Publication - Minutes

Victims Taskforce papers: December 2020

Published: 18 Jan 2021
Directorate:
Justice Directorate
Part of:
Law and order
Date of meeting: 9 Dec 2020

Minutes and papers from the group's meeting on 9 December 2020.

Published:
18 Jan 2021
Victims Taskforce papers: December 2020

Attendees and apologies

  • Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf MSP (Co-Chair) 
  • Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC (Co-Chair)
  • Solicitor General, Alison Di Rollo QC 
  • Andrew Alexander, Law Society of Scotland
  • Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS)
  • Linda Brown, Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA)
  • Caroline Bruce, NHS Education for Scotland (NES)
  • Lynn Burns, Victims Representative 
  • Michael Chalmers, Scottish Government: Children and Families 
  • Stephen Coyle, Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
  • Ann Fehilly, ASSIST
  • Mike Findlay, Victim Support Scotland (VSS)
  • Mary Glasgow, Children 1st
  • David Harvie, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Laura Hoskins, Community Justice Scotland
  • Kathryn Lindsay, Social Work Scotland 
  • Margaret Malloch, Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research
  • DCS Samantha McCluskey, Police Scotland
  • Eric McQueen, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS)
  • Stephen Pathirana, Scottish Government: Justice 
  • Katherine Peskett, Scottish Government: Justice
  • Ronnie Renucci QC, Faculty of Advocates
  • Marsha Scott, Scottish Women’s Aid
  • Tirion Seymour, Victims Support Scotland
  • Gillian Urquhart, Moira Anderson Foundation
  • John Watt, Parole Board Scotland
  • Amy Wilson, Scottish Government: Justice Analytical Services

Apologies

  • Mike Callaghan, COSLA
  • Angela Grahame QC, Faculty of Advocates

  • Lorna Jack, Law Society of Scotland  
  • Karyn McCluskey, Community Justice Scotland
  • Teresa Medhurst, Scottish Prison Service
  • Pauline Proudfoot, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)  
  • Duncan Sloane, ACC Crime and Protection, Police Scotland
  • Kate Wallace, Victim Support Scotland

Secretariat – Scottish Government / COPFS

  • Moira Price

  • Anna Donald

  • Sarah Smith
  • Alison Atkins
  • Zk Tuk
  • Blair Robertson
  • Ria Phillips
  • John Wallace
  • Lynsay Ross
  • Julie Guy

Items and actions

Welcome from the Cabinet Secretary

The Cabinet Secretary welcomed attendees to the eighth meeting of the Victims Taskforce, and noted apologies from members. 

The Cabinet Secretary noted that Neil Rennick had temporarily moved to another role in Scottish Government, and introduced Katherine Peskett and Stephen Pathirana who were covering the Director of Justice role on a job share basis.

The Cabinet Secretary reminded members that this was the penultimate meeting of the Taskforce, with the final scheduled meeting being in March 2021. Members were asked to consider what they would like to discuss at the March meeting and consider the future of the Victims Taskforce beyond the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. The final decision would obviously be for the Government that is in place at the start of the next Parliamentary term.

Action: taskforce members to contact Secretariat with any suggestions for the March meeting and to give consideration to a long term view of the future of the Taskforce beyond this Parliamentary term. 

Victims' voices

The Cabinet Secretary highlighted the regular engagement he and the Lord Advocate have with victims and victim support organisations (VSOs) and that this is hugely helpful and impactful. In supporting victims during the pandemic, a key area of work had been to try and prevent the court backlog from increasing further. He noted that conversations were underway with VSOs, and between Ministers and the Lord President, about managing the backlog. He reminded members that regardless of best efforts, the pandemic has had a significant impact on victims and therefore, as always, the meeting would start by hearing victims’ voices.

VSS spoke to Paper 1. The paper pulled together overarching themes that have been raised through quotes, stories and experiences of people directly affected by crime and presented to the Taskforce by the VSOs and Lynn Burns as part of the Victims Voices agenda item at each Taskforce meeting. 

Whilst feedback received has been connected to a wide variety of crime types and experiences, particular topic threads and shared areas of concern raised by people affected by crime were visible across many of the accounts.

The four key themes in the paper were brought together in order to contribute to discussion as to next steps for the Taskforce. The key themes from the paper were:

  • being heard; by the criminal justice system as a victim or witness of crime, how voices are heard and action taken
  • accessing information. Particularly how information is accessed and communicated to individuals (e.g. what’s happening in their case, what rights they have)
  • feeling safe. Generally to feel that the justice system prioritises keeping people safe
  • compassion. How individuals are supported with compassion, and how that is demonstrated throughout the justice system. This was a significant theme that overlapped with the other themes explored

The paper posed a number of questions around these themes which members were asked to consider.

Action: members were asked to consider the discussion points in the paper and feedback views to the Secretariat.

SWA reflected that it has felt difficult to get victims’ voices into the ‘Recover, Renew and Transform’ (RRT) work and that reflection is required regarding how we shift the system away from a default response to urgent matters where the views of victims and VSOs were apparently not a central consideration. The Cabinet Secretary took this point on board and highlighted that progress had been made in ensuring VSOs and the voices of victims are an integral part of the RRT work.

The Cabinet Secretary reflected that the key themes captured in the paper are the ones he heard regularly from VSOs and victims. He noted the importance of being able to demonstrate where improvements have been made in a number of areas whilst accepting there is still a lot more work required. 

SCTS reflected on the points made by SWA and agreed there is a lot of learning that can be taken from the response to the pandemic. These had been truly exceptional circumstances with the initial priority being to get the system back up and running at speed. SCTS hoped it was recognised, however, that there has been a real willingness to engage the VSOs in a more proactive and productive way. For example, VSOs have been involved in the design and planning work to get jury trials restarted and, in relation to summary trials, trying to get a better focus on domestic abuse cases. There had also been a lot of discussion with VSS in order to ensure suitable premises are in place for witnesses giving evidence. 

SG Children and Families reflected on a recent consultation on 16-17 year olds in the children’s hearing system. This highlighted a similar recurring theme about how support can be improved by making information more accessible and understandable to those involved.

RCS highlighted the difficulty that sexual offence complainers have had in accessing court transcripts from their trial and the associated costs. SCTS had suggested this was primarily a legislative issue. RCS also mentioned a campaign that they were supporting to put anonymity of sexual offence complainers onto a legal footing and asked if the Taskforce could consider these two issues.

The Faculty of Advocates suggested that it may not be possible to get a transcript of a complainer’s evidence as it is given in closed court and therefore legislation may prevent a transcript being obtained. RCS stated this was not their understanding of the situation. Both the FoA and RCS stated they would be interested in exploring this issue further.

The Cabinet Secretary thanked members for their input, and the helpful points made, and stated further consideration would be given to the issues raised by RCS on court transcripts and anonymity, either through the Taskforce workplan or separate to the Taskforce, recognising there may well be nuances and complexities in these issues that need to be explored.

Action: SG to consider further the issues of transcription and anonymity raised by SCTS and to engage with RCS/FoA and other relevant partners as appropriate.

The Cabinet Secretary concluded this agenda item commenting there has been a lot of learning for everyone during this unprecedented situation. He took on board comments from VSOs that engagement with them, for example on the RRT work, could have happened earlier but hoped it was recognised that there is willingness to engage with VSOs proactively and productively to ensure victims needs are considered. SWA noted that there were also issues with demonstrating that victims’ input is actively influencing decision making.

Minutes and matters arising

The Cabinet Secretary referred members to Paper 2, minutes of the previous meeting. The minutes were agreed by members and there were no outstanding actions.

Victims commissioner

The Cabinet Secretary opened the item drawing members attention to Paper 3, and thanking members for their engagement on the development of the paper. He highlighted that the Taskforce had previously discussed this issue and he was now keen that members try and come to a conclusion on whether or not there is a clear and compelling case for the introduction of a Victims Commissioner in Scotland, or whether further views and information were required to enable a decision to be made. 

The following discussion highlighted a range of views. Some members were broadly supportive of such a role in Scotland however other members were not yet convinced of such a need.

SWA noted discussions on the issue with their UK counterparts. This highlighted that the benefits of having a Victims Commissioner could potentially be outweighed by the dangers of having the ‘wrong’ Victims Commissioner, for example someone who was not familiar with the policy landscape in terms of violence against women and girls, and the importance of a gendered perspective, could be problematic. SWA suggested that involving VSOs in the selection process might help allay these concerns.

VSS highlighted points from their response stating that they were broadly supportive of the proposal. However they would want assurances that a Victims Commissioner role would not divert resources away from supporting victims and witnesses directly. They could see the potential for a Commissioner to function as an independent source of information provision/advocacy on behalf of victims. VSS suggested consideration should be given as to how the role of a Commissioner would sit alongside the Victims Taskforce, should the Taskforce continue in the new Parliamentary term. 

RCS commented that they would need to be convinced of a tangible benefit to victims of allocating significant resources to the role of Victims Commissioner. They felt this case remained to be made and were also hesitant as the Commissioner may not get involved in individual cases, as is the case in England. RCS believed victims would want a champion for their individual issues and therefore were not convinced as to what a Victims Commissioner would add. 

Social Work Scotland felt the proposal had merit and commented that feedback should be sought on the benefits of the Children’s Commissioner role and what weight that had added to children’s voices. They also suggested there may be merit in considering the separation of a formal Commissioner role, and the engagement and representation it could bring to victims in the widest sense, from service support delivery bodies and thematic groups which are powerful advocates on particular issues. A Victims Commissioner might broaden that scope to ensure wider issues are heard and hold the entire system, including support arrangements for victims, to account. 

Lynn Burns commented that we hear that victims don’t feel that their voice is heard and they don’t have access to anyone championing their situation. In her wide ranging conversations with victims, and regardless of the crime type, without exception they were supportive of a Victims Commissioner role in Scotland. There would have to be realism that a Commissioner could not take on all individual cases but perhaps the role could act as a bridge between VSOs and Government.

SG Children and Families commented on the role of the Children’s Commissioner highlighting a constructive relationship with the current Commissioner, who had been able to champion particular issues (for example the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) and challenge Government in a way which is different to the role of third sector organisations. If a Victims Commissioner were to be taken forward, keen that children and child victims would be in scope, with thought given as to how the responsibilities of the two Commissioners interplayed. 

Children 1st agreed with these comments and commented that the Children’s Commissioner has made a significant difference in shifting policy, legislation and practice towards a more rights-based approach. The role provided organisations with a place to go for advice on how to challenge policy and practice. The whole system has been very supportive of the Commissioner role and there is likely to be some support from the sector for a Victims Commissioner. 

The Cabinet Secretary thanked members for their input and noted that the issue is worthy of further consideration and discussion. In particular, he had found it helpful to hear the perspective of victims as put forward by Lynn.  He didn’t perceive a direct conflict between the Children’s Commissioner and a Victims Commissioner and reflected that the relationships VSOs have with senior leaders in the Justice system and Government are constructive but that there would be a different dynamic with a

Victims Commissioner in place. He suggested that members should be in a place at the final Taskforce meeting to make a firm decision on what the Taskforce recommendation is regarding a Victims Commissioner in Scotland. 

Action: if members wish sight of individual responses, contact Secretariat who will check with organisations that submitted responses.

Action: members to further consider the Victim Commissioner role ahead of the next meeting of the Taskforce in March 2021.

Workstream updates

The Cabinet Secretary noted that since the last meeting, SG officials have worked closely with work stream leads to review and revise the work plan. Workstreams were asked to review the current actions and decide which were still relevant, focussing on what can be achieved by Spring 2021, considering next steps and what the legacy of the Taskforce should be to ensure real change for victims and witnesses.

Workstream one – Victim Centred Approach (VCA)

VSS and Police Scotland (PS) were due to give a presentation on their project to understand reasons behind a decline in victim referrals and identify collaborative opportunities to increase referrals and recognise needs, but this had unavoidably required to be postponed. 

Action: paper to be circulated to members as an update.

The Cabinet Secretary updated that the VCA Governance Group had considered the Thrive report at their meeting in October. It was agreed that the recommendations helped to crystallise some of the issues which the Taskforce had been discussing over the last two years, and which were now also being considered as part of the RRT agenda. The group will further consider the specifics of the Thrive report in tandem with the earlier recommendations of the Thomson report with respect to its workplan. An options paper is being developed and will be presented at the next Governance Group meeting in the New Year, along with a revised work plan.

Reflecting on the project with PS, VSS highlighted that their relationship with PS had strengthened throughout the pandemic and they continue to meet regularly. The key focus was to analyse the barriers to people being referred to VSS services and what could be done to address these, as well as looking at emerging crime types and better understand data and trends.

There had been an emphasis on internal messaging within PS, ensuring everyone on the ground knows what VSS does. A new bank of short films produced by PS and highlighting the impact of accessing VSS services had been produced and would be used by PS in the next few weeks.

SG noted that this work demonstrated the VCA both from perspective of PS as a key criminal justice agency but in close partnership work with VSS – a good example and microcosm of how that VCA work might look across the system. 

SG also updated that, regarding the wider workstream, a range of specific actions will be taken off-table, led by SG in conjunction with partners. For example, a review of the Victim Notification Scheme (VNS); an audit of communications with victims, building on some work done by CICA and HMCTS; and a workshop on the annual development of standards of service for victims and witnesses. 

SWA echoed the comments on the constructive engagement with PS and expressed an interest in being involved in the review of the VNS. 

Workstream two – trauma informed workforce training

Community Justice Scotland stated that the work of this workstream really resonated with the victims voices paper and that a trauma informed approach may help to address some of those issues. The trauma-informed workforce mapping survey activity which had been undertaken was highlighted. There was a high level of good quality responses from Taskforce members which reflected a total of over 26,000 people from across the organisations. The takeaway from the initial analysis was that there were areas of good practice, there have been needs identified and a range of levels of understanding but overall good buy-in to the principles of being a traumainformed organisation. Community Justice Scotland wished to put on record thanks to Richie Adams who was the co-chair of this workstream but had now left his role at SCTS.

Dr Caroline Bruce gave a presentation on the work that she will be undertaking. The responses from the mapping survey highlighted there was already some good work with training already underway. However it can be difficult through a survey to develop a sense of people’s understanding of what is meant by trauma-informed practice and to ensure a shared understanding. Caroline also noted the need to understand how trauma might impact victims and witnesses, and how adaptations can be made to ensure no further harm or trauma is created. Caroline highlighted the 4 tiers of the trauma-informed framework and set out the key aims of a knowledge and skills framework for the justice workforce - to describe what the workforce needs to know in order to: minimise traumatisation; support and not hinder recovery; gain, communicate and interpret best evidence, in context of likely impact of trauma.

Caroline discussed her intention to set up interviews with individuals across the justice sector including those with lived experience of trauma; senior leaders; and other experts. Members were asked to nominate a representative from their organisation who would have: 

  • A sound understanding of all the job roles in their organisation, and the contact / role each has in relation to victims and witnesses
  • Some understanding of the impact of trauma on victims and witnesses, so that they can comment on, for each role in the organisation, the knowledge and skills required

Action: organisations to nominate an individual to be interviewed and provide details of a nominated individual to Secretariat.

Action: secretariat to circulate Caroline Bruce’s presentation to members.

Workstream three – gender based violence and sexual offences

RCS updated members on one of the key developments since the last meeting; the recent roundtable on privacy rights for sexual offence complainers. RCS thanked Taskforce members who had attended and SG staff who had helped to organise. RCS highlighted that it was a useful discussion and that a report on key points would be shared with the Taskforce in due course. Some of the issues discussed at the roundtable were: the understanding around protecting complainers privacy and dignity; data and evidence; evidence request for sensitive information; research being taking forward by Edinburgh University. Further consideration will be given to the report when it is circulated. 

SWA reminded members that this workstream had chosen not to have a subgroup as such but to coordinate work across this policy landscape and feed into the Victims Taskforce. The reasons for the recent decision to delay the consultation on the review of legal aid were understood, however COVID had made clear how critical it is to challenge the existing lack of access to justice and domestic abuse competent legal services for women and children. VSOs were coordinating a list of data asks that would be helpful to the system to document outcomes on existing processes to measure success and any changes that are made.

Members discussed the timescales for the Lady Dorrian report. COPFS confirmed the first draft of the report is being finalised and will be shared with the review group in coming days, with an intention to publish in early 2021.

Workstream four – research

SG Justice Analytical Services (JAS) updated on developments since the last Taskforce meeting. Some recently published reports were highlighted, the What Works report on VAWG review of interventions and the Measuring Justice report which was a Scottish Government grant funded project. 

JAS provided feedback on the issue of telephone surveys during the pandemic which had been raised at the previous Taskforce meeting. This had gone well in terms of response rate and the intention is to publish results in February. JAS highlighted they were keen to take stock of what evidence has been produced, how well it is being used within the Taskforce workstreams and any gaps. 

SCCJR highlighted they were involved in a number of research projects underway for example Justice Journeys that will be of interest to members. SCCJR also mentioned that they were involved in the RRT Advisory Group and would feed into this.

SWA highlighted the publication of a new research integrity framework for domestic violence and abuse and encouraged the use of the framework for those doing research in this area.

Workstream five – specific projects

SG reminded members that the earlier item on Victim Commissioner work was covered under this workstream and also noted that work on victims of driving offences with SCID and VSS will progress in 2021.

AOB

The Cabinet Secretary closed the meeting with no AOB being raised.

Action

Owner

Taskforce members to contact Secretariat with any suggestions for the March meeting and to give consideration to a long term view of the future of the Taskforce beyond this Parliamentary term.

Taskforce members

Members were asked to consider the discussion points in the paper and feedback views to the Secretariat.

Taskforce members

SG to consider further the issues of transcription and anonymity raised by SCTS and to engage with RCS/FoA and other relevant partners as appropriate.

SG

If members wish sight of individual responses, contact Secretariat who will check with organisations that submitted responses.

Taskforce members

Members to further consider the Victim Commissioner role ahead of the next meeting of the Taskforce in March 2021.

Taskforce members

Paper to be circulated to members as an update.

VSS/SG

Organisations to nominate an individual to be interviewed and provide details of a nominated individual to Secretariat.

Taskforce members

Secretariat to circulate Caroline Bruce’s presentation to members.

Secretariat

Agenda: December 2020

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Paper four: work plan

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