This is the first in a series of four joint inspections by the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland into how victims are treated within the criminal justice system in Scotland.
In 2001, the Scottish Government document "The Scottish Strategy for Victims; hereafter called The Strategy, was launched. It was developed in response to developments throughout Scotland, Europe and internationally, including the UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.
The three main objectives of The Strategy are:-
1. To ensure information provision to victims (both in respect of the criminal justice system generally but also concerning the case in which they are involved).
2. To ensure provision of emotional and practical support to victims.
3. To achieve greater participation by victims in the criminal justice system.
The police and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) both committed to The Strategy which provided the baseline for our inspection.
Most stakeholders that we contacted considered that over the lifetime of The Strategy victims had become more central to considerations within the criminal justice system although there was a perception that the pace of improvement had slowed in recent years and the focus on victims as opposed to witnesses, had lessened.
In this first phase of our inspection we have focused on victims of summary crime 1 which does not result in court proceedings eg the case is dealt with by caution, warning letter, direct measure 2 or no proceedings for any other reason. It is important to note that this is the majority of victims of crime. The police approach to this group of victims is broadly similar whether their case ultimately goes to court or not. For that reason we cover in this phase of our inspection some aspects of police service delivery which are common with subsequent phases. Equally, clarity about the handover of responsibility for updating victims between police and COPFS is an example which we cover within this report but that is relevant to later phases.
We also took the opportunity within this first phase of our joint inspection to examine how some particular groups of victims, especially victims of domestic abuse, were being treated. Reflective of its importance, this crime has been the subject of considerable joint work by police and COPFS and has been the subject of recent previous inspections.
The principal organisations - the police, COPFS and victims' groups had difficulty at times in delineating our phase one category of victims and the services that they receive from the wider groups of victims and witnesses.
Relevant to all of the above issues, we noted that;
- We found a pre-disposition to consider victims in terms of the court process and their likely role and needs as witnesses rather than as victims in their own right. The lead managers within the police and COPFS have victims and witnesses as joint rather than separate portfolios. Consequent meeting arrangements reflect this position and nationally the partnership group set up to deal solely with victims issues, has not met for a number of years.
- Over time, the police and COPFS have initiated new approaches and responded to changing legislation resulting in new or altered services to victims. This has resulted in an array of focused and welcome approaches towards victims of differing crimes, particularly those of more serious crimes or who are particularly vulnerable in some other way. Staff awareness and practice have not always kept pace with these changes.
- The public are becoming increasingly accustomed to responsive public and private services that provide them with relevant and timely information, and which frequently allow them to access this directly should they choose to do so.
Whilst noting the welcome focus on more vulnerable victims and victims of more serious crimes, perhaps inevitably it has highlighted the contrasting provision for the majority of victims whose crimes are less serious and who are not likely to become a witness at court.
More widely, we looked in other jurisdictions at how victims needs have been articulated and driven by regulation, legislation and in some cases the appointment of Victims Commissioners with all the supporting infrastructure that these can necessitate.
In this regard, Scotland benefits from being a small country. We have seen how in relation to other issues such as serious organised crime that a simple but effective national cross-sector focus can be brought to bear to deliver improvements. We consider that such an approach focusing on victims could be similarly effective.
Encouragingly for a strategy that is unusually long-lived, as it enters its tenth year, most stakeholders considered that its three strands are correctly focused.
We consider that greater clarity is required though to identify which agencies have primary responsibility for meeting victims needs under each of the three strands as victims progress through the criminal justice system.
In this regard, the Scottish Government as lead agency has an important role. This overall clarity would assist agencies to be clearer about their service provision and this in turn would inform and assist victims.
We noted that there currently is good general information offered by some organisations through websites and leaflets, although awareness of these seemed disappointingly low.
We also noted that where victims needs were unmet that this principally related to lack of information provision and this often fell within areas that COPFS and police policies already covered. This led us to conclude that encouragingly, the task ahead is to concentrate on clarity and delivery of what has already been promised rather than looking for new directions or approaches.
Specifically in relation to the three strands of The Strategy we highlight that;
Victims have low levels of knowledge and understanding about the criminal justice system generally. In too many circumstances this lack of knowledge and understanding extends to what is happening with their own case.
We support the Victim Support Scotland ( VSS) view that victims have a right to be informed each time a significant decision about their case is made.
In relation to COPFS, work needs to continue to develop clarity and consistency between stated strategic intentions towards victims and operational service delivery.
In relation to the police, greater clarity about what service victims can expect from forces across Scotland would assist staff to deliver this more consistently. Better recording of victim contact would allow forces to both monitor and improve service provision.
Practical and emotional support
The provision of victims' information from the police to VSS was highly variable and the current work to update the agreement supporting this process should be progressed quickly.
Although beyond the scope of this inspection we were struck by the variable and at times highly fragile nature of support to victims being provided by the voluntary sector. The Strategy does not seek to prioritise between its three strands and yet the governance and accountability for delivering support services to victims differs significantly across the three strands and between public and voluntary sectors.
The Scottish Government in its lead role for The Strategy and as part of its current review, should consider how best to ensure that public money provided to these agencies delivers effective services to victims consistently throughout Scotland.
This third strand of the strategy was recognised by all stakeholders as the most difficult to define and monitor. We accept the view that success under this strand flows naturally from effective delivery of the first two.
Participation begins with reporting crime and we noted that victims' groups valued the efforts made to help some victims report crimes without making direct contact with the police.
Equally our attention was drawn to restorative justice practices which also support the strategic intention of involving victims more in the criminal justice system.
We highlight the implementation of the COPFS/ ACPOS protocol on domestic abuse as a good example of what can be achieved in a complex area through strong joint leadership and organisational focus.
Underpinning this progress have been increased levels of awareness raising, training and supervision. These will remain central to its continued success.
Testament to the strength of The Strategy is that some nine years after its launch, we conclude in this report that with some changes of emphasis, it looks fit for purpose for some time ahead.
Although these changes of emphasis may appear minor the principle that underlies them is not. A victim of crime remains a victim irrespective of their role within or utility to the criminal justice system.
For many victims, their needs and expectations are actually very low; they seek the simple courtesy of being kept informed about what is happening with their case.
The police and COPFS have expended considerable energy and resources on systems to record and exchange information. In doing so they have streamlined both decision making and the whole criminal justice process. It is important to ensure that victims share the benefits of these and future investments.
We are confident that the determined joint leadership that we have seen so successfully change outcomes in areas such as domestic abuse, can now do so equally for the issues that we highlight in this report.