Attendees and apologies
- Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Keith Brown (Co-Chair)
- Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC (Co-Chair)
- Andrew Alexander, Law Society of Scotland (LSS)
- Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS)
- Oona Brookes, Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR)
- Linda Brown, Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA)
- Lynn Burns, Victims Voices
- Willie Cowan, Scottish Government (SG)
- Stephen Coyle, Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
- Ann Fehilly, ASSIST
- DCS Samantha Faulds, Police Scotland (PS)
- Mary Glasgow, Children 1st
- David Harvie, Crown Agent, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
- Alistair Hogg, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)
- Kathryn Lindsay, Social Work Scotland (SWS)
- Karyn McCluskey, Community Justice Scotland (CJS)
- Eric McQueen, Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS)
- Iris Quar, AMIS (Rotating Victims Organisations Collaboration Forum Scotland (VOCFS) seat)
- Ronnie Renucci QC, Faculty of Advocates (FOA)
- Marsha Scott, Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA)
- Colin Spivey, Parole Board for Scotland (PBS)
- Kate Wallace, Victim Support Scotland (VSS)
- Amy Wilson, Head of Justice Analytical Services (JAS), SG
- Michael Chalmers, SG
- Anil Gupta, COSLA
- Teresa Medhurst, SPS
- Neil Rennick, SG
- Caroline Bruce, NHS Education for Scotland (NES)
- Neil Martin, The First Word
- Stacey Williams, The First Word
Secretariat – Scottish Government/COPFS
- Moira Price
- Anna Donald
- Zak Tuck
- Sarah Smith
- Bekki Aitken
- John Wallace
- Saira Kapasi
Items and actions
chairs’ welcome and introductions
minutes and matters arising:
paper one: minute of meeting of 10 March 2021
future of the taskforce:
paper two: future of the Victims Taskforce – proposal
paper three: Victims Taskforce – remit and related work
paper four: Victims’ Voices
- workstream updates:
- workstream one: Victim Centred Approach, paper five: Victim Centred Approach – progress update
- workstream two: Trauma Informed Workforce, paper six: Trauma Informed Workforce – progress update
paper seven: communications review
- Future of the Victims Taskforce - proposal
- Victims Taskforce: remit and related work
- Themes from ‘Victims Voices’ feedback presented at the Victims Taskforce
- Victim Centred Approach progress update
- Trauma informed workforce progress update
- Communications review
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.
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
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
- 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
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?
The purpose of this paper is to update the taskforce on progress to date in the Victim Centred Approach (VCA) workstream and outline the next steps to realising our vision for a VCA in the Scottish criminal justice system.
There is a large body of evidence spanning over twenty years that describes the traumatising impact of the criminal justice system on victims of crime. Reports such as Lesley Thomson’s ‘Review of Victim Care’, the Justice Journeys research report and many others describe the traumatising impact of victims re-telling their story to multiple workers in multiple organisations across the justice system. Some victims say this has had a more traumatising impact than the crime itself.
In light of this, the VCA workstream was tasked with developing options for taking forward a VCA in Scotland. The VCA Governance Group met on a number of occasions between 2019 and 2021 to discuss this work and presented its recommendations to the Taskforce at its meeting on 10 March, in the form of a position paper outlining four different approaches
The approaches outlined in the paper ranged from continuation of the current position to system-level transformational change. The paper also considered the barriers and enablers to facilitate these approaches. A number of recommendations were made in the conclusion to the paper. In summary, these were that:
the approaches set out in the paper should be explored in more detail and an exercise undertaken to map them against existing practices and services for victims in the justice system
a clear system-wide, shared vision for a VCA should be defined
this work should form the basis for the development of an integrated, coordinated, long-term, system-wide project to achieve the shared vision for a VCA
The Taskforce welcomed the paper and agreed that a combination of the approaches should be explored. This would see criminal justice agencies continue to make incremental changes towards a VCA, but with an increased focus on transformational change. The Taskforce asked the VCA Governance Group to further develop the approaches set out in the paper and provide a progress update to the Taskforce at its next meeting.
The VCA work plan
The VCA Governance Group met on 21 September to discuss how to progress the recommendations in the position paper. Three key areas of work were identified:
- an exercise to map current provision against the four approaches set out in the position paper
- the development of a vision for a VCA
- the development of a new model for a single point of contact type model for victim support
A: mapping exercise
The first conclusion in the paper recommends that an exercise be undertaken to map the four proposed approaches in the position paper against existing practices and services for victims in the justice system. This would help determine where there are existing approaches and services that could potentially be expanded to make them more victim centred and/or where new services could be developed to provide better end-to-end support.
To facilitate this exercise, it is essential to build a comprehensive picture of current service provision for victims and the resources involved in order to provide a baseline against which to map the four approaches.
Scottish Government (SG) officials were asked to develop a template to assist in the collation of data and the Governance Group identified additional fields to be included in the template, such as referral routes to support services and information sharing agreements.
Whilst some of the victim services provided are fairly discrete and quantifiable, others are more subtle and hard to provide costings for. SG officials have, therefore, requested the assistance of analytical specialists from the SG and criminal justice agencies to support them in this work. This included a presentation to the Criminal Justice Board Operations and Analysis Group on 7 October, which received a positive response and provided avenues for further discussion.
The second conclusion in the position paper recommends that a clear, system-wide, shared vision of a VCA be defined, using the themes and aims identified in the position paper as a starting point.
The SG has recently launched a new VCA funding programme. In developing the framework for the funding programme, a vision with associated priorities and outcomes was developed with stakeholders.
The development of the vision was informed by the work of the Victims Taskforce, reviews such as those carried out by Lesley Thomson and Thrive and input from individuals and families with lived experience of crime.
Our vision is that victims and witnesses will be treated with fairness, compassion and in a trauma-informed manner in which their safety and well-being is a priority.
They will have access to consistent, appropriate and timely information and support.
They will be able to understand their rights, have confidence that these rights will be upheld and be able to participate effectively.
Discussion at the Governance Group focussed around the need to make the vision meaningful for those affected by crime and how certain elements, such as “to participate effectively” may have a different meaning for individuals at different stages of their interaction with the justice system. An alternative form of word may be “where it is appropriate for them to participate they will be supported to do so effectively”.
Following on from the discussion at the Governance Group, we now welcome the views of the wider Taskforce as to whether members are willing to adopt this as a system-wide VCA vision.
If content to adopt this vision, we would welcome the views of members as to whether it should be reflected in the new Justice Strategy, currently being developed, and in the Standards of Service for Victims and Witnesses.
C: new model for accessing support and information for victims
The third conclusion is that a model of support should be developed and that this seeks to transform the experiences of victims so that they are not traumatised by the criminal justice system itself. This would be akin to a single point of contact/ one front door type of approach.
Previous reports from the VCA workstream have summarised approaches from other jurisdictions and it is felt this work should be updated to include more recent examples.
Following discussion at the Governance Group, it was agreed that Victim Support Scotland and Rape Crisis Scotland would work together with other members to determine how this model could be developed. Preliminary discussions have identified the need for an additional short-term resource to assist with this scoping and modelling work. We would welcome the support of the Taskforce for this work and any thoughts on options for securing the additional resource required.
Other related work
There are a number of other projects that feed into the development and delivery of a VCA in the justice system (see Paper three)
Last month, the SG launched the Victim Centred Approach Fund (VCAF) - a new, streamlined funding programme worth at least £30 million over the next three years. The VCAF aims to take a more strategic and joined-up approach to funding a range of services by:
- providing more organisations with the opportunity to apply for funding
- transitioning to a more outcome-focussed approach
- encouraging collaborative working between organisations to deliver joined-up services for victims
- encouraging the development of new projects and approaches
Communications specialists The First Word were commissioned to undertake a review of communications that are provided to people affected by crime to ensure that they are victim-centred. This work had its origins in the VCA work plan and has already provided some powerful findings from its research with people affected by crime, and the learning from the project has the potential to go beyond simply rewriting written communications. Further information will be provided at agenda item four.
With regard to the mapping exercise, SG officials will continue to work with the criminal justice agencies, support organisations and analysts to build a comprehensive picture of how and where resources are deployed in delivering victim services. The next stage will be to map the four approaches against current provision, in order to identify where existing services could be expanded or resources redeployed at a different stage of the process, and/or where new services are required to deliver a VCA in the justice system.
For the Vision, the next steps will be dependent on the views of Taskforce members as to whether it is adopted in its present form or requires further development. Following agreement of the Vision, we could consider how the Vision can be reflected in the new Justice Strategy, Standards of Service for Victims and Witnesses and throughout our work to establish a VCA.
Subject to additional resource being secured, the workstream would take forward the modelling and scoping work for a new model for accessing support and information for victims.
Taskforce members are invited to note the progress being made on the VCA workstream and comments and/or discussion on the Vision and proposed next steps are welcomed.
Developing a framework to support the knowledge and skills of a trauma informed and responsive justice workforce.
The purpose of this paper is to update the Victims Taskforce on progress to date in the Trauma Informed Workforce (TIW) workstream and outline the next steps to realising our vision for a trauma informed Scottish criminal justice system.
Recent reports have highlighted the considerable and multiple ways in which victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system can be affected by psychological trauma, and the need for a justice system designed to respond in ways that understand and adapt to the impact of trauma, and support recovery.
The recommendations of Lady Dorrian’s review group on the management of sexual offences recognised the critical importance of staff across all organisations having a shared understanding about the impact of trauma, and consistently having the additional knowledge and skills appropriate to their role in order to do no harm, minimise re-traumatisation, support recovery, and gain and interpret best evidence for those affected by trauma.
This requires both training and follow up organisational support to translate and embed this training into changes in practice, as well as ongoing evaluation of its impact on victims and witnesses through consistent and regular feedback loops.
In 2019 a survey of Taskforce member organisations indicated that, whilst there was a range of high quality training provided within some organisations around psychological trauma and its impact, this was not available to all. It also indicated there was limited consistency or agreement across organisations and trainings as to what was meant by “trauma informed” and what the key knowledge skills and intended learning outcomes of training should be. There was also limited mention of any post-training supports necessary to translate training into changes in practice over time, or of whether the training led to any changes in experience for victims and witnesses.
In 2017 the National Trauma Training Programme published the Transforming Psychological Trauma Knowledge and Skills Framework. This has been an underpinning factor in developing and sustaining momentum and shared language, understanding and commitment to a trauma informed and responsive wider workforce across Scotland. However the original framework does not address the specific knowledge and skills required in justice settings, for example in situations where legislative, evidential or system demands can especially risk re-traumatisation, or where they directly compete with a trauma informed and responsive approach. It also does not address the knowledge and skills required to recognise and respond to the impact of psychological trauma on evidence that witnesses provide, which can affect perceptions of credibility and reliability. This has implications for the knowledge and skills of those who, in a legal context collect, present, interpret and/ or make decisions based on evidence from witnesses who may be affected by traumatic events.
Knowledge and skills framework for justice, victims and witnesses
In late 2020, the Scottish Government in consultation with the Taskforce commissioned the National Trauma Training Programme in the Psychology Directorate at NHS Education for Scotland to create a “Knowledge and Skills” framework specifically to support a trauma informed workforce in the justice sector.
The framework will identify and summarise the key elements of a trauma informed justice system for victims and witnesses, and what people in different roles need to know (knowledge), and be able to do (skills) in order to support it. It does this by identifying:
- groups of roles that will require a similar set of knowledge and skills (see appendix A for preliminary groupings)
- the knowledge and skills appropriate to each role
This can then be used within organisations to identify the knowledge and skills required of each job role and the training needs of each member of the workforce in line with their role, and to create or commission high quality training in line with those needs. It will also support those developing training to identify the key learning outcomes required for different staff roles, and develop training accordingly.
Progress to date
Like the original, this framework is being developed through review and synthesis of a broad range of sources, including empirical evidence and literature review, interviews with victims and witnesses with lived experience of trauma, and interviews with key justice experts and leaders from across the workforce. Reviews and interviews were designed to clarify the key features of a trauma informed justice system and what it should do, and the knowledge and skills that the workforce would need in order to support those aims. For further detail of areas of enquiry, please see Appendix B.
Over the course of late 2020 / early 2021, 16 justice leaders nominated by taskforce members were interviewed, and in spring / summer 2021 10 members of respective Victim Support Scotland (VSS) and Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS) reference groups were interviewed, with a further two members submitting written responses. Interviews have been transcribed and through an interactive process, key themes have been extracted into draft reports, which will be used to inform the framework. Literature reviews have also been completed, with some ongoing in relation to specialist knowledge required for working with children and young people, and in respect of vicarious traumatisation.
Findings from an initial analysis of the interviews with justice leaders and experts by experience from the reference group are summarised in Appendix C. On the basis of preliminary analysis and synthesis from these sources and the literature reviews, the key elements of a trauma informed justice system are highlighted in Appendix D. A full analysis and synthesis of findings from the interviews with each group has been drafted and will shortly be available for review.
Development of the framework is underway and it is anticipated that a draft framework will be available for review by the end of 2021. A period of review with stakeholders will take place in early 2022, following which a final version will be drafted for publication in Spring 2022. Once complete, the framework can then be used to develop and deliver consistent training and implementation of knowledge and skills in practice, across the justice workforce and professions.
It is acknowledged that staff training and implementation of new skills in practice is a necessary but not sufficient ingredient to the creation of trauma informed systems. There may be a need for leaders to examine the extent to which policies, systems, procedures and environments, create and support a trauma informed system as a whole. This includes examining the current strengths and weaknesses of the key drivers for the creation and maintenance of trauma informed systems, which alongside policies and leadership and workforce training include support for implementation of training in practice, workforce wellbeing, and power sharing with - and routine feedback loops from - victims and witnesses themselves.
There will be a presentation on this work at the Taskforce meeting. Members are invited to note progress, to discuss their involvement in the production of the framework and its implementation, and to consider further work required in order to create trauma informed systems.
Preliminary staff role groupings
- anyone with any contact with victims/witnesses or information/material relating to victims
- foundation knowledge and skills for all staff working in justice
Processes and environments
- anyone with responsibilities for schedules, processes, environments and procedures affecting victims and witnesses
- this includes relevant policies and legislation
Advocacy and support
- anyone who provides advocacy, support or interventions to victims
- anyone who will, in the course of their work, be required to gather information or evidence directly from people affected by trauma
- also includes those who direct or oversee evidence gathering
Evidence: presentation and interpretation
- anyone who has a role in presenting, interpreting or making decisions based on evidence relating to traumatic events, or obtained from people known to be affected by trauma
- includes those who direct or oversee evidence presentation
Information sourced from the existing literature and guidance, and from interviews covered:
- the prevalence of psychological trauma and the ways that it can affect victims (and their evidence) in the different stages of the justice process
- the ways that the different stages and procedures of the justice process can exacerbate or ameliorate the impact of trauma for victims and witnesses
- responses that are likely to minimise or exacerbate re-traumatisation for victims and witnesses, across the range of justice roles and processes and procedures
- responses that are likely to support or inhibit recovery for victims and witnesses, across the range of justice roles and processes and procedures
- responses that are likely to improve or hinder quality and accuracy of interpretation of evidence from witnesses affected by trauma
- the prevalence and impact of vicarious traumatisation for justice staff and how to prevent or minimise it
Victim and witness interviews summary of findings
The research suggests that, from the perspective of victims and witnesses, there is much to be done to make professionals within the justice system more trauma aware and trauma responsive. A strong sense throughout the interviews was that justice professionals may underestimate and misunderstand trauma and associated impacts, not only that which arises from being a victim or witness, but also that which results from being involved in a complex, unfamiliar and probing justice system, which can leave people feeling vulnerable and exposed and has the potential to retraumatise. A lack of consistency in what victims and witnesses had experienced and had therefore come to expect may point towards a need for clearer boundaries and definitions of ‘what works’ in trauma informed responses.
Recognising that there will be inevitable legal constraints to system change, what does seem very clear from the research is that, without modifications, there is scope for increasing mistrust in the justice system which has the potential to lead to disengagement from victims, witnesses and others.
Justice leader interviews summary of findings
The interviews with justice leaders suggest a recognition that the justice system needs to become trauma-informed and responsive in order to offer a fair justice system, and that even a basic level of trauma awareness and the provision of a consistent trauma language for both professionals and those who interact with the system may help to improve victims’ and witnesses’ journeys. There was a strong willingness to engage with trauma informed practice and to achieve a trauma informed justice workforce as a priority.
Developing a trauma skilled justice workforce also seems achievable if some of the systemic and practical training barriers can be overcome, and the main challenge appears to be around knowing which staff and at which levels the more nuanced training should be delivered. This suggests that a more role-specific knowledge and skills framework may be appropriate for the justice system.
From the interviews, it appears that an incremental approach to achieving a trauma informed justice system seems inevitable and the higher-level skills and practice may need to evolve over time once more fundamental skills and knowledge have become embedded throughout the workforce. The joint commitment to achieving this was clear.
- core elements of a trauma-informed justice system included workers demonstrating understanding, empathy and compassion towards victims and witnesses as well as avoiding re-traumatisation
- all parties involved in administering justice need to develop an increased awareness and understanding of the impact that the system has on people experiencing it and its potential to re-traumatise
- ensuring that where possible justice is delivered in a timely way is essential to prevent victims and witnesses from disengaging, becoming disenchanted and feeling unable/unwilling to go on with the process
- key skills and structures required included, understanding the definitions and impact of trauma, re-traumatisation and vicarious trauma and how to mitigate/minimise them needed at all levels of an organisation
- being able to apply the trauma-informed principles across all areas of practice to minimise re-traumatisation, support recovery and elicit best evidence
- developing interviewing and engagement skills that are trauma sensitive and trauma responsive
- safe environments are needed for those likely to have suffered trauma, including staff
- all staff need to have the basic skills to be ‘trauma informed’ and more specific skills training needs to be cumulative, based on remit rather than status
Key elements of a trauma informed justice system for victims and witnesses
- realises the prevalence of trauma
- recognises the impact of trauma
- prevents re-traumatisation
- supports and avoids hindering recovery from the impact of trauma
- adapts practices to the impact of trauma in order to collect best evidence
- understands and doesn’t misinterpret the impact of trauma on a witness/their evidence
Leadership and systems
- adapts processes, environments and policies to avoid re-traumatisation and support trauma informed experience
- mitigates the risk of vicarious traumatisation for staff
The purpose of this paper is to provide members of the Victims Taskforce with progress to date on a project to review communications that are provided to people affected by crime to ensure that they are victim-centred.
The Taskforce has previously heard feedback that victims and witnesses of crime and their families found communications they received from criminal justice organisations, such as guidance documents, leaflets and letters, to be unclear, overly complex and impersonal. These communications often left them feeling confused, frustrated and distressed. This lack of clarity can often mean they have to reread information and often retell their story, reliving the traumatic experience in the process.
The Victim Centred Approach workstream in the Taskforce workplan contains an action to review communications. Wokrstream one action 1b describes a systematic review of:
- of hard copy leaflets and publications
- online materials
- official correspondence aimed at victims and witnesses of crime and their families to ensure they are, victim centred consistent
- up-to date and use clear and compassionate language
The paper Victims Voices discussed at the Victims Taskforce meeting in December 2020, captured key themes of common issues victims experienced as they engaged with the criminal justice system. These themes included ‘accessing information’ where victims described the importance of receiving adequate levels of communication and updates from criminal justice agencies during the whole duration of a case. The right to information is also contained within the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 and reflected in the Victims Code for Scotland.
This is also an issue which the Lord Justice Clerk covered in her Review on Improving the Management of Sexual Offence Cases. Recommendation 3 describes ‘Improved communication with complainers should be developed by relevant agencies expanding upon obligations imposed under the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014.
Progress to date
The Scottish Government (SG) carried out a procurement exercise earlier this year to take forward a review of communications in the justice sector and in April a contract was awarded to The First Word.
The First Word are a specialist communications agency who have worked with organisations such as HM Courts and Tribunals Service, Bupa, and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to improve their communications.
The project aims are to:
- create a new approach that puts people at the heart of communication, to make sure the message is clear for everyone and focussed on their needs
- reduce the need for victims and survivors to have to retell their story to several different organisations
- improve the level of information available for victims
- improve the sharing of data between different organisations
- look at digital tools to improve the support and information given to victims
The First Word have been working with the criminal justice agencies (CJAs) and victim support organisations (VSOs) to take forward this project.
The research stage of the work has involved:
- workshops with both the CJAs and VSOs to gather views on the language used in communications like leaflets, web pages and letters and to discuss what’s working well and what could be better
- 18 interviews were carried out by 2CV, First Word’s research partner with people with lived experience of crime to understand, perceptions of current communications and how they impact their experience and what improvements would make the communications more compassionate, clear, helpful and supportive
- the participants were presented with specific communications that they may have received during their contact with the justice system, participants were shown an original and re-written version of Police Scotland’s victim care card which is provided by police officers to victims and the witness citation provided by the Crown Office and Prosecutor Fiscal Service (COPFS) at the point a witness is cited to appear in court, they were asked to think about what works, what confuses and where there’s potential for misunderstanding
- a communication audit of 26 communications materials provided by the CJAs, SG and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA), this included letters, guidance and websites
- stakeholder workshops to feedback on the work so far have taken place with the CJAs, Scottish Government and VSOs
Work has now concluded on the research phase and the First Word will present their finding to Taskforce members at the meeting on 24 November.
We would welcome Taskforce members comments on:
- the ideas that will be presented by The First Word
- how any new approach to communications can be taken forward within their organisations
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