Victims Taskforce minutes: May 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 26 May 2022.

Attendees and apologies

  • Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Keith Brown (Co-Chair)
  • Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC (Co-Chair)
  • Vicki Bell, Law Society of Scotland (LSS)
  • Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS)
  • Oona Brookes, Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR)
  • Lynn Burns, Victims’ Voice
  • Michael Chalmers, SG
  • Stephen Coyle, Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
  • DCS Samantha Faulds, Police Scotland (PS)
  • Ann Fehilly, ASSIST
  • Mary Glasgow, Children 1st
  • Kathryn Lindsay, Social Work Scotland (SWS)
  • Karyn McCluskey, Community Justice Scotland (CJS)
  • Eric McQueen, Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS)
  • Paul Harkness, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)
  • Marsha Scott, Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA)
  • Colin Spivey, Parole Board for Scotland (PBS)
  • Anna Donald, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Ronnie Renucci QC, Faculty of Advocates
  • Kate Wallace, Victim Support Scotland
  • David Harvie, Crown Agent, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Linda Brown, Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority


  • Anil Gupta, COSLA
  • Alistair Hogg, SCRA
  • Teresa Medhurst, SPS
  • Neil Rennick, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Willie Cowan, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Neill Mitchell, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)
  • Alistair Hogg, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)
  • ACC Judi Heaton, Police Scotland, (PS)


  • Caroline Bruce, NHS Education for Scotland (NES)
  • Jenny Paterson, Victim Support Scotland (VSS)
  • Tirion Seymour, VSS
  • James Brown, Scottish Government (SG)

Secretariat – Scottish Government/COPFS

  • Moira Price, COPFS                                        
  • Zak Tuck, Scottish Government (SG)                                            
  • Sarah Smith, Scottish Government (SG)   
  • John Wallace, Scottish Government (SG)   

Items and actions

Chairs’ welcome, minutes and matters arising

The Chairs’ welcomed members to the meeting and noted apologies. 

The Cabinet Secretary referred members to paper one: minute of the meeting of 26 January 2022, and noted that all actions were either ongoing or completed.  

The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed by members.

Victim Notification Scheme review

The Lord Advocate introduced item two on the independent Victim Notification Scheme (VNS) review and provided some background to the review. The Lord Advocate noted that the review was likely to take an enquiry style approach rather than setting up a working group. The Lord Advocate advised that Fiona Young, Vice-Chair of the review, has requested to attend the Victims Taskforce and invited Ms Young to speak.

Ms Young provided a brief biography of herself and the review Chair–Alistair Macdonald. Ms Young also discussed the changing landscape around the VNS and noted that the review would be looking at:

  • the current VNS process
  • engaging widely with stakeholders
  • the two currently running SG consultations (Bail and Release from Custody and the Improving Victims’ Experiences of the Justice System) and any findings from them which it would be useful to be cognisant of
  • any legal and data protection issues which would arise

The Lord Advocate noted that the review would be given every support necessary, and invited comments.

ASSIST advised that they welcome the review and suggested that the VNS should be an opt-out rather than opt-in scheme.

VSS and SWA also welcomed the review and offered to speak with Ms Young offline in relation to any help they could offer to help the review to engage directly with victims in a trauma informed manner.
 Ms Young advised of a stakeholder workshop planned for the end of summer to directly engage with criminal justice, and victim support organisations. 

The Lord Advocate invited Ms Young and Mr MacDonald to provide an update at the next Taskforce meeting in November. Ms Young noted that this would be a good time to reflect on the work they will have undertaken. 

Action: Taskforce Secretariat to arrange for the Chairs of the Independent Victim Notification Scheme review to attend the next meeting of the Victims Taskforce.

Workstream updates

Workstream 1 – victim centred approach

The Cabinet Secretary introduced item three on the agenda noting that the workstreams have been making progress and referred to papers two and three, and asked VSS and NES to provide updates.

VSS spoke to paper two and noted specifically in relation to item five that the external organisation who are contracted to carry out the scoping and modelling work will be tasked with developing implementable solutions. PBS emphasised that there would be a focus on delivery and a need to avoid producing another “think piece”.

RCS raised a related issue regarding a section of the Lady Dorrian report about the provision of advocacy support, noting the need for modelling for this and raising a concern that if it isn’t included in this workstream, nor the work of the Governance Group of the Lady Dorrian Review, then where was it covered. SG provided reassurance that this issue would be considered by the sub-group looking at Lady Dorrian-Recommendation three–improved communication and information.

VSS noted an awareness of the current review of the Victim Information and Advice service at COPFS which it would be advantageous to also link in. SWA noted that it would be important to ensure that particular issues relating to  domestic abuse were appropriately taken into account.   VSS offered to speak to SWA about this.

Workstream two – trauma informed workforce

NES provided an update and spoke to paper three using slides. Feedback from the workshop, consultation and interviews with people with lived experience are now being incorporated into the next draft of the knowledge and skills framework. 

NES noted that while the feedback has been extremely positive there is an awareness for the need to change some of the language and content to make it easier to comprehend. NES plan to go back to the Trauma Informed Workforce workstream with the next draft in July/August with a plan to launch the framework in Autumn 2022.

NES also noted that there were some questions raised beyond the scope of the workshop and consultation which touched on how the framework would be implemented and governed going forward.

SWA advised that they are looking forward to future focused discussions on the infrastructure required to move beyond training to  implementation in relation to bringing about change, scaling up and embedding practice within organisations. 

SWS asked how this knowledge and skills framework would mesh with the trauma informed practice toolkit noting that “trauma was trauma”. NES advised of the close links to the wider work and highlighted the high prevalence of trauma within the users of the criminal justice system and the specific aims of the framework in the context of criminal justice processes (e.g. achieving best evidence). 

The Cabinet Secretary welcomed the updates and encouraged Taskforce members to reflect on how their respective organisations can support this work going forward.

Communications review

The Lord Advocate introduced item four on the communications review and referred to paper four–a draft ‘style guide’. The Lord Advocate noted that the Taskforce was given an update in November 2021 by the communications agency First Word on their work to review communications across the criminal justice agencies (CJAs). The Taskforce workplan included a systematic review of communications aimed at victims and witnesses of crime and their families to ensure they are victim centred, consistent, up-to-date and use clear and compassionate language. The Lord Advocate invited the SG to provide a further update. 

SG noted that following the completion of the research phase of the project the First Word has completed a number of re-writes of existing written communications from across the CJAs. The CJAs were asked for their feedback on these, which has formed part of the process to develop the draft style guide which will focus on:

  • three key areas – empathy, empowerment and ease
  • inclusive language
  • words to avoid

The guide will include before and after examples of documents and will tie into the ongoing trauma informed work of the Taskforce. As the project moves into the implementation phase, there will be more engagement with CJAs at an organisational level.

The Lord Advocate invited members to comment on the draft style guide by 10 June and consider how any new approach to communications can be taken forward within their organisation.

RCS agreed that these were helpful principles, and asked if the way that an accused’s name is used in correspondence to a rape victim could be included as part of the guide. SG agreed to consider this point.

SWA strongly welcomed the development of  the guide whilst cautioning that care should be taken over the word sensitive, as the use of which feeds into a “poor victim” narrative. It is more important that communications are effective, empathetic and competent rather than sensitive.

VSS asked if the issue of dates to avoid (for example not issuing communication about an offender on the anniversary of a victim’s death) would be included in the guide as this has become a particular issue again. SG advised that this would be considered as part of the implementation plan.

SWS used page 13 of the draft guide to raise a concern that statutory information should not be removed and that information about consequences of action or inaction needed to remain in communications. SG advised that there is an issue on how this information is presented to victims and witnesses and although crucial information should remain, it should be presented in a better way. RCS cautioned that care needed to be taken on how arrest warrant information is communicated.

The Cabinet Secretary advised that what the Taskforce are doing with the First Word project will evolve with time as society changes. The approach being taken must permeate the system. The Cabinet Secretary asked how do we make this fit that system? Would a charter mark or some form of accreditation work? VSS agreed and noted that this work is a natural development of the Victims Code and Standards of Service for Victims & Witnesses. SWA made the point that infrastructure for independent assessment of any accreditation would be required along infrastructure to enable it to continue to be successful.

Action: Taskforce members to comment on the draft communications style guide by 10 June 2022.

Engagement with people with lived experience

The Lord Advocate introduced item five engagement with people with lived experience and referenced paper five. The Lord Advocate reminded the Taskforce that at the last meeting members agreed a proposed plan for engagement with victims/survivors, which included six-monthly engagement with the Taskforce Chairs. 

The first of these sessions took place on 18 May and included representatives from Victim Support Scotland, Assist, Children 1st, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and Lynn Burns. The purpose of the session was to come together and begin to co-design how the Taskforce engages with victims/survivors in a meaningful, outcome-focussed and trauma informed way. Key takeaways from that meeting were:

  • there was an agreement to further develop the ‘sounding board’ model, whereby The Lord Advocate and the Cabinet Secretary would meet every six months with the victims organisations and people with lived experience
  • the sounding board needed to be underpinned by an ethical framework of engagement with victims/survivors
  • the sounding board should identify a set of themes or issues to focus on, ideally issues where real change can realistically be effected in the next 12-18 months. The sounding board should also be able to directly influence the priorities of the Taskforce
  • there also needs to be a firm commitment and clear accountability from Taskforce members, particularly the criminal justice organisations, to respond to feedback from victims/survivors to effect real change in the system
  • a feedback mechanism will be required to ensure victims/survivors are able to see actual changes that have been made as a result of their input
  • victims/survivors participation needs to be operationalised, with remuneration potentially being provided to acknowledge people’s knowledge, time and contributions

LSS asked if the opportunity to participate in the sounding board could be offered to all victims, rather than just to those filtered through victim support organisations. SG explained that victims organisations had reference groups which were open to anyone. RCS noted that it would be useful for different voices to be heard on specific points of discussion, but that the sounding board should be small to make sure it works. 

RCS noted that there should be a multiplicity of routes for engagement but any approach needed to be done ethically with any action or information given to people respecting their trauma. VSS agreed that the sounding board membership should be small and that this approach was borrowed from other policy areas and should be tried to see if it would work.

LSS asked whether the Taskforce engaged with the Children and Young Peoples Commissioner (CYCP), to help inform the development of the Victims Commissioner role. SG noted that officials have spoken to the office of the CYPC. SG also noted that the CYCP model  had informed the current consultation on a Victims’ Commissioner for Scotland. 

The Cabinet Secretary observed in relation to the sounding board that whilst the people closest to the victims are the victim support organisations, there is nothing as powerful as the authenticity of a victim’s voice. He also underlined the importance of direct involvement to ensure that victims are aware of the range of possible changes that could be made and be actively involved in how these are taken forward.

Action: Officials to meet with victims organisations to develop the sounding board model, schedule the first sounding board meeting and arrange six monthly cycle to enable feedback loops between Taskforce and sounding board.

Any other business (AOB)

The Cabinet Secretary introduced item six and reference paper six and asked SG to provide an update on the ongoing projects.

Case Related Data Transformation Project - Successful delivery of the Justice Strategy, with a focus on improving the experience of the justice system for all users, will rely on utilising data in new and smarter ways. The focus of this project is to ensure that high quality data and information is available to the right people at the right time to enable evidence-based decision-making. 

The project has already executed a pre-discovery phase, and is now moving on to a more detailed discovery phase with a focus on two main areas, which have been prioritised because of their alignment to the justice strategy: 

  • victims and witnesses and the data and information needed to support them through the criminal justice process, including allowing informed support to be provided to them by third party organisations
  • defining an overarching ‘case related data’ operational dataset which runs end to end across all of the core justice partners and looking in more detail at the pain points. Also aligned with this looking at the needs for operational reporting to allow areas for improvement to be identified across the process

The next steps will be to carry out user research interviews with support organisations and victim-facing areas within the core organisations (e.g. VIA staff, VNS admin staff). There is also the potential to carry out co-design workshops with the organisations as to what the service might look like.The project team will also collate existing research into the experience of victims and witnesses, and how this relates to data and information from sources such as the THRIVE report and the work on communications.

The secretariat addressed three main areas of concern raised by taskforce members:

  • the timing of the delivery of the witness portal would not be impacted by this project
  • the SG digital team would ensure accessibility standards would not be overlooked
  • the need for end users’ needs to be central to the development of the service design approach

CivTech Challenge – Court familiarisation - Part of the Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate, CivTech brings together public sector expertise and private sector innovation to solve problems and develop new products. The Criminal Justice Transformation Unit is working with VSS and CivTech to explore the challenge as to how technology can transform victims’ digital experience within the Scottish criminal justice system. 

The focus will be on digital solutions to improve how early exposure to the court/remote evidence settings, together with the support from VSS, can help reduce trauma and avoidance, alleviate fears and anxieties, and encourage confidence in people affected by crime. The project is currently at the Challenge Definition stage and hopes to be in a position to invite proposals in the summer.

VSS noted that there were difficulties currently with ensuring users could access the court familiarisation services and, while VSS offered a 360° view of courts currently, the CivTech challenge may enable them to offer a more immersive and meaningful experience. 

SCTS welcomed the CivTech challenge and noted a keenness to be involved. SCTS noted that they were not aware of any issues in relation to familiarisation services and asked VSS to pass on any information they had.

Any other business continued

RCS raised two items of additional AOB. What progress was being made on expanding the roll out of the use of pre-recorded evidence? – COPFS advised that the use of pre-recorded evidence was now in place in Glasgow and Irvine, with the roll out expected to happen in Edinburgh and Aberdeen soon.

RCS also asked if the Cabinet Secretary could provide any timescale for the introduction of the misogyny bill and was advised the bill will be part of the Scottish Government’s future legislative programme but no firm timescale could be given. Although the government are keen to move forward quickly with this, a substantial amount of work is still required, including a consultation process before the bill can be prepared. 

SWA noted that there is a crisis occurring where their services have been unable to find solicitors to take on work and that service managers would like to meet with the Cabinet Secretary about this issue. The Cabinet Secretary informed the Taskforce that this area of work was within the Minister for Community Safety’s portfolio and any meeting should include her.

In conclusion the Cabinet Secretary touched again on the idea of a charter mark, noting that it could help define what a victim centred system is. The Cabinet Secretary asked the Taskforce to consider whether a picture could be drawn of what would need to be achieved to drive and demonstrate improvement across the justice sector.

Actions log

  • arrange for the Chairs of the Independent Victim Notification Scheme review to attend the next meeting of the Victims Taskforce (for Secretariat)
  • taskforce members to comment on the draft style guide by 10 June 2022 (for Taskforce)
  • officials to schedule next sounding board meeting and arrange six monthly cycle to enable information sharing between taskforce and sounding board (for Secretariat)

Read the papers from the meeting.

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