm. The sharing of information relating to the victim(s) by the responsible authorities plays a central role in making this aspect of the MAPPA process successful. Such an approach will, for example, minimise the likelihood of an offender being released from custody and being accommodated within the same neighbourhood locality as a victim. Where appropriate, reassurance should be provided, especially to existing victims. Clearly, contacting victims in any circumstances, particularly those most vulnerable, will be a sensitive matter which requires careful handling.
Email: Gus MacDonald