Assessing victim safety on the Scottish Sentencing Council

25 February, 2021

Lesley Weber is Head of Effective Practice at the Risk Management Authority (RMA), recently appointed as the Victims’ Expert lay member of the Scottish Sentencing Council, and a Qualified Social Worker.

In support of Victims Awareness Week, Lesley writes about her roles within the RMA and Scottish Sentencing Council, and her thoughts on ensuring a robust and transparent response to victims within the justice system.

Since qualifying as a social worker in 2007 I developed an interest and passion in public protection – in particular the response to domestic abuse and violence against women and girls (VAWG). I was struck very early on in my career by the impact of domestic abuse and criminality on the lives of children and families, and the life-long pervasive repercussions preventing them from leading healthy and safe lives. Witnessing this first hand over the course of my career has been the constant driving force behind my commitment to working towards a better future for victims of crime.

The impact of domestic abuse and violence against women

Violence and crime can have severe long-lasting and wide-ranging social, health and economic impacts, where the costs are high to individuals, families and communities. Victims of domestic abuse and VAWG may face homelessness, forced transience, loss of networks, unemployment, severe financial hardship, deterioration in mental health, the onset of unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drug use,
re-victimisation and at worst, homicide.

The impact on a child’s physical, emotional, social and behavioural development is often significant and some children will go into care as a consequence.

Victims of crime can find navigating the justice system a bit of a minefield, where they feel left in the dark over what’s happening in their particular case, or confused about what the next steps mean for them. For someone who is likely already traumatised from their experience, it’s imperative that the system responds to them compassionately and informatively every step of the way.

Victim safety is paramount

Victims have a right to support and guidance and it is crucial that they have their voices heard and understood.  Victim safety should be at the heart of our justice system, and listening to victims of crime can help us to ensure our justice system can be fair and accessible. This is why organisations such as Victim Support Scotland are so important.

A key priority for the RMA is to review how we take into account the safety of the victim when assessing and managing risk. A major objective for the Sentencing Council is to continue demystifying sentencing for the public, ensuring the interests of victims are taken into account when sentencing guidelines are prepared.

It’s crucial that we consider the impact on the victim in respect of the harm and trauma they have experienced, any ongoing safety considerations that should be accounted for, and any publicity that could cause further distress.

Keeping victims at the heart of the justice system

It is important for my roles with the RMA and with the Scottish Sentencing Council, to work in collaboration with specialist partner agencies who work with and support victims. Strong partnership working will help ensure we develop a robust response where safety is paramount and information accessible, contributing to the wider purpose of reducing reoffending and the harm it causes.

Justice for victims is about the whole system that supports ongoing safety and reducing reoffending. By working collaboratively with victims, with specialist agencies and through public messaging, we can provide the best possible response. I’m really pleased that I can bring my passion and experience of working with victims to both roles in the RMA and the Scottish Sentencing Council, supporting in the development of best practice, principles, guidelines and policy, with victims of crime at the heart.

The Risk Management Authority is a unique organisation in the UK. The RMA protects the public by ensuring that risk assessment and risk management practices are in place to reduce the risk of serious harm posed by violent and sexual offenders.

The Scottish Sentencing Council is an independent advisory body made up of Judicial, legal and lay members, set up  in 2015 to promote consistency in sentencing across Scotland, and to improve awareness and understanding of sentencing.

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