Victims in the Criminal Justice System
In 2001 the Scottish Government launched the document 'The Scottish Strategy for Victims'. It reflected developments in this field in Scotland, Europe and internationally including the UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.
The Strategy had three main objectives:
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 practice support to victims.
3. To achieve greater participation by victims in the criminal justice system.
Both the police and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service committed to the strategy which provided the baseline for the inspection which was undertaken in conjunction with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (Scotland).
The report involved extensive consultation with criminal justice partners and others and received invaluable help on casework from Victim Support Scotland and Women's' Aid (and ASSIST).
The overall conclusion was that most stakeholders considered that over the lifetime of the strategy victims had become more central to consideration 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.
This first report focused on victims of summary crime which did not result in court proceedings and included cases where no proceedings were taken. This would be for various reasons such as direct measures including fiscal fines and others. Statistics showed that this first report covered more than 50% of the victims of reported crime in Scotland. A particular focus of the report was victims of domestic abuse. ectorate of Prosecution in Scotland
One of the findings was a predisposition to consider victims in terms of the court process and their role as potential witnesses rather than as victims in their own right. This attitude was exemplified by lead managers in both the police and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service having victims and witnesses as joint rather than separate portfolios. There was an apparent and unsurprising focus in both organisations on vulnerable victims and victims of more serious crimes although this produced a sharp contrast to provision for victims in 'lesser' categories.
The strategy itself was found by contributors to still be relevant 10 years after its first launch and the three strands correctly focused.
We considered greater clarity was required to identify which agencies had primary responsibility for victims' needs under the three separate strands.
We found that there was good general information available to victims through websites although awareness seemed disappointingly low.
We found that in too many circumstances victims had low levels of knowledge and understanding about what was happening in their particular case. We supported the view of Victim Support Scotland and others that victims had a right to be informed each time a significant decision about their case was made.
In total 10 recommendations were made including that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and police forces reach agreed protocols about which agency provides information at different stages of a case to ensure all victims have basic information about the progress of the case in which they are involved and who to contact for further information.
Additionally, we recommended that police forces, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Scottish Government should ensure that their approach to dealing with victims recognises that the majority of victims' cases will not proceed to court and will not therefore receive the focus and support that the status of being a witness attracts.
At the time of writing this report several of the recommendations had been implemented and others were works in progress.