This time two weeks ago, VSS Chief Executive Kate Wallace gave evidence to the Education, Children and Young People Committee. As the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill progresses through the Scottish Parliament, we continue to raise significant concerns about the negative impact on victims when a crime has been committed by a young person. Specifically, proposals for all 16- and 17-year-olds to be dealt with through the Children’s Hearings System.
We acknowledge that the Children’s Hearings System is operating in the way it is intended to – prioritising the needs of the child causing harm or committing an offence. However, the proposal for older children and the likelihood of a greater volume of more serious cases to be heard through this route, instead of through the criminal justice system, exacerbates the lack of information, lack of access to support, and significant challenges with safety planning for victims, who are often children themselves.
Ian’s* teenage son Harris* was seriously assaulted by a group of teenage boys in his local community in a planned attack. The cases of the teenagers who carried out the attack were heard through the Children’s Hearing system. Here Ian shares his view of the impact on their family.
“I would not wish on my worst enemy what we had to go through as a family. The police were saying the attack on Harris was as bad as they had ever seen. It should have been classed as attempted murder. There’s no way they should have been heard in anything other than a criminal high court.
These boys nearly killed Harris, and nothing happened to them. They were able to sit their exams while our son is not at school. They are going on holiday with their families. Our family has had to spend hundreds of hours dealing with doctors, lawyers, and other appointments. Harris has had to quit the hobbies he loved due to the impact of his injuries, and his previous career hopes are no longer possible due to PTSD.
As well as the impact on my son, it has had a huge impact on our whole family including our health and our work. For about six months, I was close to a breakdown. It was the hardest time in my life. I nearly lost my business from this and I’m still trying to salvage it as I’ve had to take so much time off. We have even looked at selling our home, not only to get away from here and not see those who caused harm smiling thinking it’s funny, but because financially the impact was hard.
It’s literally like every step of the way is a fight. We had to fight for the Police to take a statement. The lack of communication throughout everything is so poor. We felt we had to do the investigation for the Police around highlighting key evidence and about getting back property that belonged to Harris.
We must face the depressing reality that what we as a family, and Harris himself, are going through just isn’t going to go away. We have had to completely change our lives. If Harris goes to his friend’s house, we take him without fail, and then either my wife or I sit around the corner in our car for hours at a time, purely out of fear of him ever needing us. People say you can’t live like that, trust us, if you ever come close to losing a child you will do everything to prevent having to face that ever again.
Experience with the Children’s Hearing system as victims of crime
It’s hard for me to give a full opinion on the Children’s Hearing system as we never got to sit in on it. It flabbergasts me that we didn’t get that. At the same time, it would have probably sent me over the edge at the time if I had to face the young people who had caused the harm. But it would be important to have the choice. If you’re a victim, it doesn’t matter what age the perpetrators are or how they are being dealt with, you should at least have the chance to attend a hearing or not, or to say no to this if it would be too traumatising.
We got a letter saying that the young people who carried out the attack had attended the Children’s Hearing and that they can’t let us know the outcome due to data protection. We received no information about the consequences of the Hearing. But I’m not sure I would have wanted to know anyway, as it would have been pathetic. They would have used reasons about how hard life has been for those causing the harm, but those are not reasons to almost kill someone. But it’s only right that we should be asked if we want to know.
I don’t think the parents of those who caused the harm understand how significant this was, just ‘kids fights’. If I was able to sit in front of them in some forum such as a meeting between parents and tell them the impact, say these are the pictures of Harris after the attack. If we’d been able to get the point across to some of the parents, they might have come away from it and pulled their son aside.
Not one of the young people who took part in the assault has become a better person, and they continue to be involved with criminal activity. I’ve shown the Police messages that they openly send on social media, but nothing seems to be acted on. Quite clearly, the system doesn’t work. They have no remorse whatsoever. These local boys still walk about in the local area. Every couple of weeks we have to see them in the community, and they smirk.
Pending legal changes around young people who cause harm
I have no doubt that this law [the Children Care and Justice Scotland Bill] will be brought in and they will see figures of violence rise. If these people making these decisions had been in the position we were in, they wouldn’t be contemplating doing this.
It’s hard chatting it through. It’s horrible having to talk about it and horrible having to think about it. But at the end of the day, people making decisions about legislation need to see the reality.’’
*Names have been changed