Victims Taskforce papers: June 2023

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

Scottish Government update (paper 7)


This paper provides an update to the Victims Taskforce on legislative and non-legislative work to improve how people affected by crime experience the justice system.


The work outlined in this paper forms part of an ongoing strategic programme of work to deliver the Vision for Justice in Scotland, which sets out the Government’s vision for a just, safe and resilient Scotland. To achieve the outcomes detailed in the Vision, a transformational approach to justice reform is required, with work underpinned by four core principles, namely to: be founded in equality and human rights; be evidence-based; embed person-centred and trauma-informed practices; and involve collaboration and partnership. 

Many of the areas of work covered in this paper either contribute directly to, or are linked to, the two Victims Taskforce workstreams of a Victim Centred Approach and Trauma Informed Workforce. Furthermore, members of the Victims Taskforce have been instrumental in the development of many of these measures - and in ensuring the voices of people affected by crime are heard and inform how the measures are developed and implemented.


Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill 

The Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 25 April. The Bill responds to concerns about the need to improve the experiences of victims and witnesses within Scotland’s justice system, especially the victims of sexual crime. It also continues to safeguard the operation and principles of the system and protect the rights of those accused of crime.  

The development of the proposals contained within the Bill results from meaningful cross sector collaboration over a number of years, building on the recommendations from the Lord Justice Clerk’s Review Group on improving the management of sexual offence cases and the subsequent governance group established, as well as the work of the Victims Taskforce

The Bill aims to:

  • ensure victims are treated with compassion and their voices are heard
    • by embedding trauma-informed practice across the system and requiring justice agencies to make efforts to reduce re-traumatisation
    • by establishing an independent Victims and Witnesses Commissioner for Scotland to champion the rights of victims and witnesses 
    • by safeguarding vulnerable parties and witnesses in civil cases through extending special measures and protecting people who have suffered abuse from being cross-examined by their abuser
  • ensure justice meets the needs of survivors of sexual offences, the majority of whom are women and girls
    • by introducing an automatic lifelong right to anonymity for victims of sexual offences and certain other offences, including human trafficking, modern slavery, female genital mutilation, hymenoplasty and virginity testing
    • by establishing a specialist sexual offences court that is distinct from existing court structures, which enables complainers to give their best evidence while minimising the potential for re-traumatisation
    • by providing an automatic right to state-funded independent legal representation for complainers when applications are made to lead evidence of their sexual history or ‘bad character’ in sexual offence cases
    • by enabling a pilot of single judge trials for cases of rape and attempted rape to take place to gather evidence on their effectiveness  
  • ensure our laws and legal processes meet the needs of modern Scotland and enable public confidence in the justice system
    • by abolishing the not proven verdict in all criminal trials in Scotland to help create a clearer, fairer and more transparent decision-making process 
    • by making related reforms to reduce juror numbers (from 15 to 12) and require a two-thirds majority for conviction to increase confidence that verdicts are returned on a sound, rational basis while ensuring balance and fairness to all parties

Further information about the Bill content is available on the Scottish Government website. The Bill and its accompanying documents (policy memorandum, financial memorandum and explanatory notes) are available on the Scottish Parliament website and the Bill has been allocated to the Criminal Justice Committee for scrutiny.  

Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill

The Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill (the Bill) was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 8 June 2022, passed stage 1 on 16 March, and is currently in the process of undergoing Stage 2 scrutiny. The aim of the Bill is to ensure, as much as possible, the use of custody for remand is a last resort for the court, and that greater focus is given to the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals leaving prison custody.

The Bill focuses on two parts of the criminal justice system – bail and remand decisions (Part 1) and release from prison custody (Part 2). The provisions in the Bill are underpinned by a commitment to public protection and victim safety and aim to reduce reoffending, crime and future victimisation. The reforms through Part 1 of the Bill are intended to ensure that, as much as possible, the use of custody for remand is restricted to where it is necessary in the interests of public safety (including victim safety) and (in limited situations) to prevent a significant risk of prejudice to the interests of justice. The reforms through Part 2 are intended to give a greater focus to the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals leaving custody with the aim of reducing the risk of reoffending. It does that by, for example, placing a new duty on named public bodies to engage in the pre-release planning of people in prison, as well as requiring the publication of statutory minimum throughcare standards.

A total of 105 amendments were lodged to the original drafting of the Bill, 21 of which are Government amendments. The Government amendments respond directly to some of the concerns set out by the Committee in its Stage 1 Report and the views raised by stakeholders including Victim Support Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and the Parole Board for Scotland. Amongst the Government amendments, the views of victim support organisations (VSOs) have been addressed in seeking to ensure VSOs obtain the consent of victims before requesting any information in relation to the release of a prisoner in the case of victim whom they are supporting (under section 11 of the Bill). In addition, an amendment seeks to extend the governor veto included in Section 8 so that release under the emergency release provision can be refused if the individual would pose an immediate risk of harm to a group of identified individuals, as well as a single identified individual. 

The Bill ended Stage 2 on 17 May, with Stage 3 due to take place in June. 

Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill

The Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill was introduced to Parliament on 13 December 2022. As outlined in the Programme for Government 2022-2023: “The Children’s Care and Justice Bill will help us Keep The Promise by ensuring that children who come into contact with care and justice services are treated with trauma-informed and age-appropriate support and will put an end to placing under 18s in Young Offenders’ Institutions. The Bill aims to improve experiences and outcomes for children in Scotland who interact with the children’s hearing and criminal justice systems, as well as care settings and those who are placed across borders in exceptional circumstances”.

The Bill aligns with the wider approach being taken around incorporating the UNCRC and includes measures to help Scotland Keep the Promise. Key topics include:

  • raising the maximum age of referral to the Principal Reporter to 18
  • information to victims re. children’s hearings interventions for children responsible for harm/offending
  • protection for people who have been harmed and preventative measures in the hearings system
  • remittal between hearings and the courts 
  • enhanced framework for court adaptations for children
  • extending presumption of anonymity of children re. court proceedings 
  • ending statutory routes to placement of children in Young Offenders’ Institutions
  • routes to secure care and accommodation post-18
  • cross border care placements

Stage 1 evidence sessions took place between mid-March and mid-May. The Education, Children and Young People Committee, The Criminal Justice Committee, and the Finance and Public Affairs Committee have all listened to evidence and provided parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill. The Criminal Justice Committee, as secondary committee, published its Stage 1 report on 12 May. The Education, Children and Young People Committee will publish its Stage 1 report prior to the Stage 1 debate. 

Bairns’ Hoose

We are progressing with work to bring the Barnahus model of child victims of, and witnesses to, abuse and harm to Scotland (Bairns’ Hoose). We are approaching a significant milestone in this journey with the publication of the Bairns’ Hoose Standards in spring, alongside a suite of key documents. This will be followed by the launch of the Bairns’ Hoose Pathfinder phase, which will trial the Standards in Pathfinder areas across Scotland commencing later this year. 

The model will bring together services in a ‘four rooms’ approach, with trauma responsive approaches to child protection, health, justice and recovery services all made available in one setting. In addition, we continue to support the rollout of the Scottish Child Interview Model, with over £2m of Scottish Government funding. This is a ground-breaking approach to interviews for vulnerable child victims and witnesses which is currently being rolled out across Scotland and will be a key element embedded within the national Bairns’ Hoose model.

Independent review of the Victim Notification Scheme 

The independent review of the Victim Notification Scheme (VNS) was commissioned in late March 2022. The review’s report, supplement to the report, and easy read version of the report were published on the Scottish Government’s website on 12 May. 

The Victim Notification Scheme gives effect to the rights established under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. It enables eligible victims to obtain information about an offender’s release, and/or to make representations as part of decisions by the Parole Board for Scotland. There is a separate but similarly structured scheme for victims of offenders who are subject to a compulsion order and restriction order (CORO), which also involves the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland. 

As the report stated, the chair and vice-chair of the review are most grateful to everyone who contributed to the review: this includes the criminal justice agencies and victim support organisations who have a role in taskforce. The Scottish Government is also most grateful to everyone who contributed to the report and echoes the review’s particular thanks to the victims and survivors who came forward to share their experiences. 

The report contained 22 recommendations covering: 

  • automatic referral and a new victim contact team
  • data, evidence and reporting
  • streamlined process
  • enhanced information for victims 
  • eligibility 
  • communications
  • children and young people

In terms of next steps, the Scottish Government intends to consider the report’s recommendations with partners across the criminal justice system, the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland, victim support organisations and beyond so as to develop a formal response to the report, which would be published on the Scottish Government’s website. 

We note the benefits of considering the recommendations holistically rather than individually; this is relevant not just in the context of the report itself, but also given the ongoing work within the justice system to ensure that it is trauma-informed and person-centred. 

The Scottish Government is grateful to colleagues who have already taken the time to provide us with initial views on the report, and we look forward to developing those conversations in the coming weeks and months.

Conclusion and questions for the taskforce

Members of the Victims Taskforce are invited to note the updates provided in this paper and to consider the following questions for discussion at the meeting on 1 June:

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


Victims Taskforce minutes: June 2023

Back to top