Victims Taskforce minutes: December 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 7 December 2022.


  • Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Keith Brown (Co-Chair)
  • Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain KC (Co-Chair)
  • Vicki Bell, Law Society of Scotland (LSS)
  • Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS)
  • DCS Samantha Faulds, Police Scotland (PS)
  • Ann Fehilly, ASSIST
  • Eric McQueen, Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS)
  • Marsha Scott, Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA)
  • Colin Spivey, Parole Board for Scotland (PBS)
  • Neil Rennick, Director for Justice, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Lindsey Henderson, Victims and Witnesses Policy, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Linda Jones, Action Against Stalking (AAS)
  • Tony Lenehan KC, Faculty of Advocates (FoA)
  • Bill Fitzpatrick, Community Justice Scotland (CJS)
  • Paul Harkness, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)
  • June Fellowes, Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA)
  • Steven Tidy, Victim Support Scotland (VSS)
  • Liz Murdoch, Directorate for Children and Families, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Keith Dargie, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Oona Brookes, Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR)


  • John Logue, Crown Agent, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Anna Donald, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Kate Wallace, Victim Support Scotland (VSS)
  • Michael Chalmers, Director for Children and Families, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Mary Glasgow, Children 1st
  • Karyn McCluskey, Community Justice Scotland (CJS)
  • Teresa Medhurst, Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
  • Neill Mitchell, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)
  • Alistair Hogg, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)
  • ACC Judi Heaton, Police Scotland (PS)
  • Lynn Burns, Victims’ Voices representative
  • Kathryn Lindsay, Social Work Scotland (SWS)
  • Ronnie Renucci KC, Faculty of Advocates
  • Linda Brown, Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA)
  • Anil Gupta, COSLA
  • Stephen Coyle, Scottish Prison Service (SPS)

Secretariat – Scottish Government/COPFS

  • Moira Price (COPFS)
  • James Brown, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Sarah-Jane Smith, Scottish Government (SG)
  • John Wallace, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Pamela Stott, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Rhianna King, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Lucy Smith, Scottish Government (SG)

Other attendees

  • Jessica Macdonald, Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS)
  • Sonia Petersen, NHS Education for Scotland (NES)
  • Caroline Bruce, NHS Education for Scotland (NES)
  • Carol Eden, Victim Support Scotland (VSS)
  • Tirion Seymour, Victim Support Scotland (VSS)
  • Alistair MacDonald, VNS Review
  • Heather Tully, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Patrick Down, Scottish Government (SG)


Chairs’ welcome, minutes and matters arising

The Chairs’ welcomed members to the meeting, asked members to keep contributions succinct and noted apologies.

Members were referred to paper 1: minute of the meeting of 26 May 2022, and noted that all actions were either ongoing or completed.

The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed.

Victim Notification Scheme review

Alistair MacDonald (AM), Chair of the Victim Notification Scheme Review, provided an update on progress, thanking his Justice Directorate secretariat for their help.


A considerable amount of research has taken place, including reviewing written material, information from over 20 models of international research, interviews with major victim support organisations, and a session with Victims Organisations Collaboration Forum for Scotland (VOCFS) to capture as broad a spectrum of smaller organisations’ views as possible. VOCFS were asked to put forward individuals who had used the system to provide their experience. A number of victims with a variety of experiences have come forward for in-person interviews, which helped to identify areas where VNS could be improved. The evidence-gathering phase of the review is now complete, and the VNS process through its delivery organisations has been mapped out. The review has considered risk management authorities, secure care, and victims redress as part of the process. Drafting of the final report has begun and is expected to be published in March 2023.


Whilst the research demonstrates that VNS is considered to be a worthwhile system which adds value, it is neither well-understood nor well-liked. The current process places the onus on victims to do all the work with little freedom to exercise choice. This is often retraumatising and can feel like an uncompassionate, bureaucratic process. There is a clear need to improve communications, particularly since current victims under the scheme may be as young as 12, and options for who can register as a victim are also considered to be too restrictive.


No single body owns the process; most organisations involved in VNS only own a section of it. Organisations which may provide information in an administrative capacity are regularly expected to handle difficult communications with victims by phone. In addition, although there is a common annual reporting mechanism, there is little evidence of performance management in the process.

It was noted that there are many constrained roles in the system that leave little room for discretion. AM noted that VNS needs to move away from its current position as a fragmented process which simply provides information into a tool which is victim-centred, personalised, and innovates solutions to problems, rather than re-traumatising victims.

The Chair thanked AM for his update and noted that this reflected familiar messages regarding the fragmented nature of the system with little oversight. SWA asked about whether safety considerations are being taken on board by the review. AM responded that the risk management authority has a monitoring role in safety planning, though they could take a more prominent role in the process. Within the current scheme, the vast majority of issues are around domestic or gender violence, which mirrors the experience of other countries such as Spain which has a default opt-in scheme for victim notification, except where the case is related to gender or domestic violence, in which case it is opt-out system. Those interviewed during the review preferred an opt-out process.

Scottish Government stated they would be keen to consider the report’s specific recommendations, noting that there are probably wider lessons to learn about other aspects of the system.

Workstream updates

Workstream 1 – victim centred approach

Colin Spivey (CS), co-chair of workstream 1, provided an update on workstream 1 Victim Centred Approach and turned members’ attention to paper 2: Victim Centred Approach workstream update.

CS summarised that the workstream had mapped out current provisions for developing a vision for a Victim Centred Approach, including the development of a new single point-of-contact model. The workstream established a small steering group to take forward this work. Following a competitive tendering process, Journey Associates have been nominated to carry out the work, which will run for six months from February 2023. Monthly reports will be issued to the steering group and the taskforce will be updated at its next meeting.

Action: CS and Kate Wallace (co-chair of workstream 1) to provide update on workstream at the next taskforce meeting.

Workstream 2 – Trauma Informed Workforce

Jessica McDonald (JM) and Caroline Bruce (CB) provided an update on workstream 2 on developing a Trauma Informed Workforce. (paper 3: Trauma Informed Practice Principles of Endorsement and paper 4: Trauma Informed Practice executive summary).

CB thanked members of the workstream, as well as the victims and witnesses who are part of the reference groups which helped model the current Framework. The Framework represents the joint vision on trauma informed practice and provides a roadmap to get there.

CB noted the context of the work, setting out that engagement with the justice system can retraumatise and exacerbate trauma, introduce new trauma, which results in a negative impact on an individual’s ability to give evidence effectively, and on their recovery. 

​​​​​​​CB advised that the Framework aims to:

  • ensure that all staff in the justice system will have a shared language and understanding of trauma informed justice for victims and witnesses
  • help organisation to identify what staff need to know and help them to provide this
  • allow training to be developed consistently across different organisations and
  • allow training to be adapted to the needs of different staff as it relates to the needs of witnesses affected by trauma

​​​​​​​CB advised that the workstream has identified a need for the framework to include additional knowledge and skills for leaders as the influencers of systems within which the framework will operate, which is key, since leaders have oversight of the system.

​​​​​​​The Lord Advocate asked for clarification about retraumatisation caused by the system. CB replied with an example that when witnesses have to prepare for trial, when they may not be prepared for going to court, and while they want to keep themselves under control, the impact of changes to timings (for court) and preparations can be traumatising.

​​​​​​​JM provided an overview of actions and milestones leading to development of the Framework. The Knowledge and Skills Framework has been refined over the past two years based on a wide range of feedback, which was summarised into a ‘you said we did’ document.

​​​​​​​JM presented the final version of the Framework to taskforce for approval, asking that:

  • taskforce signs off on the Framework
  • the workstream revisits and amends the Framework as necessary
  • taskforce members consider how to launch the Framework and
  • taskforce agrees to the pledge contained within paper 3

​​​​​​​The Cabinet Secretary thanked CB and JM for their presentations and reminded members that the purpose of the taskforce is to make substantial and meaningful change for the experiences of victims and witnesses, and that completion of the Framework represents a significant milestone towards this.

​​​​​​​RCS thanked the workstream for all their work on the Framework. They commented that, despite the Framework, efforts to minimise traumatisation of victims telling their own truth will not happen within the adversarial system, that an inquisitorial system would be more supportive, and suggested bringing the current system closer to that. RCS highlighted issues around equalities and the effect of underlying sexist attitudes which can be played out in criminal trials and queried how the Framework could link into such equality issues.

​​​​​​​SWA expressed strong concerns about how gender is considered within the papers provided, noting that the word ‘women’ is generally absent. Use of ‘gender’ rather than ‘women’ makes it appear as though structural injustices are being ignored. CB and JM explained that the context for the training could detail content around, for example, women and gender. If specific training concerns gender, then this could explore in particular the ways in which women are affected by trauma. CB agreed to discuss these points further with SWA and RCS.

​​​​​​​Taskforce members agreed that implementation of the Framework is key.

JM was invited to report back to the next taskforce meeting on the progress made on developing a work plan for implementation.

​​​​​​​Taskforce members approved and signed-off the Framework and actions requested.

Action: JM to report back at the next Taskforce meeting on the progress which workstream 2 has made against the following action from the Trauma Informed Practice Executive Summary: ‘That the work stream revisits and as necessary amends its remit, timeline and work plan to support the implementation of the Framework’.

Action: CB to engage in follow-up discussions with SWA and RCS on the use of language relating to women and gender within the Framework.

Communications review

​​​​​​​Lindsey Henderson (LH) provided an update on the Communications Review and referred members to paper 5: communications review – People at Heart draft style guide. A draft copy of the style guide is available upon request. Email: to request one.

​​​​​​​LH provided a brief background to the work undertaken by First Word in partnership with the criminal justice agencies, including COPFS, SCTS, PBS, and SPS, to develop the draft style guide. The focus of the guide is to help operational partners produce documents that show empathy and improve victims' and witnesses' understanding of the content of those documents. The text is near finalised though not yet ready for publication. First Word is rewriting a number of pieces of correspondence across the agencies.

​​​​​​​LCS stated they had previously participated in a training session hosted by First Word. They cautioned that members should be aware of certain attitudes which prevent organisations from pursuing work if they think it’s outside their remit, and not moving to find a solution. LH responded that the current communications review is only one part of the picture and won’t fix this issue on its own.

​​​​​​​First Word communications training is being offered to all of the criminal justice agencies A series of Champions Academies is planned for January, providing additional training for individuals who will then lead and champion First Word’s approach in their own organisations. Members were thanked for their partnership approach so far and encouraged to submit documents for First Word to re-write. It was agreed that First Word would be invited to present their work at the next taskforce meeting.

​​​​​​​The Lord Advocate stressed that implementation and extra training would be helpful, and that it is crucial to have training resources for organisations.

Action: Secretariat to invite First Word to attend the next taskforce meeting to present their work.

Action: Taskforce members to continue to submit documents (via the secretariat) to First Word, for re-writing.

Engagement with people with lived experience

​​​​​​​The Cabinet Secretary referred members to paper 6: Victims Advisory Board – draft Terms of Reference. The Cabinet Secretary clarified that the current title is the Victims Advisory Board and emphasised the importance of hearing directly from survivors on issues which affect them. Sandy Brindley (SB) was invited to provide an update on the Victims Advisory Board.

​​​​​​​SB stated the Victims Advisory Board met for the first time on 29 September 2022. Paper 6 included a proposed a feedback mechanism between the Victims Taskforce and the Victims Advisory Board, for which SB sought endorsement from taskforce members. The mechanism would provide a way of victims/survivors engaging with taskforce to advance solutions to concerns, and for taskforce to consider and responds to.

​​​​​​​Taskforce members endorsed the proposed feedback mechanism and approved the draft terms of reference for the Victims Advisory Board. The Cabinet Secretary requested that the Victims Advisory Board become a standing agenda item for future meetings.

Action: Secretariat to ensure that the Victims Advisory Board is a standing agenda item for future taskforce meetings.

​​​​​​​SB commented that although the Victims Advisory Board has not yet identified any concerns to be brought to taskforce, a number of issues have been raised by support organisations, including:

  • technological issues and delayed trials – Issues affecting technological equipment have been delaying trial start dates. The Lord Advocate responded that the issue of delays is a great concern, and COPFS have been keeping a record of technological problems in the High Court, recording each period of 15 minutes lost due to technological issues. Technological report figures can be shared if requested. SB advised she would revert to the Lord Advocate with further information on which court(s) these were most prevalent in.

  • court backlog and trial delays – SCTS advised that the court delays will remain for some time, as part of the Covid recovery; a calling to court takes approximately 51 weeks. A discussion arose regarding floating days, with SCTS figures suggesting that 94% of trials begin within the first four floating days. Moving to fixed trial dates would increase delays for trials, as it would increase court downtime, which currently is used to move cases flexibly within a floating period. RCS indicated that the experience reported to them by victims did not reflect that statistic. SWA noted that more victims are invited to attend court than will have their cases go forward. It was suggested that the pre-recording of evidence (which is both trauma-informed and victim-centred) could help reduce court delays. The Lord Advocate noted that some complainers do not want their evidence to be pre-recorded, so although it might be an option, this would not resolve the issue. The Lord Advocate also noted that the resource implications would be profound.
  • rape trial verdicts – There was discussion of verdicts in rape trials, which relied on the Moorov principle for corroboration, where the jury found the accused guilty of one charge, but not guilty of the other charge, with the result that the accused was not convicted of either charge.  Discussion included whether jury comprehension is an issue, and whether more training is required.  The Lord Advocate commented that this is a matter for the Judicial Institute but that the directions in the jury manual are very clear and readily understood. The Lord Advocate indicated that she would welcome further discussion with RCS to identify any learning points.
  • bail conditions – ASSIST raised the concern that accused in domestic abuse cases, who breached bail, were being released on bail again, with the same conditions of bail which they had already breached.
  • court transcripts – RCS indicated that access to court transcripts for complainers is an ongoing issue and provided an example of a victim who was unable to proceed with a complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission about cross-examination because she was unable to afford the costs of a court transcript. SCTS explained that court transcripts costs have legislative implications.
  • Summary Justice Reform Pilots – SCTS noted that the pilots, based in Dundee, Hamilton and Paisley show impressive results to transform court business, which reflected work by COPFS and the Police, and that there was a real appetite to deal with summary business and set down trials more concisely, which will reduce the number of witnesses who need to be called.  ASSIST commented that client group feedback indicated that engagement with the Crown has made the whole process much more trauma informed. The Cabinet Secretary noted the promising signs and indicated that this may be reflected in the timing of roll-out of the pilots. The Lord Advocate commended the positive outcomes from the pilot, particularly the benefits from complainers being able to speak to crown lawyers in summary cases and invited further feedback from ASSIST.

Victims portal

​​​​​​​Taskforce members were referred to paper 7: Victims Portal update.

​​​​​​​Keith Dargie (KD) informed the taskforce that the Witness Gateway is a secure, cloud-based web application model whose primary purpose is to ease the process of witnesses accessing their statements. COPFS recently updated their website to bring different witness information channels together and other facilities will be introduced in the second phase, such as a digital facility to claim expenses. It is important that the system has secure digital identity management to access the Gateway securely and the new Scotland Digital Identity solution is being considered. If this solution is not available for March/April 2023, alternative secure solutions will be considered to support the evaluation. The prototype is being finalised for release and internal discussions are underway to inform the launch and evaluation approach for a phased implementation of the service. The Lord Advocate noted the importance of ensuring access to statements pre-trial and of complainers being able to read them in a supportive environment. The Lord Advocate asked KD to return to the next meeting of the Victims Taskforce to provide an update.

Action: Keith Dargie to attend the next meeting of tand provide a further update on progress for the Witness Gateway.

​​​​​​​The Lord Advocate noted it is important to consider those with communications challenges and special needs in developing the Gateway, and to develop a digital system which is trauma informed.

Any other business (AOB)

​​​​​​​No additional issues were raised.

​​​​​​​The Lord Advocate closed the meeting and thanked members for their attendance.

Actions log

  • Colin and Kate to provide update on workstream 1 at the next taskforce meeting. Update to be provided at taskforce meeting of 1 June

  • Jessica McDonald to report back at the next taskforce meeting on the progress which workstream 2 has made against the following action from the Trauma Informed Practice Executive Summary: ‘That the work stream revisits and as necessary amends its remit, timeline and work plan to support the implementation of the Framework’. Update to be provided at taskforce meeting of 1 June

  • Caroline Bruce to engage in follow-up discussions with Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland on the use of language relating to women and gender within the Framework. Action completed

  • First Word is to attend the next taskforce meeting to provide an update and discuss the work to date. Update to be provided by SG at taskforce meeting of 1 June

  • First Word have invited members who have not yet sent in documents for re-write to please do so, along with anything to reassure staff to support changes or increase participation, including identifying potential champions. Action completed

  • the Victims Advisory Board is to be made a standing agenda item for future taskforce meetings. (For Secretariat). Action completed

  • Keith Dargie to attend the next meeting of taskforce and provide a further update on progress for the Witness Gateway

  • written update provided for taskforce meeting of 1 June

Read the papers from the meeting.

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