THE Scottish Government chose Victim Support Scotland’s Edinburgh office to launch the consultation process for its eagerly-awaited new Victims and Witnesses Bill.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill told the meeting at the charity's Nicolson Square office on Tuesday, May 22, that Victim Support Scotland has made a very significant contribution to the scoping of the new Bill.
He said: “Victims have to be at the heart of our criminal justice system. We hope that this Bill will improve the treatment and restitution for victims.”
During the eight-week consultation on the Bill, interested parties will be able to put their views on the proposed measures which include:
• Introducing a victim surcharge so that offenders pay towards the cost of supporting victims;
• Requiring courts to consider compensation in every case where a victim has suffered injury, loss or distress;
• Creating an automatic right to special measures, such as television links, for victims giving evidence in sexual violence and domestic abuse cases;
• Improving the management and planning of cases to minimise delays and postponements;
• Creating a duty for public agencies to set clear standards of service to victims and witnesses;
• Commissioning a study on how to provide better information to victims and the public about cases.
Victim Support Scotland Deputy Chief Executive Business Support Jim Andrews said the launch was a major step forward in improving the rights of victims and witnesses.
He said: “We welcome the opportunity to work with the Government and Parliament in ensuring that among the final proposals are those which recognise the problems faced by individuals and families who require our support. There are clearly a number of issues that have to be addressed and VSS will play its part in helping to modernise the criminal justice system.”
Mr MacAskill added: “The way we treat our victims and witnesses is a measure of the quality of our justice system.
“We have published this consultation with the intention of placing victims and witnesses right at the very heart of that system, not just as passive spectators, but as informed, supported and valued people whose needs must be solved.”
During his visit to the Nicolson Square office, Mr MacAskill met Mr and Mrs Garry and Michelle Bennett, the parents of Dale Bennett, 17, who was stabbed to death in Gorebridge, Midlothian, after he unwittingly got caught up in a disturbance between gangs.
Mr Bennett told Mr MacAskill: “Victim Support Scotland helped us right through the process we have been through and I want to thank them for that.
“Before this happened we didn’t even know these type of services existed, but we have really benefited from them.
“VSS helped us tremendously – even just to get a phone call from our volunteer Harvey Macmillan has been great. Everybody needs a Harvey.”
“Mrs Bennett added: ”We really want to say many, many thanks to Harvey – and everyone else – for what they have done for our family.”
Her husband told the Cabinet Secretary: “They have helped us financially, through the Victims Fund, emotionally and physically and we are very grateful as a family. The staff at court were fantastic and helped us all the way through the trial.
“We can’t get our son back, but we were pleased with the outcome of the court process. The people we have met since what happened to our son have been wonderful. They have helped to ease the burden and for us as a family, that is a great, great thing.”
Mr MacAskill said: “I find it very moving to meet victims and families like Mr and Mrs Bennett and hopefully we can build on the good work that has been done and make sure it is recognised.
"We know these services are expensive, but we know that they are important and I pay tribute to all the staff and volunteers who make it happen.”
The picture shows Mr MacAskill talking to Garry and Michelle Bennett and Harvey Macmillan, right.