Victims and Witnesses Unit's newsletter
ISSUE 1: DEC 2004
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INTRODUCING THE UNIT
Welcome to the 1st edition of the Scottish Executive Victims and Witnesses Unit's newsletter. We felt this would be a great way to let you know what we are doing to help meet our goal of putting victims and witnesses at the heart of the criminal justice system. At the same time we want you to let us know what we could be doing better.
So what does the Victims and Witnesses Unit do?
Formed in January 2004, the Victims and Witnesses brought together people already working in the area across the Executive's Justice Department to ensure a more co-ordinated approach to supporting victims and witnesses against a background of major changes in the justice system.
Major projects underway include:
- Reviewing the Scottish Strategy for Victims
- Rolling-out the Lord Advocate's recommendations on support for child witnesses
- Supporting Victim Support Scotland develop its nationwide service network
- Managing the Implementation of the Vulnerable Witness Act
- Piloting the Victim Statement Scheme
SCOTTISH STRATEGY FOR VICTIMS - BUILDING ON PROGRESS
Since the Scottish Strategy for Victims was launched in January 2001 much has been achieved. Bill Hepburn, head of the Victims of Crime team in the Unit says "a number of important measures introduced over the last three years mean that victims of crime are now more able to access the information, and practical and emotional support they need and have a better opportunity to participate more in all stages of the criminal justice system."
The Strategy is now being reviewed to take stock of what has been done to date and identify what more needs to be done to ensure that victims needs are met. The Victim Steering Group (VSG), which comprises of key criminal justice bodies (statutory, professional and voluntary), are working on the review. Sub-groups are looking at awareness raising and training on victims issues across a range of sectors, information for victims, and service delivery. Recommendations on each of these issues were put to the VSG in November 2004 with the final review document likely to be published in early 2005.
A BETTER DEAL FOR VULNERABLE WITNESSES AT HAND
Work is underway to put into effect the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004. Receiving its Royal assent on 14 April 2004, the Act is aimed at making it easier for vulnerable witnesses to give their best evidence.
The Act formalises a number of special measures for child and vulnerable adult witnesses:
- Use of screens in court and live TV links
- Use of a prior statement as evidence in chief
- Use of a supporter
- Taking evidence on commission
It also makes a number of other provisions all aimed at ensuring that witnesses are treated fairly without jeopardising a fair trial.
The Act will be implemented in phases beginning in April 2005 with provisions for child witnesses in the High Court and Sheriff Court jury cases as well as in Children's Hearing court procedures. The Vulnerable Witness Implementation Steering Group (VWISG), made up of key stakeholders, is working with the Scottish Executive in taking forward the practical measures required to ensure the effective implementation of the Act.
Sub-groups have been charged with helping develop appropriate secondary legislation, a monitoring system, procedures, publicity & awareness raising, communication, training materials, advice and guidance.
Another sub-group of the Implementation Steering Group will advise the Executive on the piloting of the Vulnerable Witness Service that aims to co-ordinate specialist support and advice service to vulnerable witnesses in the justice system. It is hoped that the pilot of the Vulnerable Witness Service will begin in early 2005.
WHAT'S NEW? - Victim Notification Scheme Goes Live.
From 1 November 2004 throughout Scotland victims of serious crimes will be able to register with the new Victim Notification Scheme and receive information about the person who committed the crime against them. They will be notified when the offender is eligible for home leave, is transferred out of Scotland, escapes from prison, or dies before the end of the sentence. They will also be able to send written comments to the Parole Board if the offender's case is being considered for early release from prison. The scheme applies to the victims of certain crimes where the offender has been given a prison sentence of 4 years or more. Eligible victims (including where the actual victim of the crime has died, the nearest family members) will automatically be sent the forms to register for the scheme when the offender has been sentenced at the end of the court case.
VULNERABLE WITNESSES ACT ON THE ROAD
A series of Vulnerable Witness Act roadshows will raise awareness of what the Act will do, providing practitioners with an opportunity to discuss the practical implications of the new legislation. Speakers are likely to include representatives from the Crown Office, Victim Support Scotland and Scottish Children's Reporter Administration; The Scottish Executive and the Law Society of Scotland will also be involved. All involved in working with child and vulnerable witnesses are welcome at these events. To register your interest and for further detail about where the events are being held please contact Iona Ritchie from the Law Society of Scotland at firstname.lastname@example.org
VULNERABLE WITNESS ACT ROAD SHOW DIARY
DATE & TIME
VIDEO CONFERENCE EVENT TO REMOTE LOCATIONS
(further details available on request)
HAVE YOUR SAY?
Please let us know what you think of our newsletter. Is there anything you would like to see included in a future issue? Do you want to submit an article which we could perhaps include?
Please feel free to drop an e-mail to the Victims and Witnesses Unit at email@example.com or call 0131 244 3314