Victims Taskforce minutes: June 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 1 June 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs, Angela Constance (Co-Chair)
  • Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain KC (Co-Chair)
  • Vicki Bell, Law Society of Scotland (LSS)
  • Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS)
  • Linda Brown, Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA)
  • Ian Donaldson, Directorate for Children and Families, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Joe Duffy, Manda Centre
  • DCS Samantha Faulds, Police Scotland (PS)
  • Ann Fehilly, ASSIST
  • Mary Glasgow, Children 1st
  • Paul Harkness, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)
  • Linda Jones, Action Against Stalking
  • Jim Kerr, Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
  • Laura Kerr, Social Work Scotland (SWS)
  • Karyn McCluskey, Community Justice Scotland (CJS)
  • Eric McQueen, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS)
  • Neil Rennick, Director of Justice, SG
  • Ronnie Renucci KC, Faculty of Advocates
  • Marsha Scott, Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA)
  • Colin Spivey, Parole Board for Scotland (PBS)
  • Kate Wallace, Victim Support Scotland (VSS)
  • Kevin Woodburn, Victim/Survivor Advisory Board to the Victims Taskforce (VSAB)


  • Oona Brooks, Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR)
  • Lynn Burns, Victims’ Voices representative
  • Anil Gupta, COSLA
  • Alistair Hogg, SCRA
  • Kathryn Lindsay, SWS
  • John Logue, Crown Agent, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Jessica MacDonald, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service
  • Teresa Medhurst, Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
  • Andrew Watson, Director for Children and Families, SG

Other attendees

  • Caroline Bruce, NHS Education for Scotland (NES)
  • Carol Eden, VSS
  • Tirion Seymour, VSS
  • Catherine Docherty, Journey Associates
  • Jennifer Watson, SG: Forensic Mental Health Policy
  • Anna Donald, DD: Criminal Justice, SG

Secretariat – Scottish Government/COPFS

  • Moira Price, COPFS
  • Lindsey Henderson, SG
  • Lucy Smith, SG
  • Sarah-Jane Smith, SG
  • John Wallace, SG
  • Rhianna King, SG
  • Bekki Aitken, SG

Items and actions

Chairs’ welcome, minutes and matters arising

The Chairs welcomed members to the meeting and noted apologies.

Members were referred to Paper 1: Minutes of meeting of 7 December 2022 and it was noted that all actions were complete. This included a written update on the Witness Gateway provided in Paper 8.

The minutes of the meeting of 7 December 2022 were agreed.

Victim/Survivor Advisory Board to the Victims Taskforce

The Cabinet Secretary noted that she had been fortunate to hear directly from members of the Victim/Survivor Advisory Board at a round-table event to mark the introduction of the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform Bill in April. 

The Cabinet Secretary urged that the issues tracker produced by the Advisory Board leads to meaningful change and that Taskforce members take ownership of actions and ensure they are followed up.

The Cabinet Secretary invited Kevin Woodburn from the Advisory Board to speak to the Taskforce about the issues tracker. Kevin noted that most members of the Advisory Board had lived experience as a victim or survivor. He explained that Advisory Board members were looking for the Taskforce to engage with them on the twelve issues identified on the tracker.

Kevin handed over to Sandy Brindley (RCS), Marsha Scott (SWA) and Kate Wallace (VSS) to highlight some of the issues on the tracker. 

The main focus of the discussion was on trial adjournments and delays, and the associated trauma and safety concerns arising from such delays (issues 8 and 9 on the tracker). Also discussed were the virtual summary trials pilot, access to court transcripts (issue 5) and mechanisms for feedback (issue 2).

Trial adjournments and delays

Sandy noted that trial delays have significantly worsened since Covid, as reported in the Audit Scotland report. Some advocacy workers have highlighted a possible problem with pre-petition cases.

Marsha added that court delays pose a threat to the safety of women and children, and pointed to research that demonstrates that if cases do not get to court within 8 to 10 weeks victim attrition increases. Marsha noted that delays increase the pressures of poverty on women (with maintenance payments etc.) and can cause issues around contact cases. She also reported that non-harassment orders (NHOs) are inconsistently applied, and that many witnesses are being called but their cases never heard.

Ann Fehilly (ASSIST) further noted that protective measures the court put in place such as bail conditions and NHOs are frequently breached, and women and children perceive that the perpetrator can act with impunity.

Vicki Bell (LSS) suggested that electronic monitoring with GPS may go some way to improve feelings of safety for victims/survivors where the accused has received bail.

Mary Glasgow (Children 1st) noted that Children 1st had received similar feedback from children and young people who experience unacceptable delays and inconsistent provision of special measures. Attending court, spending all day waiting and then not being called is causing a lot of distress and harm to children.

Kate noted that, in addition to the distress caused to victims and witnesses, adjournments are a significant resource drain on the organisation. VSS is putting a huge resource into courts that is ultimately not needed and this affects other areas of the organisation. 

The Lord Advocate noted the challenges caused by the backlog for all involved in the criminal justice process, and that COPFS will look at processes and data around the delays, particularly at the pre-petition stage. 

The Cabinet Secretary acknowledged the urgent need to address the backlog in solemn business, which will require some reallocation of resources to prioritise those cases. 

Eric McQueen (SCTS) noted that addressing the backlog is a top priority for SCTS. He updated the Taskforce on the good progress made in summary business, with the backlog reduced by around 68% but noted that SCTS has switched resources to solemn business. He is aware that the justice system, including the defence, is working at and beyond capacity. In terms of reducing the backlog, Eric explained that best predictions are to get to a new baseline by 2025 in High Court and by 2026 in sheriff solemn. He noted that petitions have continued to increase indicating that the system will be dealing with a far higher case load than pre-pandemic as the “new normal”.  

Marsha queried whether domestic abuse cases are represented proportionally in the progress on the backlog, as those working on the ground continue to raise concerns. Eric responded that domestic abuse cases continue to be prioritised, making up 25% of cases but 34% of trials and agreed to provide Marsha with further data on this. He noted that Glasgow is almost back to pre-pandemic numbers for dealing with domestic abuse cases. 

Ronnie Renucci (Faculty of Advocates) noted that the defence is currently operating beyond capacity - petitions have increased exponentially while defence bar numbers have decreased. Therefore, it was hard to see how things could advance any quicker and there needs to be a long-term solution. He also raised concerns around the number of devils choosing to focus on criminal law, with none this year and only two next year. This is problematic for future resourcing of the defence bar. 

Summary Case Management Pilot and Virtual Summary Trials Pilot 

The Lord Advocate advised that early results from the Summary Case Management Pilot indicated that the effect on summary case journey times was transformative. Excellent case management by the judiciary, early disclosure by COPFS to the defence and excellent work by the police has resulted in a reduction in journey time and a 50% reduction, in some pilot areas, in witness citations, due to a focus on the key issues in the case and consideration of what evidence could be agreed so that witnesses did not need to attend.

Marsha asked whether there was any information from the pilot specifically on domestic abuse cases. The Lord Advocate explained that the pilot focussed on domestic abuse, and offered enhanced engagement to complainers in these cases as it was considered an area where a significant difference could be made. The Lord Advocate invited Marsha to meet with COPFS to discuss the initial findings from the pilot and the benefits being felt by those involved. Kate confirmed that she was also keen to see the findings.

Marsha also asked about plans for the roll out of the Summary Case Management Pilot across Scotland. Eric explained that SCTS will evaluate the findings from the pilot over the summer but anticipated that there will be continued rolling expansion over time. He noted that it necessitates a lot of extra resources from the police and COPFS, so whilst SCTS want to deliver at pace, this needs to be carefully managed. 

Eric also advised of plans to pilot a model for a fully virtual model for a domestic abuse court in Grampian, Highland and Islands in the autumn.

Ann welcomed the prioritisation of domestic abuse cases for the pilot and asked how long the pilot would run for and how it would be evaluated. She noted that the previous pilot had shown a positive impact for both victims of domestic abuse and accused persons. Anna Donald (SG) explained that the Grampian model would form part of the change programme around effectiveness and efficiency outlined in paper 6.

Evidence by Commissioner 

Eric set out the latest position on evidence by commissioner but noted that it, too, puts pressure on resources for the judiciary, COPFS and the defence. Sandy asked if there was up-to-date data on how long it takes to arrange a commission. Eric undertook to provide this data to RCS. 

Feedback mechanisms

Kate raised the lack of opportunity for people to feedback on their experience of the justice system. There is a particular lack of clarity where concerns or complaints span multiple agencies. 

Sam Faulds (PS) noted that Police Scotland has launched an online feedback system for victims/survivors to provide direct feedback.

Court transcripts

Kevin asked if, following the pilot for sexual offence cases, access to court transcripts could be extended to other types of case.

The Cabinet Secretary noted that she had discussed this issue with SCTS and that exploratory work is ongoing around whether access to transcripts could be dovetailed into the procurement of smarter systems.

Eric added that SCTS is keen to get a pilot in place that utilises new technology, moving towards digital/audio-visual solutions rather than using resources to modify existing, outmoded systems.

Ronnie raised concerns around potential reprisals for counsel if transcripts are released and made widely available via, for example, social media. He added that there needs to be a reason why transcripts are provided, with strict criteria, and this could tie into independent legal representation. 

The Cabinet Secretary observed that the purpose of a pilot would be to ensure there are no unintended consequences. Eric agreed safeguards were required and would discuss this with the Faculty.

Sandy noted that RCS would be keen for a proper discussion on court transcripts, leading to the development of a model that addresses some of the issues raised by the Faculty.

Next steps for the issues tracker

Lindsey Henderson (SG) set out the next steps for the tracker. Taskforce secretariat will collate the information and put it into the tracker for feeding back to the Advisory Board. There is also scope for the Advisory Board to invite Taskforce members to attend meetings. 

The Cabinet Secretary highlighted the need to identify who will lead on each issue to ensure ownership and impetus in addressing the concerns raised. 

The Taskforce discussed options for lead agencies - including COPFS for issues 1 and 7, SCTS for issues 4 and 5, Police Scotland for issue 8 and the Transformational Change Programmes for issue 9. Taskforce secretariat will continue discussions with the criminal justice agencies to ensure all issues are assigned a lead and discuss next steps, including feeding back to the Advisory Board. 

Taskforce members agreed the updated Terms of Reference for the Advisory Board.

Workstream 1: Victim Centred Approach update

The Lord Advocate invited Kate Wallace (VSS), Colin Spivey (PBS) and Catherine Docherty (Journey Associates) to provide an update on Workstream 1: Victim Centred Approach.

Catherine provided an update on the ‘Victim Centred Approach to Justice in Scotland: Scoping and Modelling Project’, work, which began in February. 

The project will be delivered in six stages and is currently on Stage 2: Familiarisation and Review. Catherine set out her work to date, which has focussed on desk research, including:

  • linking into initiatives led by the criminal justice agencies, victim support organisations and SG
  • identifying best practice
  • connecting with 18 organisations and projects/initiatives 
  • learning from exemplars 
  • stakeholder mapping

Catherine advised that she had worked with the project steering group to identify 11 exemplars from which to gain a deeper understanding of how a victim-centred approach could work in practice. These include examples from UK and international jurisdictions, and from criminal justice agencies and third sector organisations. 

Catherine has interviewed representatives from organisations in Croatia, New Zealand, Catalonia, Northern Ireland, Nottinghamshire and VSS’s Support for Families Bereaved by Crime service. Outstanding are interviews with services in New York, the Hague and the Victims Commissioner for London. It was noted that the New Zealand Government has committed NZ$45.7m (approx. £22.3m) in funding over the next four years towards a sector-wide strategy for improving outcomes for victims of crime – the outcome of which may be worth monitoring for future solutions.

Catherine reported that a number of themes were consistent across the interviews – namely that all agencies need to be trauma-informed, that clear information needs to be available to victims/survivors and that cases need to be dealt with quicker. 

The next steps will be to map out the “as is” and Catherine will be looking for the criminal justice agencies to nominate representatives to take part in sessions in June/July. This will be followed by engagement with victims and witnesses.

The project is due to be completed by October and Taskforce members will be invited to a workshop prior to the conclusion of the work.

Kate reiterated that the project was about producing a scoped and costed model that can be put into practice, and not another thought piece. 

Marsha noted that there appeared to be gaps in terms of victims/survivors in the civil justice system and children - and asked if the project could engage with models that focussed on children. Kate noted that scope creep was a real challenge, but that Catherine is looking at Bairns’ Hoose as an exemplar.

Mary added that the children and young people who are supporting the development of Bairns’ Hoose would be a good reference for this work.

Paul Harkness (SCRA) noted that there would be benefit in specifically considering child victims and what could be done to improve their experiences.

Ann highlighted the need to ensure children and young people are visible through our collective response, ensuring that their experience is not viewed only through their mother/parent.

Mary noted that Children 1st has a lot of direct feedback from child victims and witnesses that it is happy to share, and that the children’s views and voices have very much influenced the development of the Bairns’ Hoose standards. The challenge is how we respond to their experiences and feed back tangible progress. 

Kevin Woodburn noted that those with lived experience want to see results and have confidence in this piece of work as it will be costed and trauma informed.

Transformational Change Programmes

The Cabinet Secretary invited Anna Donald, from SG: Criminal Justice Division, to speak to paper 6 on the Transformational Change Programmes (TCPs) and reflect on the relevance to, and synergy with, the work of the Taskforce.

Anna explained that the focus of the TCPs is on action and delivery.

By way of background, she explained that the TCPs were a progression from the Recover Renew Transform programme and associated governance structures. Through the TCPs, the focus will move from recovery to transformation, where the system needs to work together to deliver.

Anna acknowledged the recommendations in the Audit Scotland report, highlighting the need for engagement, transparency and a consistent approach to risk management.

Anna outlined the three programmes established to date, namely: 

  • Person-centred and trauma informed justice
  • Shifting the balance between custody and justice in the community 
  • Criminal Justice System Efficiency 

The programmes will be governed by two programme boards.

The programme outcomes have been informed by the work of the Victims Taskforce and the voices of victims and survivors. The outcomes are:

  • Victims feel informed about their case
  • Victims feel safe
  • Victims are given choices
  • Victims feel like they have been treated with compassion
  • Victims’ voices are heard
  • Victims know what their rights are

In terms of scope, the focus is on workstreams that are in a delivery phase and that will contribute to the outcomes for victims and witnesses listed above. Current projects that will come under the Person-centred Programme are:

  • Implementation of the Trauma Informed Justice Framework
  • Implementation of the “People at Heart” approach to communications, including the style guide
  • Extend Victim Impact Statement Scheme
  • Extend Restorative Justice Practices
  • Extend use of Pre-Recorded Evidence

The programme will bring these projects together under a data-driven, managed approach to delivery, ensuring collective accountability. This will involve robust monitoring and programme management, with monthly highlight reporting.

Anna explained that, with the Audit Scotland recommendations in mind, SG were considering how the programme boards and governance structures could be public-facing and report on progress. 

Anna posed several questions to the Taskforce, namely:

  • Do you agree that Workstream 2: Trauma Informed Workforce should be brought into this governance structure? And do we need a new, separate workstream for communications? 
  • How do we ensure the Victim/Survivor Advisory Board and other victim/survivor representatives feed into work around delivery, and how do we assess the experience of those affected by crime and currently coming into contact with the justice system? 

Marsha urged that learning from the implementation of the Domestic Abuse Act be taken on board – highlighting the importance of a feedback loop and having victim support organisations and victim/survivor representatives on board. She cautioned that the Advisory Board is not a representative source for how things are on the ground.

Anna noted that the SG is alive to the challenges and is considering what a feedback loop looks like and how to measure outcomes that pertain to experience. The SG is keen to discuss this with Taskforce members and take into account any ideas put forward.

The Cabinet Secretary highlighted the importance of looking at where feedback loops work well and pointed to work on social security, homelessness and child poverty as examples of successful project and programme delivery.

Kate Wallace noted that project delivery in the justice system works well when the third sector are recognised as part of the system and have early involvement – this allows any impact on those who deliver services to be identified early and managed effectively. Kate also noted the importance of feedback to identify if changes are having the desired impact.

Kate agreed that the Taskforce should continue to have oversight of the Trauma Informed Workforce workstream. She noted that the People at Heart project was originally under Workstream 1 of the Taskforce, but that it would be helpful to have a separate group to progress that work.

Sandy Brindley asked about victim representation on the “Shifting the balance between custody and justice in the community” programme, citing a number of cases recently where victims/survivors did not feel visible or protected. Anna offered to provide more information to RCS on the governance structure for that programme.

Taskforce members agreed to the proposal that Workstream 2: Trauma Informed Workforce is progressed under the ‘Person-centred and trauma informed justice’ programme reporting to the Person-Centred Justice Programme Board, but oversight retained by the Victims Taskforce.

Taskforce members also agreed that a new, separate workstream on the “People at Heart” approach to communications be established. 

Workstream 2: Trauma Informed Workforce update 

The Lord Advocate introduced the next item on the Trauma Informed Workforce workstream, noting the successful launch of the knowledge and skills framework the previous month and the positivity in the room towards the framework and the potential for real change.

The Lord Advocate asked Taskforce members to take up the challenge of embedding a trauma informed, and trauma responsive, approach across the justice system - using the framework as a tool to make the change happen. 

The Lord Advocate noted that the chair of Workstream 2 was unable to attend so asked Caroline Bruce to update the Taskforce on progress to date and the next steps for the workstream.

Caroline thanked members for their helpful work in the lead up to the launch of the framework and encouraged those who were not at the launch to watch the short film in which people with lived experience explain what trauma-informed justice and the framework mean for them. Taskforce secretariat will circulate the link to Taskforce members.

Caroline noted that the workstream met after the launch to decide on its next steps. She explained that these steps need to be outcome, not output, driven and need to identify what good looks like and what is possible. 

Caroline highlighted the importance of a good feedback loop, giving the example of Archway (a Sexual Assault Response Coordination Service in Glasgow). Archway developed a brief form to gather feedback from service users – although the feedback received was largely positive, it enabled the service to respond quickly and adapt where issues were raised.

Caroline noted that she is looking forward to the support of the workstream in the roll out of the framework and encouraged justice leaders to look at organisational change. Part of future work will be to develop training resources on what leadership and leading organisational change look like.

The Taskforce discussed the scope for resources to go further afield than the justice system, given that victims and survivors use services in other sectors. Caroline explained that the workstream was focussed on criminal justice system at present but was looking to design resources that are usable in a variety of contexts. The Cabinet Secretary also pointed to the National Trauma Training Programme developed by NES to support a trauma-informed and trauma-responsive workforce and services across Scotland. 

Marsha Scott welcomed Caroline’s engagement and response to SWA’s concerns over the use of language relating to women and gender within the Framework. Marsha noted that she is interested in the implementation process and any impact on the behaviour of practitioners, given SWA still finds victim-blaming an issue in some areas.

The Cabinet Secretary thanked Caroline and asked Taskforce members to consider putting their organisation forward to co-chair Workstream 2, alongside SCTS. The Cabinet Secretary also asked secretariat to circulate the membership of Workstream 2 to Taskforce members, who were to consider where there might be organisational gaps – and to flag these to secretariat.

Scottish Government Update

The Cabinet Secretary invited Anna Donald to speak to paper 7 on behalf of the Scottish Government and update the Taskforce on recent legislative and non-legislative developments.

Anna provided an update on the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced in April. It contains a number of measures arising from recommendations in Lady Dorrian’s report, plus other measures to improve the experience of victims and witnesses, with a particular focus on women and girls. Anna noted that the SG is keen to engage with Taskforce members on the Bill. 

Anna also updated the Taskforce on the progress of the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill and the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill. She noted that these were not focussed on victims and witnesses but do contain provisions relating to improving their experience.

Anna provided the latest position on Bairns’ Hoose. The National Standards were published at the end of May and will set the framework for the development of a Bairns’ Hoose model for Scotland. The Standards were one of a number of documents recently published, including the Pathfinder Delivery Plan and the Children and Young People Participation and Engagement Plan. Taskforce secretariat will circulate links to these documents.

Anna also updated the Taskforce on the Independent Review of the Victim Notification Scheme, the report for which was published on 12 May and contained a number of recommendations. The SG is considering these recommendations with partners from across the criminal justice system as they impact on multiple agencies.

The Cabinet Secretary thanked Anna for her update and asked Taskforce members to contact secretariat with any comments on the questions posed at the end of Paper 7, namely:

  • What is the role of the Taskforce in ensuring the voices and interests of victims and survivors continue to be a core consideration in these important areas of work?   
  • Would the Taskforce like to hear more about any of these areas of work in a future “deep dive” item?

Any other business (AOB)

No additional issues were raised.

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

Actions log

  • COPFS to provide RCS with data on delays at pre-petition stage. Action complete
  • SCTS to provide further data to SWA on domestic abuse cases in the context of progress on the backlog
  • COPFS to liaise with SWA and VSS on the current findings from the virtual summary trials pilot. Action complete
  • SCTS to provide data to RCS on the time taken to arrange a commission. Data has been provided by SCTS and passed on to RCS.
  • Taskforce secretariat to agree leads for each issue with the criminal justice agencies and discuss next steps, including feeding back to the Advisory Board. Action complete
  • SG to provide more info to RCS on governance of “Shifting the balance between custody and justice in the community” programme. Action is ongoing and update paper to come to next Victims Taskforce meeting
  • Taskforce secretariat to circulate link to the Trauma Informed Justice short film. Action complete
  • Taskforce members to consider putting their organisation forward to co-chair Workstream 2. Action ongoing
  • Taskforce secretariat to circulate current membership of Workstream 2 to Taskforce members. Action ongoing
  • Taskforce members to consider current membership of Workstream 2 and highlight any gaps to secretariat. Action ongoing
  • Taskforce secretariat to share links to Bairns’ Hoose documents with Taskforce members. Action complete
  • Taskforce members to contact secretariat with comments on the role of the Taskforce in ensuring the voices and interests of victims and survivors continue to be a core consideration in the areas of work outlined in the SG update, and any ‘deep dive’ items they would like covered at future meetings. Action ongoing

View the papers for this meeting.

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