4 The Views of Victims and Lay Witnesses
4.1 Interviews were sought with a spread of victims and witnesses across Scotland to explore their experiences and perceptions of the summary justice system. The focus was solely on victims and witnesses who had been involved in summary justice (as opposed to solemn or civil justice) and on those who had been victimised post-December 2007, in order to capture data on experiences post-SJR. Some of the victims who were recruited had also been witnesses in court, and so were able to comment on the two separate experiences. Many of the victims had also been victimised on more than one occasion which meant that they had multiple experiences of the summary justice system on which to base their responses. Importantly, in such cases, it was felt that victims may be able to comment on their experiences and perceptions of the system both pre and post-reform (if their earlier encounters had taken place before December 2007).
4.2 In presenting the interview data that resulted, there are several caveats that must be applied. Firstly, although the research hoped to reach some people who could comment on repeat victimisation both pre and post-reform, it is important to remember that recollection of the timing of separate events may have been difficult for some of those interviewed, and there may have been some further confusing of different cases that occurred both pre- and post-reform, simply as a result of victims' multiple experiences with the system.
4.3 Secondly, a total of 26 victims and witnesses took part in the research, including victims of a broad range of offences ranging from bike theft to assault and witnesses to such crimes as shoplifting and fraud. Again, it is important to stress that this was never intended to be fully representative of victims' and witnesses' experiences, instead this chapter offers an insight into the views of just some types of victims and witnesses from across the country. In reading the findings, the subjective nature of the data needs to be borne in mind.
4.4 Finally, some of the victims and witnesses who were interviewed had previously been engaged with the system as an offender. This meant that, to some extent, the data captured from victims may have been influenced by experiences of the system from an offender perspective as well as a victim's view. Due to the recruitment methods used, it was not possible to screen out those persons who had previously been involved with the system as an offender and victim, and so the only way of controlling for this was to try to focus the minds of respondents during interview, as far as possible.
Overall Experience with the Justice System
4.5 The majority of respondents reported that their most recent experience with the Scottish summary justice system was as a witness. A few respondents had been both a victim and a witness, and only one participant was solely a victim.
4.6 All respondents were initially asked to attend court in relation to the incident they had been involved in, although not all made it to court. One participant was subsequently advised, by telephone, that they did not need to attend court after all. There was no explanation given, and the participant received no further information, so they remain uninformed of the outcome of the case. The respondent, a victim, was "mildly disappointed" with no information on the sentence. Their overall view on the credibility of the judicial system did, however, remain relatively high because they felt the police had performed excellently by preventing the theft and catching the offender.
4.7 In most cases, respondents only had to attend court once; however, two needed to return at a later date. One participant was told on his first visit to "go away" and return the next day. Both respondents were annoyed by this and felt that someone could have advised them beforehand that they would not be required on the initial date:
"A little phone call would have been nice because I am quite a busy guy. It was a big waste of everyone's time and money. I employ a hundred people and have a large company and I had to cancel a meeting down south to go to court. That could have physically cost me £500 to £1000, but I didn't mind going to court; all I would have liked was a little phone call".
4.8 Similar sentiments were expressed in relation to the timings of being asked to appear at court, and the inflexibility of the system which can mean that victims or witnesses are inconvenienced and feel that they 'lose out twice' as a result:
"I was a bit disappointed with it because I had to cut my holiday short. I got nothing out of it except a broken nose and a wrecked holiday."
4.9 Feelings of general inconvenience were also matched with comments about feeling victimised twice over, due to the stressful nature of being called to court:
"I was a little shocked at how little appreciation there was for how stressful being a witness is. By the time I had read all the information I felt like I was the one who had committed the crime".
"I just remember having to sit in the witness room for hours before it came to court. We weren't allowed to leave the witness room and it almost felt like we were the criminals".
4.10 Another witness reported that having to sit in the same waiting room as the accused whilst attending a Sheriff court had considerably tarnished their experience of the summary justice system overall:
"They put me in the same room as the accused who I was giving evidence against which I didn't like. I thought 'How stupid is that?' Imagine if it was for something more serious. I was a bit disgusted by that. Obviously you are going to be in the same building, but the same room? That could totally tarnish or taint someone's experience and my experience, I'm afraid to say, was not good".
4.11 Other comments related to the general atmosphere in the court building, rather than the case experience, and these wider environmental cues may have impacted on the overall experience:
"I was very surprised at the number of people floating about, and mostly youngsters I have to say, with a laid back attitude. They don't seem to have much respect for the law. I was dressed in my best suit and I felt out of place".
4.12 Such sentiments reflect what were generally negative reactions to the court experience, although some of these relate less to specific reforms, and more to generic environmental, timing and accommodation issues. This is important since it perhaps indicates that, regardless of improvements made to the speed and efficiency of the system, the initial sensory and practical components of the court visit and court environment can result in overall negative perceptions of the system.
4.13 Interestingly, where respondents provided positive feedback about their recent experience with the summary justice system, many attributed this to their dealings with the police:
"The police were fantastic. They understood how I was feeling about it all".
"I would say the police were great. That side of justice was great. The police seemed really keen to do something to get charges against the guy and get as much evidence as possible".
"The experience was good, I cannot expect more of the justice system. The police did a lot of things for a small crime, and the letters from the Sheriff court were clear, so it was good".
4.14 This shows that experiences early in the system may be important in driving overall positive perceptions of the summary justice system. The feedback suggests that, from the participants' point of view, the attitudes and activities of the police met their needs as victims and witnesses and succeeded in starting them on a positive path in their justice experience.
A Fair System?
4.15 Where respondents felt that the system had been fair, this related mainly to police and support organisation contact and being kept informed of case progress and what was required of them:
"My complaint was taken seriously [by police] and they did everything they could until they caught the guy, so I've got absolutely no complaints about that".
"It was fair to me. I had the police checking on me every day".
"It's fine, because the people that volunteer are really nice, and you're treated fairly".
4.16 Instances where people felt that the system was not fair related mostly to the outcome of the case and a perceived lack of compensation for the victim:
"Reasonably fair, but I wouldn't have minded some compensation to be honest".
"Justice was done to an extent. I mean the boy got charged, but from my point of view, I got nothing out of it".
4.17 Such sentiments highlight general perceptions around the need for personal satisfaction (including monetary compensation, an apology or a sense of justice) in order for victims to feel that the system is fair. They also indicate a lack of awareness of compensation and the basis on which it is awarded.
An Effective System?
4.18 There was a general feeling that the summary justice system is not wholly effective in deterring, punishing and helping offenders change for the better because, more often than not, the system is dealing with repeat offenders:
"I've been to court three or four times for the same people".
"In general I would say that sometimes they get off a bit light".
"Sometimes the justice system does not work, people get more time in prison for lesser crimes, and there is less rehabilitation in prisons".
4.19 Interestingly, as with sentiments expressed by professional, expert and support staff, there was a feeling that some accused are simply too familiar with the system, and its loopholes, which impacts on effectiveness:
"To an extent, but they are smart enough to know how to work the system".
"Because I was never called to court, I don't know what the actual outcome of the court case was so I have really no idea. I do know that he had about five or six other outstanding convictions, so it doesn't seem to be doing him much good".
4.20 There was some indication that people felt that there remained flaws in the system that allowed cases to be dropped, and that this was often, in some way, the fault of professionals involved in the system:
"The case fell apart, because the right people weren't called".
"I don't know what the answer is, but I feel sometimes that the police are let down by the leniency in sentencing. The police put in a lot of work and they must feel pretty frustrated when they [the accused] are just given probation or something like that. There is sometimes a need for people to have harsher sentences for their own benefit".
4.21 There was also some hint that accused were managing to manipulate the system to their advantage:
"You turn up at court and you know fine they [the accused] are going to plead guilty. You sit about and then they plead guilty and that annoys me. That's a complete waste of time and a couple of times I've had citations sent and the Procurator Fiscal has known a couple of days in advance that they [the accused] have pleaded guilty and you turn up at court, sit about for a couple of hours and they still turn round to you and say, 'Oh, they pleaded guilty the other day.' Basically, you've just wasted a day".
4.22 Where the system was seen as being effective, this was mainly linked to positive case outcomes:
"I had been taking it [abuse] off him for forty-odd years, and it [the abuse] stopped after the last time, so something good came out of it".
"He eventually pleaded guilty prior to the case being heard so I guess that was effective".
An Efficient System?
4.23 With regard to efficiency in the use of their time and that of others, many respondents felt that the summary justice system not only subjects people to a lot of time wasting, but it is also costing taxpayers a lot of money:
"A lot of the shoplifters are drug addicts and they get Drug Rehabilitation Orders and you know fine well it's not going to make any difference to them. Sometimes it's just pointless and sometimes, for the value of the stuff they are stealing, it probably costs us more money to go to court and put them through the system".
"It was a complete waste of time and money".
"A lot of time wasted in the courts but not much can be done about that when offenders do not turn up. This is especially true for policemen - there were a lot of policemen sitting around all day waiting to see if they would be required; seems like a waste of time".
4.24 In essence, there appears to be frustration both with the fact that some cases are called to court which could be dealt with earlier or by way of a direct measure, and also with the time wasted due to accused failing to appear while professionals and civilians do turn up, also at a cost to the system.
A Quick and Simple System?
4.25 Respondents generally had mixed views on the ease of the summary justice system for them as a victim and/or witness. People generally acknowledged that there are no simple answers when it comes to justice, but that, in terms of what was required of them directly, things were quite straight forward.
4.26 Where people had been in contact with support services, including VIA, they felt that they had a good understanding of what was going on throughout the duration of their case progressing through court:
"They were most helpful in phoning me with any bit of information. The Procurator Fiscal took me through each step and each time the case was finished they would phone me up and let me know the progress and what was happening and they would also put it in writing".
"There are always plenty of people around the court. At the likes of Glasgow Sheriff court, there are plenty of Witness Service people wandering about and telling you what to do. If you go to the District courts, the Ushers and the Court Officers are normally quite good."
4.27 However, some respondents had little understanding or awareness of either the actual criminal and court process, and their involvement with the case. One witness reported that they had never heard of the person named in the citation that was sent to them, nor did they have any recollection of ever being a witness to a crime. Other respondents were uncertain of why they were called to court, whilst others had no knowledge of the process, nor outcome:
"I wasn't really kept informed. The only people that kept me informed were the police. They kept me more informed than anyone else in the justice system".
"I had no idea what I was called to witness for, or against".
4.28 The same was true of others contacted by the researchers to take part, who simply stated that they could not recall having been involved in a crime, as a victim or a witness, and so were unaware of why they were on the COPFS database.
A Credible System?
4.29 Unfortunately, those participants who were poorly informed felt that they could not comment on the credibility of the summary justice system because they did not know what happened to the accused.
4.30 Where people did comment on the credibility of the system, their views suggested that, whilst some aspects of the system are viewed favourably, the system as a whole is perhaps not perceived to function as expected:
"I'd say the police were great. I'm happy with the police, especially the CID side. They understood where I was coming from and they explored all the evidence I had to give. But I would say that when that evidence is given to the courts, it's undermined, it's not listened to and it's not looked at favourably. I mean, why would a guy like me who is a good, upstanding citizen be lying against a guy who has got convictions the length of your arm. He was done for selling heroin, breaking into houses and they are looking at me as if I'm the liar. I was put on the same pedestal as that guy and I'm questioned from his lawyers as if I'm telling lies. It shouldn't be that way. I feel as if the rules bend too much towards the criminals".
4.31 Other general comments expressed by witnesses also echo this view that some witnesses feel that their testimony is not being regarded as credible and that they are being undermined when giving evidence (either by the courts, the defence or the Fiscal). Some also indicated that they felt that they were being 'attacked' and felt unsupported in the court room when giving their evidence. Feeling unsupported as part of the process impacts on the overall perception of the system:
"Didn't think it was fair to me. The witness should be supported and made to feel that their role is important".
4.32 This perhaps points towards a need for witnesses' expectations to be better managed, and for more information to alert them to, for example, their likely interactions/lack of interactions with both prosecutors and defence agents.
4.33 Many respondents commented on the way proceedings were managed in court as also being an influencing factor in the perceived credibility of the system:
"Proceedings were okay apart from the PF asking me questions about the theft and trying to get me to drop the charges. He was trying to make out that we couldn't really prove it, so I had to explain to the PF why we could prove it".
"The Justice did not really seem to know what he was doing and was taking a lot of advice [from the legal expert]."
4.34 In both cases, Fiscals and JPs were not viewed in a positive light in terms of their conduct in court. This aside, in general terms, only if the outcome was known and matched the perceived severity of the case did people consider that the system was credible.
Time Between Incident and the Final Outcome
4.35 As outlined above, several of the reforms were designed to reduce the time taken between incidents occurring and a verdict being reached. As not all respondents could comment on the length of time between the incident and the final outcome (because more often than not, respondents were unaware of the outcome of the case), many commented on the time from the incident up until they were told they were not required anymore.
4.36 One witness explained that after an incident that took place in August 2009, it took until June 2010 before they received a letter to say that they were not required anymore. They did, however, comment that "It's what I would have expected. I know the courts are extremely busy".
4.37 Respondents who were aware of the outcome of their case and the length of time between incident and final outcome was six months or less, were generally satisfied:
"At that time it was a very busy period and it was dealt with quickly".
"I guess it was about what I expected - I know these things take time".
"The quicker the better".
4.38 Where respondents knew that the length of time between incident and final outcome was over six months, they tended to be generally less satisfied:
"I would say I am dissatisfied with this length of time. It's an incredible waste of time and for someone like that to still be roaming the streets is just ludicrous".
"Could have been a bit quicker".
4.39 In contrast, however, one respondent reported that it had taken almost a year from incident to final outcome but they were not dissatisfied with this length of time because they "could appreciate the amount of work that needs to go into these things". They commented further that it would be worse "if they took things too quickly without the proper evidence".
Inconvenience Experienced During Case
4.40 Although a small number of respondents had not experienced any inconvenience during their case at all, the majority of respondents reported that they had experienced some form of inconvenience at some stage in the process:
"The only time I was inconvenienced was when I turned up and was told to go away because it had to be re-set for another date and I had to wait for them re-contacting me to tell me when that was going to be".
"I don't understand why people are asked to be at court so early in the morning if they are not actually going to get dealt with for quite a considerable time afterwards".
"You get fed up sitting about, you know, I mean you wait a really long time…we were there from early morning".
4.41 One respondent explained that they have repeat experience of turning up at court to find out that the case is not going ahead because the accused pled guilty beforehand:
"That does get really annoying and that's happened a few times".
4.42 All of these views echo those expressed by victim and witness support staff, and by police and expert witnesses and suggest that there is still considerable room for improvement in ensuring timely notification of whether cases are expected to proceed on the days scheduled.
Information Received on Progress of Case
4.43 On the whole, respondents reported that they had not received any information on the progress of their case at any time leading to feelings that they were "just left hanging" or "left sitting":
"No progress until the man pleaded guilty".
"Once, when a witness hadn't turned up, the Ushers asked me if I had a phone number for him and I phoned the boy and he came, but other than that; no. You only really hear when your name gets called out or when the case gets called and if it's going ahead or if it's been cancelled".
"No, I never received any information at all".
4.44 When asked what further information they would have liked, respondents were overwhelmingly keen to stress that they would have liked to know what happened to the accused in the case:
"I would like to know what actually happened. I still, to this day, don't know what happened to the guy. I just went and did my best and I have received nothing from anyone regarding that case".
"To know the outcome of case".
"Updates on what was happening with the case and also to be told the sentence".
"Would like to know what happened to the offender".
4.45 Another respondent felt that they would have also liked more information earlier on in the proceedings:
"After he was arrested, to actually know if it was going to go to court or if he was going to be charged because from the time he was taken away in the van, my next piece of information was the letter to go to court".
4.46 With many respondents reporting that they had not received any information on the progress of their case, it is not surprising that many indicated that this is the type of information that they would have liked to have had:
"I would have liked some written confirmation to keep and also some sort of progress update".
"I would have liked someone to have updated me at court about when I might be called".
4.47 One respondent who was cited as a witness explained that they had absolutely no idea why they had been called or what the case was about and they would have liked their citation to contain more information:
"More information about the case and why I had been called as a witness. I was not impressed by that aspect at all".
4.48 As it stands, only witnesses who are supported by VIA receive information proactively although all victims and witnesses can ask the Procurator Fiscal about the outcome.
Assistance from a Support or Information Organisation
4.49 Although the majority of participants felt that they did not require any emotional or practical assistance from an information, support or advice service or organisation, those that had taken up the offer of support were generally very satisfied with what they received:
"They made me feel at ease and that I was not to blame in any way".
4.50 Despite not actually having to give evidence in court, one victim explained that they were initially very apprehensive about the possibility of giving evidence in the same room as the accused; however, the support they had received had helped them enormously:
"The girls at the department were going to arrange for me to go in through separate doors and also for me to have a look around before the case. They showed me how the cameras were set up and how the video link worked".
4.51 Where people had interacted with information, support and advice organisations, their overall experience seemed to be improved:
"To me as a witness I have no complaints whatsoever. They treated me with the utmost respect I would say".
4.52 One victim stated that they would have liked to have received emotional assistance that was more personal rather than just been treated as another statistic in the system:
"I would have liked to be reassured that I was safe and that my stress regarding the case was not unusual - I felt very alone and felt that the system was very matter of fact and didn't take my feelings into account in any way".
4.53 Such comments suggest that support is perceived to be important throughout engagement with the justice system, and not just as being the responsibility of dedicated information, support and advice services. The data also show that receiving appropriate information, support and advice seems to have a considerable effect on overall satisfaction with the justice system experience and, where such support was absent, the experience seemed to be far less positive.
Perceptions of Specific Reforms
4.54 Where respondents had been made aware that the offender was given a fine, only one respondent was fairly confident that the fine would be paid as the offenders "weren't short of money". In the majority of cases, however, respondents were doubtful that fines would be paid:
"I have no idea if it was paid or not, but he probably never paid it".
4.55 Direct measures (DMs), introduced under SJR, provide alternatives to prosecution that can be offered to an alleged offender either by the police or Procurators Fiscal. They include anti-social behaviour fixed penalty notices and formal adult warnings (issued by the police) and Fiscal Fines and Fiscal Compensation Orders (offered by the Procurator Fiscal). They are intended to contribute to fewer minor cases going to court unnecessarily, thus freeing up the courts to deal with more serious cases.
4.56 Many respondents were in favour of direct measures as long as they were used to deal with low level crimes or first time offenders:
"I think that this sounds like a practical idea, especially for first time offenders. We are all capable of making a mistake and being charged with something and it's sometimes not practical or necessary to go through the courts system (using massive amounts of tax-payers money) when the person may never offend again. However, I think if someone is a repeat offender then they should be dealt with more severely".
"If it's somebody that's been drunk and disorderly and a bit too loud, then I think a fine is a good way of dealing with it rather than taking it to court. I would say that's a good strategy".
4.57 Another respondent commented that direct measures are fine so long as the victim is informed that this was the outcome.
4.58 Those who viewed direct measures less favourably felt that offenders were generally being let off lightly by being dealt with in this way:
"I don't like the 'wee pat on the head' attitude. If they did the crime, then they should do the time".
"Where do the people concerned get the money to pay the fines? They steal to pay their fines and I think warnings fall on deaf ears. Like that guy in particular; he had about six outstanding convictions. He must have been warned about them and it's not doing much good is it?"
4.59 The types of cases that respondents felt should be dealt with through the court system rather than a direct measure were serious assault cases, rape cases, damage to property/house breaking and especially cases that involve repeat offenders. It should be noted, however, that many of these case types would routinely be prosecuted in either the Sheriff Summary or Solemn Courts (High or Sheriff and Jury), and direct measures would never be considered in these instances:
"I would say any serious crimes where there has been injury to people or to property even".
"Repeat offenders. Physical injury to a person or an animal. Causing a person psychological damage - frightening them or repeated verbal/mental abuse. Any crime committed on a child or elderly person. Any crime above a certain value. Any crime that could have potentially harmed a person or an animal".
"If they do something to old people like con them on their doorstep, then they shouldn't get the option; they should go straight to prison, but the jail is that full of them".
4.60 A few respondents were unsure if direct measures are a good or a bad thing:
"I think it is a bad thing [compensation orders], but then again I am getting money back from it so I guess I am in two minds. I'm not getting the amount back that the bikes were worth".
"Maybe they [direct measures] can be a good thing. It depends on the crime, but I think if someone has assaulted someone, then they should do time for that, not just get a slap on the hand. They've got away with it. That's how they see it".
4.61 Respondents' experiences of bail and undertakings were very limited, and most respondents were unaware if the accused in their case had been given bail or was released on an undertaking. Of those who thought that they did know, one commented that they only knew this because they had seen the offender leaving court on the day:
"Yes, he was definitely given bail. I know because I saw him walking out the actual court".
4.62 One witness also suggested that knowing this information might not necessarily be important for 'neutral' witnesses, but would be more important for victims:
"It didn't bother me that he was released on bail, but I think if I was a victim it would bother me".
4.63 On legal aid and disclosure, only one respondent provided some insight into the stage at which the offender pled guilty:
"The offender waited until a couple of witnesses were questioned, they went for lunch and by the time they went back to court; he had pleaded guilty. The offender dragged it out as long as he could".
4.64 Again, such views suggest that there may be a perception that offenders are manipulating the system to an extent, including manipulating use of court time on the day of trials (perhaps 'delaying the inevitable').
4.65 Respondents had attended both Sheriff and JP courts and, among those interviewed, many were generally happy with the level of court that their case had been assigned to. This suggests that reforms to lay justice, and the movement of some cases from Sheriff to JP courts was not something that had negatively influenced victims' perceptions in all cases. This provides a contrast to interviews with information, support and advice staff that suggested that, for some, the allocation to JP courts was not well received.
Interviews with People Awarded Compensation
4.66 As part of the research, special arrangements were made to speak with a sample of victims who had been awarded compensation as a result of reforms to direct measures. Fiscal Compensation Orders (FCOs) are usually used for lower level crimes and provide an alternative to a court prosecution. Specifically, as part of the reforms, FCOs were introduced for cases involving damage or loss of up to £5,000 along with combined orders (FCoOs) of up to £300 fine plus £5,000 compensation. If offered the opportunity to pay compensation, the offender has 28 days to accept or reject the offer. If he or she does not refuse it, it will be deemed to be accepted and the order will be registered against their name. If the Order is refused, the case will be reported back to the Procurator Fiscal for further consideration and appropriate alternative disposal. Fiscal Compensation Orders are disclosable to the court for a period of two years, which means the court can be told about this on conviction.
4.67 In total, five people were interviewed whose case was marked as requiring a compensation order to be paid. Of the five people interviewed, three were victims, and one person considered themselves to have been both a victim and a witness. The other respondent classified themselves as a witness only, although the award of an order in their case by the Fiscal means that they must have been a victim too. This perhaps highlights some of the misunderstanding in victims' and witnesses' own minds regarding the circumstances in which a compensation order can be offered to the offender.
4.68 The views expressed by this sample of victims were much the same as those expressed by the other victims and witnesses. The majority of these respondents reported negative overall experiences with the justice system, with the main grievance being dissatisfaction with the outcome of their case:
"Getting a slap on the hand and a £100 fine is not really a punishment. To some people that's nothing".
"Some people might think, 'Why would I want a compensation order?' Money isn't going to get rid of my bruises and my humiliation. And what would that compensation order be; a hundred pounds, maybe two hundred pounds. It's just not on".
4.69 Being left in the dark about the progress of their case was also a source of annoyance amongst compensation order payees:
"I've had no feedback apart from a letter. It hasn't gone to court and it's been 13 months now. I've not heard a word from the police or the justice system or anything about compensation. Quite frankly it's ridiculous now".
4.70 The one area that was considered unfair among compensation payees was the perceived 'choice' given to the offender whether or not to accept the offer of a compensation order as an alternative to prosecution in court, a decision over which the victim has no influence:
"It was okay. I was just worried about my wife. She was quite shocked about it. She kept thinking he was coming to get us because he kept shouting 'I've got your number. I'm going to follow you and beat you up'. They gave him the option to pay compensation or face a trial. He opted to pay a fine and my wife was annoyed about it. She would rather have gone to court because she is disabled and it affected her quite a lot".
4.71 Among those awarded compensation, there was also not a great deal of confidence that compensation would be paid, and one respondent where the offender had opted to accept a FCO said that they were "Not very confident at all" that it would be paid.
4.72 In another case, where the respondent had been paid their compensation straight away, they were still dissatisfied that this had been the outcome of the case:
"I got a cheque straight through the door with the letter. I didn't even want the £100 to be honest. I would rather have seen the guy in jail for six months. It's a joke basically".
4.73 Many of the respondents were sceptical about whether or not the summary justice system is effective in deterring, punishing and helping rehabilitate offenders, with many suggesting that offenders are receiving light treatment by being given a direct measure:
"It's always the easy option. If they get a fine they think they've got away with it".
4.74 Some respondents had issues with the apparent simplistic nature of the summary justice system, commenting that they did not understand what was going on:
"It was a bit confusing. We didn't know which way it was going and all of a sudden we got a letter saying that he had been fined even although we hadn't been to court. We didn't understand".
4.75 Unlike other victims, compensation order payees were generally satisfied with the time between the incident and the final outcome. This did not seem to soften the blow in terms of outcome, however, for those who felt the order was too lenient:
"I was satisfied with this time, but not with the outcome".
4.76 The main complaint for compensation order payees was a lack of information regarding their case. While a few respondents felt that they had not been inconvenienced during their case, those who reported that they had been inconvenienced mainly attributed this to the lack of information sharing within the justice system:
"It's still an inconvenience because if you don't know who to contact and you can't get any progress, then you don't know if it's going on or not going on. It's still a hassle".
"It seems that there is only a certain amount of information that they are prepared to give you. They seem to be all for the perpetrator, not for the victim".
4.77 Again, as with other victims, respondents reported having received either very little or no information on the progress of their case. Unlike other victims, however, the five compensation order payees who were interviewed had not received any assistance from an information, support or advice organisation, either because they had not been offered it in the first place or they had been offered it and felt that they did not need it. Only one respondent reported having had a chat with Victim Support Scotland who had helped them "as far as they could". It is important to note that Fiscal Compensation Orders are only likely to have been used in cases that were considered to be minor and so may not have resulted in an automatic referral to a support or advice service, which may explain the absence of an offer of support or advice in these cases,
Confidence in the Scottish Summary Justice System Based on Experience
4.78 Levels of confidence in the summary justice system amongst victims and lay witnesses were mixed. Those whose experience had given them confidence in the summary justice system attributed this mainly to their dealings with the police:
"As I said, I am a great supporter of the police. I don't think they have an easy job and at no time was I made to feel like a hysterical woman. They were very sympathetic and they understood completely where I was coming from".
"I have dealt with the police over the years on a number of occasions and although I haven't always won my case and I've been let down one or two times, they have been very good".
"Yes, because they are able to catch criminals".
4.79 However, some respondents who had little or no confidence had obviously had a bad experience with the summary justice system:
"It makes me hope and pray that I am never witness to anything ever again. I wouldn't be so quick to report a crime in future for fear of having to be a witness".
4.80 Another respondent who had little confidence in the summary justice system felt that there are far too many repeat offenders, blaming lenient sentences for re-offending:
"Not really. I think it's because of the outcome and cause I see so many of them coming back. They are just far too lenient".
4.81 Overall, when asked if they had confidence in the summary justice system based on their experience, respondents' views were mixed:
"No. You see these reports that junkies are breaking into houses and taking life savings and if they get that person, they go to court and get a fine, but it is very hard for the people to get back what was taken. The result is the victim loses out".
What Victims and Witnesses Want from the Scottish Summary Justice System
4.82 Respondents were asked what was the single most important thing that they required from the Scottish summary justice system. Primarily, the most important thing that respondents wanted was to ensure that "justice was served" which, as a minimum, requires being informed of the outcome and for their voice to be heard:
"To make sure that he wasn't going to get away with it and that he'd be punished for what he had done".
"I would like whoever is guilty to get prosecuted for the offence, but I feel that the police's hands are tied a lot of the time with so much red tape and nonsense and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in saying that".
"I just wanted the truth to be told and I just gave the information that I needed to give".
"To keep them [the offenders] away from me and away from my door".
4.83 Compensation Order payees agreed with this sentiment that the most important thing the justice system needed to do was to ensure that "justice was served":
"Proper justice, basically. I think people should do time for their crime instead of just getting a little fine or something like that".
4.84 One respondent commented that as a witness, they wanted to feel safe and appreciated but unfortunately, they "didn't feel either".
4.85 Other examples of what respondents cited as the single most important thing they wanted from the summary justice system included receiving citations to appear in court as early as possible to allow them to arrange childcare in advance, and professionalism from all those involved in administering justice (including the police, court staff and Fiscal employees).
Ideas for Improving the Victim and Witness Experience
4.86 Respondents' suggestions for improving the victim and witness experience of the Scottish summary justice system overwhelmingly related to improved speed and efficiency in the system, significantly reduced cancelled appearances and wasted time and the routine provision of case progress and outcome information to those impacted on by the crime:
"Keep the witness informed. It's as simple as that. Common sense stuff. It's like going for an interview; if it's cancelled, call them up and give them a new date. Just keep people up to speed on what's happening and it would be nice to hear the results as well. If someone has taken the time and effort to come and help with an inquiry, they should at least be given information about what has happened or what the outcome was".
"The only thing for me personally is if they plead guilty to be told beforehand. They could maybe make more of an effort to tell, you know so that you don't have to run about changing days off or go to court to sit and wait and then get told they pleaded guilty last week".
"I hate to see court time being wasted by people who know full well they are guilty and they deliberately go to court to cause a nuisance. That really needs to be dealt with more harshly. It happens all too often".
4.87 Finally, and on a positive note, one respondent felt that there was little room left for improvement within the Scottish summary justice system:
"I couldn't have asked for anything better of the whole system and even in the presence of the court, the information was 100% and I felt that that really helped me".
4.88 This is important in highlighting that there is great variation in the victim and witness experience, and that there may be regional and other differences in the responses that are provided.
4.89 As a qualitative exercise, these findings were never intended to be generalised to the entire victim and witness population, but what they do provide is an indication of the range of factors that are influencing people's views and experiences of the summary justice system where they have experienced it post-reform.
Email: Carole Wilson