The Vision for Justice in Scotland

We set out our transformative vision of the future justice system for Scotland, spanning the full journey of criminal, civil and administrative justice, with a focus on creating safer communities and shifting societal attitudes and circumstances which perpetuate crime and harm.

Aim - We have effective, modern person-centred and trauma-informed approaches to justice in which everyone can have trust, including as victims, those accused of crimes and as individuals in civil disputes

Trust in our process of justice is fundamental in ensuring the rule of law is respected in our society. For justice to be achieved, each of us needs to feel able to take action when we are at our most vulnerable. For that to happen, we need to feel that the services are designed to support and help us, and those who work in them listen to and respect our needs.

Our experience of justice can include contact with the police or with a solicitor, being a victim or witness, or a complainant or a party in a civil dispute. We could be an accused person or a family member. Evidence shows that how we are treated affects our feelings about and confidence in justice processes. These experiences are often as important as the conclusion of a case or dispute. We know that the issues which lead to the justice journey are very often traumatic and it is important that the processes within the system minimise further trauma or re-traumatisation and help us recover.

Resolution in court is not always the best outcome or process. Dealing with issues before they reach court – where appropriate – both within the civil and the criminal justice systems, can lead to better long-term outcomes. So we should continue to research and expand our approaches to ensure we are taking the most effective approaches, and at the right time, to ensure public safety and confidence.

Generally, people hold favourable views of the justice system. For example, around three-quarters of adults are confident that the system allows all those accused of crimes to get a fair trial and that everyone is able to access the justice system if required. This confidence in our systems of justice is not felt equally – the experiences of victims and witnesses has frequently been characterised by a lack of support, poor communication and a sense of powerlessness. Older adults, women, and those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland are also generally less confident in the justice system, we must therefore increase everyone’s confidence in our justice services.

A key element of justice is ensuring our rights are upheld. Evidence from the UK suggests that people with greater legal knowledge of their rights and responsibilities and greater understanding of legal issues are more likely to get professional help. On the other hand, people with less understanding of legal issues find it much harder to access the services and information they need to resolve their issues. A lack of legal understanding affects a significant proportion of the population and extends beyond vulnerable groups – even a significant number of people with high incomes and education levels can exhibit low legal understanding. There is also evidence of significant differences between population groups; those who say their lives are limited greatly by disability are particularly vulnerable. We must have fairer access to justice, whereby we are able to be supported by legal professionals and income or wealth is not a prohibitive factor in ensuring high-quality legal (and advice) services in both criminal and civil law settings. An effective and efficient legal aid system is vital to ensuring access to justice. Reforms of legal aid will ensure a person-centred approach can be facilitated.

Data on the make-up of our justice services is not always complete both in terms of covering the whole workforce or all of the protected characteristics. We do know however that many our justice organisations have a far lower proportion of employees from a minority ethnic background than in the population as a whole. Across the organisations that make up Scotland’s justice system, women are not always equally represented in the workforce, especially when looking at more senior roles. Inclusive and representative services are those which reflect the populations which they serve in order that they understand the lives of the people they interact with and which are affected by these interactions. Conversely, an unrepresentative system can undermine trust in justice. Therefore, we need to have more inclusive justice services and organisations which reflect our diverse communities and which ensure recruitment, development and retention to support improved representation of diversity across all workforces.

Justice access

84% of those aged 16 to 24 were confident that the system makes sure everyone has access to the justice system if they need it, in comparison to 70% of those aged 60 or over.

SCJS 2019-20

Civil disputes are damaging, expensive, and time-consuming. They affect individuals, communities, organisations, government, and the economy. Preventing disputes, and resolving them earlier and more effectively, benefits us all. This includes being able to access alternative dispute resolution or mediation forums for civil justice issues.

Diversion from prosecution prevents an individual entering the wider criminal justice system by addressing the underlying causes of offending, and helps to ensure people get access to the drug, alcohol and mental health services they need. It is especially effective when the diversionary intervention is complemented by work designed to address the underlying issues which contributed to the offending behaviour. Evidence has shown that this lowered contact, particularly for young people, reduces their likelihood of further involvement in offending.

Fiscal work orders allow Procurators Fiscal to offer unpaid work orders as an alternative to prosecution. People given fiscal work orders also tend to be younger than those given community payback orders and substantially more tend to be employed.

Different approaches to justice, working alongside or within the criminal justice system should also encompass accessing comprehensive restorative justice services and independent legal representation where appropriate, allowing for victim’s voices to take a central role in justice processes.

Choice and joint decision making are a central component of a person-centred approach, we must therefore have access to different forms of justice including non-legal solutions.

What are other countries’ experiences of problem-solving courts?

As we consider other approaches to delivering justice, we can look to what other jurisdictions have done.

Extensive international evidence suggests that, when delivered appropriately to the right population, problem-solving courts which bring together the authority of the court and the services necessary to reduce reoffending and improve outcomes can reduce reoffending, improve compliance with court orders and generate savings for the state.

This is thought to be due to the perception of fair treatment which increases compliance and also the effective monitoring of cases by the judges. The strongest evidence is for adult drug courts which are effective at reducing substance use and reoffending especially for those who present a higher risk of reoffending. Other countries have found good evidence for alcohol and family courts in tackling parental substance use and reducing the number of children permanently removed from their families. Mental health courts have also been found to likely to reduce reoffending, although they may not directly impact the mental health of those who have offended, and evidence on the impact of problem-solving domestic violence courts on outcomes for victims, such as victim safety and satisfaction, is promising as they can reduce the frequency and seriousness of a perpetrator reoffending.

For those of us that do come into contact with the justice system – as victims, witnesses, those accused of crime or members of society for civil and tribunal cases – we must be seen as a person first. The experience of justice is as important as the need for a substantive outcome. Both feedback we have received and international evidence shows the importance of timely and accurate information and effective methods of communication with victims, both in delivering information and listening to their needs. The basic provision of timely information can assist victims in coping with the impact of victimisation. A lack of information can only act to aggravate these symptoms and in many cases can result in victims disengaging with the criminal process and withdrawing their co-operation. We also have extensive feedback on the impact that the lack of joined up services have on individuals both in terms of making it much more difficult to navigate the justice process and also being required to retell stories causing further trauma. Individuals are all experts in their own lives but are not all experts in the justice system. People in contact with the justice system must therefore be supported to understand the processes of justice, be treated as a person first, experience joined-up services and timely communication. This includes supporting victims in their recovery.

We know that uncertainty and delay cause great anxiety for all those in the justice system and the duration of the legal process was an issue prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that the amount of time that users of courts have to wait to resolve their cases is one of the key drivers of satisfaction. There has been consistent feedback from victims’ groups that the delays are having a profound effect on individuals 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. We must therefore ensure across criminal and civil jurisdictions that we experience fewer delays in the justice system.

It is always deeply regrettable when a child comes into contact with the criminal justice system as a victim of crime or as a witness, therefore we must ensure we take approaches that do not further exacerbate trauma. Research indicates immediate access to trauma-focussed health services may be one of the key factors for recovery. Extended periods of the investigative and judicial process conjoined with lack of access to health services may increase children’s risk of further trauma and more serious long term consequences. Research also shows that child abuse cases undertaken by multidisciplinary teams were more strongly associated with higher conviction rates and increased receipt of health and support services compared to more traditional services. Children and their families report that a positive aspect of court proceedings is when children are engaged as active participants rather than passive recipients of the process. A Barnahus model seeks to provide a trauma-informed response to child victims and witnesses of serious and traumatic crimes in a familiar and non-threatening setting. We must ensure children’s rights providing access to trauma-informed recovery, support and justice.

We will have achieved our aim of delivering effective, modern, person-centred and trauma-informed approaches to justice in which everyone can have trust, including as victims and those accused of crimes and as individuals in civil disputes when:

  • we all have confidence in reporting crimes.
  • everyone’s rights are upheld.
  • services are joined up and everyone is kept informed.
  • we all can access the appropriate support needed to participate in justice processes.
  • we all can access a fair, modern, affordable civil justice system.
  • children are treated with love and support and their voices are heard effectively.
  • everyone is supported to recover from the harm and trauma and possible re-traumatisation they have experienced.



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