Chloë Minish examines what actions Victim Support Scotland would like to see those elected to the Scottish Parliament take
With 35 years of experience as Scotland’s leading victim support organisation and a new five-year strategic plan, Victim Support Scotland (VSS) is championing victims’ voices, ready to meet the opportunities presented by the next Scottish Parliament. VSS’ manifesto ‘Getting it right for victims of crime’ contains key asks to transform Scotland’s justice system into one which treats victims and witnesses with greater dignity and respect and provides the trauma-informed support they need.
Specifically, the manifesto calls for a stronger victims’ voice at national level; easier access to information and support services; using technology to transform the witness experience; and further funding for victim support services.
Victims’ Commissioner for Scotland
VSS hears time and again from victims that they feel invisible in the justice system. Creating an independent, properly resourced Victims’ Commissioner for Scotland in the next Parliament will allow the voices and experiences of those affected by crime to influence decision making. It is an opportunity for Scotland to lead the way globally in terms of victims’ rights, emulating the success of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner.
Placing a duty upon the Victims’ Commissioner to form panels of those with lived experience of crime, will enshrine the powerful role that victims have in shaping the justice system.
Multiple support services under one roof
We welcome the commitment across political parties for the Barnahus model, which has proven internationally successful at providing services for vulnerable children and young people affected by crime all under one roof. In our manifesto, Victim Support Scotland is calling for this ‘Single Point of Contact’ approach to be rolled out across the justice system. This would provide victims and witnesses with a central point that they can use to access information about their case and receive the support and resources from many agencies. This would remove a key cause of re-traumatisation for victims – having to retell and relive their experience multiple times to different people.
Improving the witness experience
We know from victims that giving evidence in specialist facilities or remote settings helps put them at ease. It avoids the mental strain of giving evidence in court in front of the perpetrator. Over the last year, we have had to radically rethink how justice is delivered in Scotland, using digital technologies to allow victims to give evidence remotely. Post-Covid, the use of visually recorded police interviews must be rolled out to all crime types involving vulnerable complainers or witnesses.
Further funding for victims of crime
Financial stability is fundamental to providing support to victims and witnesses. No victim should be financially or materially depleted because of efforts to deal with theimpact of crime. Through the Victims’ Fund, VSS has supported just under 800 successful applicants, providing financial assistance to cover emergency expenses, safety measures and funeral costs. Numerous political parties have pledged to invest in sexual abuse support services. However, further funding is necessary if all victims of crime are to receive the personalised support they desperately need.
At one point, the Covid-19 related backlog in the courts looked set to bring Scotland’s justice system to its knees. Now, pandemic recovery offers the opportunity to take a pioneering approach to support provision by putting victims’ voices at its centre. Victim Support Scotland will be driving this change and making sure Holyrood is getting it right for victims of crime.
Chloë Minish is policy and research officer at Victim Support Scotland