Victims Taskforce papers: January 2022

Papers from the meeting of the Victims Taskforce on 26 January 2022.

Items and actions


  • chairs’ welcome, minutes and matters arising:

    • paper one: minute of meeting of 24 November 2021
  • future of the taskforce:
    • paper two: future of the Victims Taskforce - proposal revisited
    • paper three: future of the Victims Taskforce - proposal
    • paper four: taskforce remit and related work
    • paper five: Victims Voices
    • Nb: paper three, four and five have been reissued from the 24 November meeting for reference
      • introduction to paper two Future of the Victims Taskforce - proposal revisited and discussion on Victims Voices and engagement with victims and survivors
      • update on work arising from Lady Dorrian’s review group and on the new Justice Vision and Strategy, and discussion on proposals for the future of the Victims Taskforce 
  • AOB


Minute of meeting held on 24 November 2021

Future of the Victims Taskforce - proposal revisited

Future of the Victims Taskforce - proposal

Victims Taskforce: remit and related work

Themes from ‘Victims Voices’ feedback presented at the Victims Taskforce

Minute of meeting held on 24 November 2021

Chairs’ welcome and introductions

The Chairs’ welcomed members to the first meeting of the Victims Taskforce in this parliamentary term.

Minutes and matters arising

The Cabinet Secretary referred members to paper one: minute of the meeting of 10 March 2021, and noted that all actions were either ongoing or completed. 

In relation to the action for COPFS to engage with RCS on s.275, the Lord Advocate advised that COPFS officials met with RCS and there was discussion regarding the timing for intimation to complainers when a s275 application was made, which can be challenging within current statutory timescales. Sandy Brindley confirmed that RCS has also been working with SCTS on data collection in relation to the intimation of applications to recover sensitive personal records.

The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed by members.

Future of the taskforce

The Lord Advocate introduced item three on the future of the Taskforce, referred members to papers two, three and four, and ran through the discussion points in paper two. The Lord Advocate highlighted the importance of ensuring the work of the Taskforce was informed by people with lived experience.

A number of themes emerged from the ensuing discussion. Members agreed that the work of the Taskforce should be more focussed, responsive to emergent issues and outcome-orientated. In particular, SWA emphasised the need to look at practical and concrete outcomes over the next two years. VSS reminded members of the overarching objective of transformational change at a system-wide level and the function of Taskforce meetings as a space for meaningful discussion. SG noted that it was not possible for the Taskforce remit to extend to all areas of work set out in paper three (Taskforce remit and related work) but that there was a need to focus on what is at the centre of transformation. The Cabinet Secretary welcomed proposals from members as to how future work should be structured and emphasised that what was being sought was to deliver justice for all, with a need to focus on what the Taskforce can achieve.

Members considered whether information on the governance and structure of the work arising from Lady Dorrian’s review group and on the new Justice Vision and Strategy was required before a decision could be made on the future structure of Taskforce work. Members also sought further information on how alignment with work outwith the remit of the Taskforce would be taken forward, both in terms of governance and at an operational level. SG explained that the Justice Strategy would guide and monitor how transformation is progressed in line with the aims of the new Justice Vision. New governance arrangements will be developed early in 2022. The governance will likely include a programme oversight group – which could look at a particular set of cross-sector transformative work programmes and will report into the National Justice Board. In the development of any new governance arrangements, how the Victims Taskforce will feature will be a key consideration. Similar questions have been discussed within the Recover, Renew and Transform Advisory Group to consider what mechanisms should be used to ensure the continuation of that function.

Given the limitation of time and the need for more information, the Cabinet Secretary proposed that the Taskforce reconvene within weeks, at which meeting members would discuss and agree on a proposal for how the Taskforce will progress. Members agreed to this proposal.


  • taskforce secretariat to arrange meeting within weeks on the future of the Taskforce

Lynn Burns noted that the world had changed significantly as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) and there was a need to re-examine the justice system and whether it was serving all victims, as well as the accused.

With regard to the frequency with which the Taskforce should meet, VSS expressed some concern about there being a loss of momentum, pace and profile if meetings were moved to every six months. These concerns were echoed by VOCFS. However, both SWA and VSS acknowledged the resources required to service the Taskforce and that the focus should be on what it commits to rather than how often it meets, and that resource issues were particularly acute for smaller organisations.

On the Victims Voices paper, VSS explained that Victims Voices had been introduced as an agenda item with the intention of grounding the work of the Taskforce in the experience of victims. However, VSS also repeated concerns about gathering feedback without a clear plan as to how the information would be used and issues addressed. The Lord Advocate committed to work through the material in the paper with COPFS officials, which was welcomed by SWA as a strong statement to the support organisations and the individuals they support.

SWA raised a concern that the papers for the meeting focussed overly on support and compassion, when delivering justice for all involved should be the priority. SWA also suggested that officials consider what an EQIA could tell the Taskforce about priority work to realise equality for those with protected characteristics. 

Workstream updates

Victim Centred Approach (VCA)

Kate Wallace introduced paper five, which provided an update on the Victim Centred Approach (VCA) workstream. She explained that the VCA Governance Group had identified three key areas of work: an exercise to map current provision against the four approaches set out in the position paper, the development of a vision for a VCA, and, the development of a new single point of contact type model for victim support.

With regard to the single point of contact model, Kate set out the background - it was recommended in the Lesley Thomson Review that there should be multi-agency, multi-disciplinary one front door model of support for victims and survivors. VCC and RCS have been working together to look at how this could be achieved in Scotland and have identified that additional resource is required to design the service, building on examples from other jurisdictions. Kate noted that third sector organisations, such as VSS and RCS, are good at driving change but justice agencies must also play their role in unlocking barriers to transformational change. RCS added that the justice agencies must ensure services are joined up.

SG reminded members of the VCA position paper presented to the Taskforce at the meeting in March and the agreement from members to the recommendations in that paper. The next step for the workstream would be to turn the proposals in that paper into a tangible model, which was what the three areas of work identified by the VCA Governance Group were intended to work towards. SG noted that there had previously been discussion about one of the criminal justice agencies co-chairing the workstream and asked members from the justice agencies to consider if their organisation could be involved.


  • representatives from the criminal justice agencies to consider whether their organisation could co-chair the VCA workstream

Children 1st and the Cabinet Secretary pointed to the development of the Bairns’ Hoose as an example of a model that presents best practice, and a shared ambition and vision to drive a rights-based model informed by children’s experience and voices.

SCCJR suggested that procedural justice may be a useful framework for thinking about a VCA, combining a focus on effective processes and fair decision making with victim engagement and support. SCCJR offered to provide further information on the Home Office funded Project Bluestone/Operation Soteria, which focussed on improving rape investigations through systematically embedding a procedural justice approach, single point of contact etc.


  • SCCJR to provide information to the taskforce secretariat on Project Bluestone/Operation Soteria

SWA suggested that future meetings of the Taskforce should focus on what needs to be done and getting agreement on that, as opposed to reporting what has already been done.

The chairs thanked Kate for her contribution and members agreed to the recommendations set out in the paper to allow the VCA workstream to progress, namely a mapping exercise, endorsement of the VCA vision and the proposal to secure additional resources to develop the single point of contact model.

Trauma Informed Workforce (TIW)

Caroline Bruce provided members with an update on the Trauma Informed Workforce workstream. She ran through the background to the workstream and the key findings from her work to date, stressing that it was not about everyone becoming a therapist, rather about ensuring that we do not create barriers to better life chances and that being affected by trauma is not a barrier to accessing justice.

Caroline explained that her research had included 16 interviews with 17 justice leaders and with 10 members of the victim/survivor reference groups. The findings of this research included: understanding, empathy and compassion as core to a trauma informed justice system, a need for increased awareness of the impact of the system on victims and witnesses and the potential for re-traumatisation, the importance of justice being delivered in a timely way, the key skills and structures required, the importance of providing safe environments, and, the need for all staff to be trauma informed, with more specific skills training based on remit rather than status.

Further, Caroline set out that training and knowledge and skills were an essential element to moving towards a trauma informed justice system, but not the complete picture. There was a need for leaders to examine the extent to which polices, procedures and environments create and support a trauma informed system as a whole. She then set out the short, medium and longer term goals for the project. With regard to next steps, the first draft of the knowledge and skills framework is due by the end of the year and it is hoped that a copy can be shared with the VTF in early 2022.

Following finalisation of the framework, the next phase would be for justice agencies to use the framework to appraise what knowledge and skills the various roles within their respective organisations require to ensure a trauma informed approach.

CJS welcomed Caroline’s work and noted that CJS had recently finished looking at activity in local areas around community justice, which raised similar issues around significant training implications and the need to change practice and highlighted the importance of a feedback loop with service users to effectively measure outcomes. CJS added that there has already been tangible progress, from bottom up as well as top down.

There was discussion amongst members regarding the need to target or prioritise key staff groups and how to evidence the impact of the training. SWS and ASSIST agreed that these were important points to consider in implementation. COPFS, VSS and Children 1st highlighted the importance of leadership training to better influence a cultural shift and inform transformational change. VSS suggested that Taskforce members could participate in the trauma informed leadership training.

SWA raised the issue of evaluation and accountability, and suggested a suitable approach to evaluating outcomes may be one of contribution analysis, and the work of Sarah Morton may be of interest in that respect.

The Cabinet Secretary highlighted the need to ensure the work was aligned with the new Justice Strategy and Vision, and that some of the training and knowledge and skills would be applicable across the justice system.

The chairs thanked Caroline for her contribution and members agreed to the proposed next steps for the Trauma Informed Workforce workstream.

Communications review

Neil Martin from The First Word presented to the Taskforce on a project to review communications that are provided to people affected by crime, to ensure that they are victim-centred. The presentation covered: the findings from the research stage around the impact of language (and product design) on people affected by crime, the headlines from the communications audit, and, recommendations for a new approach to communication that puts people first, in the shape of four potential ‘big ideas’ around which any guidance and training could be framed.

COPFS, SCRA and SWS welcomed the work as valuable and something deliverable across the justice sector. ASSIST asked about the timeframe for implementation - SG explained that the project had two parts, the first part of the exercise was to look at specific written communications, the second part would look at how the learning could be applied across the system through the development of guidelines and training, built around a central idea.

VSS noted that the guidelines need to be applied across all organisations and suggested that the letters issued under the VNS should be considered as part of the review.

NES noted that the findings and ‘big ideas’ resonated with the key trauma informed principles of choice, control, collaboration, trust, safety and empowerment, and ASSIST observed that the research findings echoed its service users’ experience.

Neil concluded by setting out the next steps, to agree on the ‘big idea’ and use this to develop a style guide and training.

Members thanked Neil for his presentation and endorsed the direction of travel.


SWA highlighted the 16 Days of Action (against gender-based violence), which runs from 25 November to 10 December.


  • taskforce secretariat to arrange meeting within weeks on the future of the Taskforce


  • taskforce secretariat


  • complete - meeting arranged for 26 January


  • representatives from the criminal justice agencies to consider whether their organisation could co-chair the VCA workstream


  • taskforce secretariat criminal justice agencies


  • complete - Colin Spivey, PBS, has agreed to co-chair the VCA workstream


  • SCCJR to provide information to the taskforce secretariat on Project Bluestone/Operation Soteria




  • complete - information received from SCCJR

Future of the Victims Taskforce – proposal revisited


The purpose of this paper is to:

  • provide members of the Victims Taskforce (“the Taskforce”) with updates on work arising from Lady Dorrian’s review group, the new Justice Vision and Strategy and other relevant work
  • provide updates on the progress being made by the Victim Centred Approach and Trauma Informed Workforce (TIW) workstreams
  • revisit the proposals set out in paper three, Future of the Victims Taskforce – proposal, which was first presented at the Taskforce meeting of 24 November 2021, including on hearing victims voices


At the Taskforce meeting of 24 November, members discussed proposals set out in the paper ‘Future of the Victims Taskforce – proposal’ (reissued as paper three). These included changes to the structure and operation of the Taskforce and associated workstreams, with the Victim Centred Approach (VCA) and Trauma Informed Workforce workstreams continuing under the Taskforce’s remit. The changes proposed were intended to give greater focus to the workstreams, continue to hold members to account for delivery, and provide a forum to consider links to other work such as the Programme for Government, the Recover, Renew, Transform programme and Lady Dorrian’s Review on Improving the Management of Sexual Offence Cases.

A number of themes emerged from the ensuing discussion. Members agreed that the work of the Taskforce should be more focussed, responsive to emergent issues and outcome-orientated. However, members also agreed that information on the governance and structure of the work arising from Lady Dorrian’s review group and on the new Justice Vision and Strategy was required before a decision could be made on the future structure of Taskforce work. The chairs proposed that the Taskforce reconvene within weeks, once the information requested was available.

Discussion also centred around the importance of ensuring victims’ voices continue to inform the work of the Taskforce and how the Taskforce could engage with victims and survivors more effectively going forward. Members agreed that it was essential, when planning engagement, to have a clear plan as to how information gathered would be used and issues addressed, and how this would be fed back to those who contribute.

Victims Voices and engagement with people with lived experience

There is clear agreement that the voices of victims and survivors must be central to the work of the Taskforce. It is vital that the Taskforce agrees how it both listens to, and addresses, the concerns raised, whether through the Taskforce work plan or through other relevant programmes of work. It is also essential victims and survivors are involved in the design of future services, to ensure these are trauma-informed and victim-centred.

A new approach to facilitate such engagement is proposed below, for consideration by Taskforce members.

Firstly, it is proposed that an opportunity is provided twice a year for the Taskforce Chairs to hear directly from victims and survivors. This builds on engagement the previous Taskforce Chairs had with victims via the Victim and Survivor Reference Groups facilitated by the victim support organisations. Secretariat would work with victim support organisations to determine the best format for such engagement and give consideration to the involvement of other Taskforce members and how such sessions would be reflected upon at future Taskforce meetings. This would provide an important opportunity to amplify the voices of victims and survivors, raising them off the written page and allowing for dialogue with the Cabinet Secretary and Lord Advocate. 

Secondly, it is proposed that victims and survivors continue to be actively involved in service design through the reference groups run by Victim Support Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid. This would facilitate input, through a variety of channels, to the development of the VCA and TIW workstreams and of policy and practice more generally across the SG and criminal justice agencies. Such engagement is already underway across the sector, an example being the programme of activities being planned for the VCA Reference Group by Victim Support Scotland. Victims and survivors have also provided invaluable input to Caroline Bruce’s work for the TIW workstream and to the review of communications led by First Word, both of which members were updated on at the November meeting.

The proposed approach allows for active engagement, in addition to the retelling of individuals’ experiences, and for victims and survivors to see how their input can improve the experience for others. Comments and suggestions from members as to how such activity could best be coordinated, fed back to the Taskforce and key themes drawn out are invited.

Update on work arising from Lady Dorrian’s review group

The Scottish Government (SG) led Improving the Management of Sexual Offence Cases Governance Group, met for the first time on 21 December. Key early considerations were around:

  • agreeing the membership (many member organisations of the Victims Taskforce are also represented on the Governance Group, and may be invited to join any future Governance Group workstreams)

the terms of reference:

  • identifying the need, if any, for specific workstreams to consider the individual recommendations
  • understanding what related work has already being progressed or is in hand in the time since the report was published

The group agreed that it should identify and prioritise recommendations that can be taken forward without legislative change. Another key consideration was looking to recognise where existing mechanisms could and should be utilised to progress some of the work of the Governance Group and its workstreams, and where close engagement should be maintained. That linkage has already been identified, for example, in relation to the work of the Taskforce and the recommendation in Lady Dorrian’s Report on ‘Improved communication and information’.

The importance of ensuring that the Governance Group be kept informed of the likely approach to be adopted for the planned consultation on some of the legislative aspects of Lady Dorrian’s recommendations was also recognised.

The draft minutes and revised terms of reference have been circulated to the Governance Group members for sign off at the next meeting, which is scheduled to take place during the first week in February.

Update on the new justice vision and strategy

SG officials have been working in collaboration with the National Justice Board and Recover, Renew, Transform Advisory Group to co-produce a new vision and strategy for Justice. Over recent months, extensive external engagement has been conducted, reflective of the broad nature of ambitions within that vision and an understanding that the Justice sector alone cannot solve many of the longstanding issues.

The current timeframes for publication would see ‘A new vision for Justice in Scotland’ published at the end of January/early February. SG officials are working on proposals for translating this vision into delivery plans. It is likely there will be a first year focus while time is taken to develop the medium-term outlook, which will also align with the upcoming resource spending review. An update on these proposals will be provided to Taskforce members for consideration and comment.

Update on other relevant areas of work

At the Criminal Justice Committee session of 22 December 2021, the Lord Advocate announced the commissioning of two reviews at COPFS. Assistant Principal Crown counsel Susanne Tanner QC will conduct a full review of how prosecutors deal with reports of sexual offences and Deputy Crown Agent Lindsey Miller will lead a review into the work of the Victim Information and Advice (VIA) service.

The Women in Justice evidence base being developed by SG Justice Analytical Services will offer an invaluable resource with respect to carrying out impact assessments in this area. Further information on this will be provided when available.

Update on the Victim Centred approach workstream

Since the last meeting of the Taskforce, Colin Spivey, Chief Executive of the Parole Board for Scotland, has agreed to become co-chair of the workstream. He will support co-chair, Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland.

The SG has confirmed funding is available to allow an external contractor to be commissioned to deliver the next phase of the workstream. This work will provide an up-to-date analysis of different ‘single point of contact/ victim-centred approach’ models in other jurisdictions and provide an update to the workstream’s previous report on this. From this, recommended model(s) of a single point of contact approach for Scotland will be developed and indicative costings developed.

A draft brief for this work is in development and will be shared with workstream members for comment.

Update on the Trauma Informed Workforce workstream

Drafting of the knowledge and skills framework continues, with work on the enhanced practice levels nearing completion. A little later than hoped, it is anticipated this will take, at most, until the end of February to complete. Approaching the review stage, the framework will initially be sent to some internal “critical friends”, followed by wider review by stakeholders, including all Taskforce members, as well as members of the reference group who contribute their lived experience expertise in earlier interviews.

The aim is to give stakeholders a four week period to review the framework and the option to contribute to the final version, both by written feedback in the form of a survey and at a specially convened session with facilitated small group discussions. Feedback will be solicited around three key areas, and used to revise the draft into a final version accordingly:

  • framework structure and purpose: general feedback on over-arching aims and staff groupings
  • informed and skilled tables: aims, content, clarity and language
  • enhanced table(s) relevant to specific stakeholder role and remit: aims, content, clarity and language

Discussion on proposal to streamline workstreams

The above updates on the work arising from Lady Dorrian’s review group and the new Justice Vision and Strategy are intended to provide members with reassurance that the proposed streamlining of the Taskforce workstreams reflects the programmes of work already being taken forward elsewhere.

Through the VCA and TIW workstreams, the Taskforce has the opportunity to identify and deliver on concrete outcomes that will improve the experience of victims and witnesses in the justice system. An update on current progress is provided above.

In making the best use of members’ collective influence and expertise through focussing on these workstreams, resources can also be directed at establishing and maintaining links with the other programmes of work to ensure the voices of victims remain central to the transformation of the justice system.


Members are invited to revisit, discuss and reach agreement on the questions and recommendations from paper three ‘Future of the Victims Taskforce – proposal’, (in revised order to reflect the importance of the Victims Voices discussion):

  • how the Taskforce can ensure the voices of people with lived experience continue to inform its work
  • whether there are any other issues identified in paper five (Victims Voices) which should form part of the Taskforce workplan and how this should be done
  • with regard to membership, whether there are any critical gaps in representation, or need to consider the membership of the VCA and TIW workstreams
  • that the Taskforce work plan be streamlined from five to two workstreams, with the VCA and TIW continuing under the remit of the Taskforce
  • that the Taskforce moves from meeting on a quarterly to six-monthly basis

Future of the Victims Taskforce - proposal


The purpose of this paper is to set out proposals for the future of the Victims Taskforce (“the Taskforce”).


The Taskforce was formed in November 2018, with an aim “to co-ordinate and drive action to improve the experiences of victims and witnesses within the criminal justice system, whilst ensuring a fair justice system for those accused of crime”. In its first phase, the Taskforce developed a work plan across five workstreams. These workstreams were led by member organisations, who reported back to the Taskforce on how work had progressed between meetings.

At its last meeting, the future of the Taskforce was discussed by members and it was agreed that the benefits of bringing together senior stakeholders to focus on victims and the amount of work to be progressed warranted the continuation of the Taskforce in some form. It was acknowledged that the pace of progress could, at times, be a source of frustration and that the next phase of the Taskforce required to be outcome-focussed in order to drive forward change.

In order to facilitate this, changes to the structure and operation of the taskforce and associated workstreams are proposed. These would give greater focus to the workstreams, continue to hold members to account for delivery, and provide a forum to consider links to other work such as the Programme for Government, the Recover, Renew, Transform programme and Lady Dorrian’s Review on Improving the Management of Sexual Offence Cases.

Changes to the structure and operation of the taskforce

The Transforming Services for Victims and Witnesses report by Thrive (presented to the Taskforce in September 2020 made a number of recommendations to address the systematic barriers to change in order to achieve a transformation of services for victims and witnesses. These included recommendations for “collective leadership for system change” and a “focus on priority, cross-cutting programmes”.

These recommendations have been considered in developing criteria for the proposed streamlining of the workstreams. The key criteria being: areas of work identified as essential to improving the experience of victims, that require a collective response and that are not being taken forward under other programmes of work. Having applied these criteria, it is proposed that the following workstreams continue under the remit of the Taskforce, the Victim Centred Approach (VCA) workstream and the Trauma-informed Workforce (TIW) workstream.

The VCA workstream is focussed on the development of a long-term, system-wide project to achieve the shared vision for a VCA in the justice system. The VCA Governance Group, comprised of representatives from member organisations, would continue to have oversight of this workstream. The Governance Group met in September and has provided paper five to update the Taskforce on progress and next steps. Annex A provides a list of members of the Governance Group.

The Trauma-informed Workforce (TIW) workstream will see the introduction of a new framework, specific to the justice system, to give staff the knowledge and skills they need to understand and adopt a trauma-informed approach, helping them to support victims more compassionately. The TIW Working Group would continue to have oversight of this workstream and an update on this workstream is provided in paper six. Annex A provides a list of members of the Working Group.

It is important to stress that the Taskforce would still have a role in ensuring appropriate alignment with programmes of work outside of its remit, including previous workstreams focussed on gender-based violence, research, and specific projects, such as the introduction of a Victims Commissioner. Paper three ‘Victims Taskforce, remit and related work’ provides an illustration of how such an approach might work, with a core remit, then a sphere of work not under the remit of the Taskforce but into which it has an input, and a wider sphere of work with which the Taskforce would wish to align its work plan.

This would not be to downgrade the importance of the work in these areas, rather it would recognise that it is being taken forward elsewhere, such as through consideration of the recommendations in the Dorrian Review and in the Minister for Community Safety’s women in justice work. Given the governance structures that will be established elsewhere and the ongoing pressures on support organisations and justice agencies, it will be key to make best use of these collective efforts and to avoid any duplication of effort.

Frequency of meetings

It is also suggested that Taskforce meetings move from quarterly to six-monthly. At present, the three month gap between meetings allows little time for the various workstream groups to meet, progress work and prepare updates for the Taskforce. A longer period would allow more time for action to be taken between meetings, furthermore it would streamline the associated administration and ensure the most effective use of members’ time. Such a move would also reflect that the Taskforce has progressed from an initial phase of discussion and planning to one of action, overseeing the delivery of the work plan.

There would require to be a clear expectation that workstream members had the authority to act on behalf of their organisation, with endorsement from the Taskforce as required. Members may also wish to consider what could appropriately be progressed by correspondence between meetings if required.

Engaging with people affected by crime

During the first phase of the Taskforce, victim and survivor reference groups were established by Victim Support Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid. It is essential that the voices of people with lived experience continue to inform the work of the Taskforce, and members’ views are sought on how we work with these groups most effectively moving forward. This should take account of the need to minimise the potential for re-traumatisation and fatigue and to ensure that future engagement is more focussed and outcome orientated, so that those involved can see the difference their input makes.

Victim Support Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and ASSIST have developed paper four reflecting the current experience of victims and witnesses within the criminal justice system. Members will wish to consider whether this paper highlights any particular issues which the Taskforce would also wish to focus on in this phase and how this should be done.


Those who sat on the Taskforce in its first phase have been invited to continue as members, with no proposed changes to membership. Existing members will wish to consider whether there are any critical gaps in representation.

Members may also have views on the membership of the VCA and TIW workstreams, including whether these need to be augmented given the enhanced focus on the role of the workstreams.

Next steps

If Taskforce members are minded to agree to the proposals set out in this paper, secretariat will arrange the next meeting of the Taskforce for May 2022. Secretariat will also revise the Taskforce’s Terms of Reference and Work Plan in accordance with the proposals and in conjunction with the VCA and TIW workstream leads. The updated documents will then be circulated to members for comment following the meeting.

At the last meeting of the Taskforce, members agreed that it would be helpful to update the Catalogue of Initiatives that informed the development of the work plan. In light of the proposed changes to the work of the Taskforce, consideration will be given as to how this can be redesigned to provide a more focussed, up-to-date and accessible document, which illustrates the range of initiatives underway and keeps members abreast of opportunities for collaborative working.

The VCA and TIW workstreams will continue to meet and progress work between meetings of the Taskforce, and minutes from these workstream meetings will be shared with the wider Taskforce.


Members are invited to discuss the proposals in this paper on the future of the Taskforce, namely:

  • that the Taskforce work plan be streamlined from five to two workstreams, with the VCA and TIW continuing under the remit of the Taskforce
  • that the Taskforce moves from meeting on a quarterly to six-monthly basis
  • how the Taskforce can ensure the voices of people with lived experience continue to inform its work
  • whether there are any other issues identified in paper four which should form part of the Taskforce workplan and how this should be done
  • with regard to membership, whether there are any critical gaps in representation, or need to consider the membership of the VCA and TIW workstreams

Annex A

Membership of the workstream groups

Victim Centred Approach Governance Group

  • Victim Support Scotland (Workstream lead)
  • Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
  • Parole Board for Scotland
  • Police Scotland
  • Rape Crisis Scotland
  • Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service
  • Scottish Government
  • Scottish Prison Service
  • Scottish Women’s Aid

Trauma Informed Workforce Working Group

  • Community Justice Scotland (Workstream co-lead)
  • Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (Workstream co-lead)
  • Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
  • Faculty of Advocates
  • Law Society of Scotland
  • NHS Education Scotland
  • Police Scotland
  • Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration
  • Scottish Women’s Aid

Victims Taskforce: remit and related work

Victims Taskforce

  • Victim Centred Approach
  • Trauma Informed Workforce

Outwith Victim Taskforce’s remit but some input

  • victims commissioner
  • Victim Notification Scheme review
  • Standards of Service for victims and witnesses
  • pre-recording of evidence
  • communications review
  • victims of road traffic offences

Outwith Victim Taskforce’s remit but of interest

  • Bairns’ Hoose
  • changes to Victim Statement Scheme
  • Victim Surcharge Fund
  • consultation on bail and release from custody arrangements
  • Community Justice Strategy
  • Lady Dorrian’s report
  • support for families following murder/homicide abroad
  • Minister for Community Safety, Women in Justice
  • Digital Evidence Sharing Capability
  • Restorative Justice Action Plan
  • Justice Strategy, Development and roadmap
  • Recover, Renew, Transform
  • Victim-Centred Approach Fund
  • Justice for Children and Young People, a rights respecting approach

Themes from ‘Victims Voices’ feedback presented at the Victims Taskforce


Previous meetings of the Victims Taskforce have led with ‘victims’ voices’ to ensure the purpose of the Taskforce is central to the meeting. There has been a significant gap between meetings in 2021 owing to the Scottish parliamentary term, in addition to this the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted the criminal justice process in Scotland to a significant degree. It was therefore felt important to present the experiences of victims and survivors during that time. Several victim and survivor support organisations (VSOs) including: ASSIST, Children 1st, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and Victim Support Scotland have contributed to this report, which contains feedback from victims and survivors themselves as well as workers.This executive summary summarises key themes emerging from the feedback received and highights areas requiring significant improvement from the perspective of victims, witnesses and survivors.

Bail and breaches of bail

Many VSOs, particularly those which support victims and survivors of domestic abuse, have received feedback about concerns regarding bail and breaches of bail throughout the pandemic. Many report feeling unsafe and that bail is being used inappropriately and insufficiently monitored and enforced, and that the justice system is failing them in not taking their experiences seriously.

Furthermore, victims of domestic abuse with children report being put at risk as a result of bail conditions that are granted. Many describe inappropriate bail conditions that involve the accused person, including those that have been convicted of previous domestic abuse offences, contacting them for the purposes of child contact, which puts them at risk of further harm. Some examples below:

“We have seen a real reluctance to remand accused persons during the COVID-19 period, sometimes with multiple breaches of bail within a very short space of time three times in two weeks and accused/perpetrators still being released on bail. They are also most likely to be bailed for serious/repeat offences if they plead guilty at custody hearing. The message that this sends to the women is that their lives aren’t important and that the accused/perpetrator’s behaviours are not being taken seriously or the level of risk to her is not being considered.” Scottish Women’s Aid worker

“An accused charged with a breach of bail was released on an undertaking rather than held in custody for court the next day. The client was in the relationship for almost seven years, it ended early this year and since then she has experienced intimidation, threats and verbal abuse. She is also experiencing abuse from her ex-partner’s mother, who has said she will be “ripped apart in court” and makes malicious reports to Social Worker. The Assist worker has assured our client her experience will be taken seriously but that is challenging when she feels that the breach of a court order wasn’t.”ASSIST worker

“Clients report that they feel that they are serving a sentence whilst the accused/perpetrator walks around free, doing what he likes, as a result of numerous breaches of bail.” ASSIST worker.

“Almost every high risk case reviewed by our file review process, involved breaches of bail, multiple in some cases. All have been referred back to MARAC where the safety planning is limited as the action that would increase safety is that the accused is held to account by the Court, which is not happening.” ASSIST worker

Non-Harassment Orders (NHOs)

Feedback from both VSOs and their service-users highlighted that non-harassment orders in relation to domestic abuse are often either not granted for long enough, or requested but not granted, with vague reasoning provided for why they were declined, or at times no explanation is given at all. 

“A client was assaulted last year, and the accused was given a deferred sentence for good behaviour. A couple of months later he assaulted her again, he appeared on the deferred sentence and was admonished and dismissed despite the further offence occurring during the period he was to be of good behaviour. The Non-Harassment Order request was declined.” ASSIST worker

“ASSIST is working with a client who reported five breaches of bail, the accused/perpetrator has been sentenced for three of them and received a CPO. The NHO was declined as ‘not appropriate’. Another client was assaulted in front of witnesses, all of whom attended the trial and were prepared to give evidence. On the day of the trial, the Sheriff accepted an amended guilty plea and the accused/perpetrator was admonished and dismissed. The NHO was not granted and no reason recorded.” ASSIST worker

Additionally, there is concern that such lack of protection and dismissal of NHO requests will embolden accused, and reinforce the belief that they can get away with causing harm. For many victims, reporting a crime may be a difficult decision, and instead of it being an empowering experience, many felt punished for reporting, without suitable measures being put in place to protect them.

“The accused was charged just before or during pandemic under DA(S)Act 2018 and ordained rather than bailed (not made subject to bail or special conditions of bail), because when he was first charged there was a two year NHO in place from previous assault conviction/sentence prohibiting him from contacting the woman. However, due to time that has elapsed as a result of seven adjournments of the trial date for the DA(S)A charges, five directly because of COVID-19 closures and delays, the NHO granted in September 2019 has expired in September 2021 and the woman is now left with no bail conditions or NHO to protect her.” Scottish Women’s Aid worker.

Witness/complainer attrition and court delays

For some victims and survivors, their experiences of the justice system itself is leading them to withdraw from the justice system as a whole. Many organisations including Rape Crisis Scotland and Victim Support Scotland are seeing more cases of complainer and witness attrition and all VSOs involved in this report are deeply concerned about this and the resulting lack of confidence in the justice system and future reporting.

“Many women are describing negative experiences at court recently, they cite lack of preparedness of the Procurator Fiscal (PF), lack of investigation into case and seeking evidence that was available to them, lack of communication with complainer at most the PF may come and speak to them in the witness room prior to the trial starting, nothing in advance of that, lack of communication from the court in general, citations not being served in time, sending incorrect paperwork out to complainers.” Scottish Women’s Aid worker

Additionally, the delays to court proceedings themselves including adjournments, deferrals and administrative delays are major causes of distress for people affected by crime, regardless of age, gender or crime type. This was one of the most-reported issues among VSOs and service-users. The length of time victims have been involved in the criminal justice system also extends the feeling of victimisation, as they feel like they are unable to move forward with their lives until the trial date, and are often re-traumatised by holding onto their experiences to ensure it is fresh in their minds for giving evidence. Subsequently, victims are withdrawing from the criminal justice process or taking the decision to not report to the police.

To illustrate, Rape Crisis Scotland commented on the impact of COVID-19 and court delays on sexual offence complainers they are currently supporting. They said:

  • 43 complainers being supported by the Rape Crisis National Advocacy Project have considered withdrawing from the criminal justice process because of the impact of delays
  • six complainers we are supporting have withdrawn due to delays
  • 12 survivors we are supporting took the decision not to report because of the delays

Since victims rely on hearing outcomes to know what is being put in place to protect them, and also, what comes next in both the case and in their lives, extending cases and delaying them time and time again has led to severe deterioration of their mental health, feelings of anxiety, of not being believed, and re-traumatisation were all brought up by service-users.

“The length of time clients have been involved in the criminal justice system has left many feeling that the accused/perpetrator is still controlling their lives.” Scottish Women’s Aid worker
“The last court case my abuser had to attend was pushed, they were free and came home, because I hadn’t put any further restrictions, but no one had called me to say that was happening. The court cases kept getting pushed and pushed, and every week I had that anxiety, hearing keys rattling, thinking they were coming back that day.” Victim Support Scotland service user

“The delays have caused unneeded stress to an already traumatic and stressful experience, it’s made me question the competency and capability of the justice system making me doubt it will achieve justice. It’s made me feel inferior and tossed aside.” Rape Crisis Scotland service user

“We are highlighting cases to the court that have been ongoing for almost two years from time of incident to trial and begging for them to be prioritised to avoid further distress to complainers.” Scottish Women’s Aid worker

Impact on children

Many VSOs who work with children, for example ASSIST and Children 1st, have noticed an additional delay in the length of time for cases being concluded, and the young people accessing their services have their cases pushed back repeatedly. They have told their workers that the news that a case will be pushed, sometimes for eight plus months, is almost too much for them to cope with, on top of the time that they have already had to wait. Delays can represent a significant portion of a child’s life so have an even worse impact on them. Children may be prevented from seeking trauma-informed therapeutic support prior to a case being concluded for fear this will taint their evidence and this further compounds the issues.

Some workers are reporting serious outcomes for children, including self-harming, as direct consequence of being notified of delays in court process – a Children 1st worker commented that:

“the impact of this on young people is all the more devastating as the delays to court increase.”

ASSIST said on supporting a client whose case has been running for almost two years and has been delayed until next year:

“In the first week of November, there was a notional trial diet and the case has been adjourned until Spring 2022. She [the client] is absolutely devastated and has asked if we can appeal for the dates to be brought forward, as it is having a detrimental effect on her seven-year-old who witnessed the abuse and is cited to give evidence. She said he experienced trauma following the incident and when police served the last citation it brought it back again. We are looking for supports for her son and will ask if there is anything that can be done by COPFS in terms of accelerating dates.”

“In two cases that our Child and Young Person’s Advocacy Workers are engaging with, young witnesses had difficulty securing special measures they need to give evidence. In both cases, the witnesses are now over 18 years old and were over 16 when the proceedings began, so aren’t automatically entitled to screens and a supporter. Both young people witnessed their mothers being seriously assaulted and have endured years of trauma and abuse. One of them is 19 years old and is giving evidence against her father. She has been told she has to contact VIA directly herself to request the special measures so it can be determined whether this is required. Their mothers and younger siblings are granted the special measures automatically.” ASSIST worker

It was also highlighted that there is a lack of consideration surrounding the difficulties children and their families have to go through in the court system, including not taking into consideration childchare challenges and the impact evidence giving has on children, some with additional needs.


Many victims have said that pleas often leave them feeling powerless, unsafe or unsatisfied, with one Victim Support Scotland service user commenting that the sentencing often does not reflect the true scale of the crimes committed.

“Clients have commented that, from their perspective, the whole court process has been used by their abuser as a further way of showing their control through first appearance, the intermediate diet, adjourned intermediate to trial diet and not taking responsibility for his actions. Often dragging the case right up to the line and then pleading guilty on the day of trial.” ASSIST worker

A Scottish Women’s Aid worker noted “lots of reduction in pleas, and often only pleading at trial diet whereby complainer, witnesses have already been caused huge distress by the whole process and are in attendance at court. Sentences still discounted charges reduced and accepted.”

“A perpetrator pled guilty to one of three charges and received a one-year NHO. The ASSIST client, who during the length of the case had been reporting daily breaches of bail, is disappointed in the sentencing and says there is no point in reporting anything further.” ASSIST worker

Utilising key approachs to reduce backlog

In Scotland, there are a number of approaches that were already available, or that have become available, that could help reduce the extent and impact of the backlog of court cases on victims and witnesses. These include: evidence giving from a remote location, virtual trials, evidence on commission. Support workers have highlighted the benefits these offer to victims and witnesses, finding that they are relieved to find they don’t have to actually enter a court building and run the risk of seeing the accused. Despite the widespread benefits, VSOs report that these approaches are not used as often as they could be, often to the further detriment of the service user.

“I recently had a witness in court, who was meant to have evidence on commission put in place for her prior to the trial. This would have been extremely beneficial as firstly, she was extremely vulnerable, secondly, she had to travel a long distance every morning for the trial, whilst suffering severe pain from an injury. The court said that this could not be done as there was not enough time to put in an application before beginning the trial. However, due to COVID-19, the case was adjourned and an application has now been made for her to give her evidence on commission next year. If this had been done in the first place, this would have been a trial dealt with, and the witness would not have been put through the traumatic experience that she was. More communication is needed between VIA, the courts and witness service to ensure everyone is kept in the loop and actions agreed/arranged are carried out and put into place where possible in order to make it easier for a witness who is already under a huge amount of stress, to feel supported when they are at their most vulnerable.” Victim Support Scotland worker

“I have found that witnesses are relieved that they do not have to actually enter a court building and run the risk of seeing the accused. The witnesses are obviously nervous but seem a little more relaxed when in the waiting area, which is much less formal than a witness room in a court building. Whilst giving their evidence they seem comfortable with the set up.” -Victim Support Scotland volunteer

Lack of consideration about key areas of offending and impact: violence against women and girls

Women and girls experiencing violence have their cases further complicated at various points in the criminal justice system journey. Difficulties finding legal representation was one example Women’s Aid recalled a situation after Emergency Legal Aid was granted to a service-user:

“The solicitor was not contactable, despite her trying for three months. Alternative representation was then found. The solicitor managing her case then resigned. The firm then dropped her case because of their resources. The woman tried multiple firms in Edinburgh with no success. The reason given was it is time consuming on Legal Aid.”

Mediation was another challenge:

“Worker contacted a client to tell her that her ex-partner had been found Guilty of a Section 38 with a child aggravator. Sentence has been deferred for CJSW reports. Meanwhile in the civil court the Sheriff has said that if the criminal court doesn’t impose an NHO he will be instructing that mediation takes place. And if an NHO is imposed he will be instructing a full bar report. The client is extremely worried that the civil court does not understand domestic abuse, she has participated in mediation before and it didn’t resolve anything, she is scared she will be forced to do it again.” ASSIST worker
Finally, ASSIST highlights barriers to safety planning, noting that:

“a number of clients whose ex-partners are in custody for non-domestic offences. We are unable to advise clients of this because they are non-domestic, yet it makes absolutely no sense in terms of safety planning to tell her that he has been bailed for the domestic offences.”


VSOs and people accessing their services were also given a space to detail other concerns, comments and feedback about the criminal justice system that went beyond the above themes. These are highlighted below.

ASSIST mentioned the traumatising impact of going to court for victims and witnesses:

  • difficulties in court footfall, as victims are not able to have as many supporters with them in the room when giving evidence, this impacts on young victims significantly and adds to their distress during an already-difficult time
  • victims of abuse feeling like defence agents were unaware of how their language and behaviour at court impacted them and made them feel vulnerable 
  • compensation orders being automatically deducted so victims do not have the added responsibility of follow-up
  • victims being unaware and therefore anxious about media and journalists reaching out to them for comment

ASSIST additionally put forth the suggestion of an “opt-out” Victim Notification Scheme, which would be preferable to victims where “it can be yet another task they have to do to manage their safety.”

Scottish Women’s Aid highlighted women, children and young people’s (WCYP) mental health:

“All staff reported concerns about impact on WCYP mental health as a result of these things. All reported a deep frustration with the situation for women and children in the court system and the unfairness of the way they are treated.”

Children 1st raised the concern that parents are increasingly finding it difficult to find legal representation, mentioning a noticeable deterioration in the service that solicitors are able to offer. They also note that the response time for solicitors has become much slower, which causes significant anxiety and uncertainty for families. Whereas previously solicitors would engage in helpful commination with support workers, in best interests of their clients, many now appear unable to respond to queries from support workers unless in exceptional circumstances. The difference between the private work and Legal Aid service that solicitors offer has also become more noticeable, with those on Legal Aid appearing more likely to receive poor service, with a distinct lack on choice of local solicitors offering Legal Aid.

Children 1st goes on to highlight three cases where women representing themselves were threatened with contempt of court for being non-compliant with contact orders, and raised the concern around late notification of court proceedings and the serious impact this has on victims and witnesses, with victims having to represent themselves and feeling ill prepared:

“One describes being verbally threatened by Sherriff with imprisonment, and two women representing themselves spoke of feeling very intimidated, ‘bullied’, and ‘spoken down to’ by sheriffs. Another described how the Sherriff was unable to conceal their anger/frustration towards her, which was very difficult for her within the court process.”

Points for discussion

From the information provided in this report and the reflections stemming from it, several discussion points are put forth:

  • drawing on the work of the Victims Voices items so far, how will we ensure that victims, witnesses and survivors influence the justice vision and justice priorities within Scotland
  • what is being done, what more can be done to reduce not only the delays but also the uncertainty and chaos of court timescales and disruptions?
  • what can be done to restore victims’, witnesses’ and survivors’ confidence in the justice system?
  • what can be done to restore workers energy levels and their confidence in the system?
  • what will the Victims Taskforce and each of its member organisations do to support victims, witnesses and survivors to feel empowered and heard in different parts of the justice journey?
  • are there other key themes beyond those highlighted here that should be emphasised for immediate action and for future work planning?
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