Minister goes to court to learn about services for victims and witnesses

22 February, 2024

From left to right: Support Co-Ordinator Hilary Knecht, Support Volunteer Katie Graham, Minister for Victims and Community Safety Siobhian Brown, VSS Chief Executive Kate Wallace and Edinburgh, Lothians and Borders Locality Manager Sara Gray.

She was accompanied by representatives from Victim Support Scotland (VSS) and a victim who has received support through the charity.

The court familiarisation visit is one of the many services VSS provides to anyone who is affected by crime in Scotland. The visits help prepare victims and witnesses of crime ahead of giving evidence or attending court by showing them around the room, demonstrating how Special Measures for vulnerable witnesses – such as witness screens and other protective measures work – and explaining who will be in the room and where. In-person visits can be facilitated alongside accessing 360 degree tours of all courts in Scotland on VSS website.

The Minister heard from a victim of crime, a volunteer, and staff members about the traumatic impact of giving evidence. She experienced first-hand the crucial service VSS provides to support victims and witnesses of crime.

The Minister’s visit was part of a week-long campaign to mark Victims Awareness Week. VSS has been working with partner organisations to ensure victims’ rights are upheld and to inform people about the free information and support it provides, helping victims and witnesses of crime to navigate the criminal justice system and cope with the trauma and emotional distress of crime.

The latest available data shows that 10,352 people contacted the charity’s free helpline with around 48,600 support sessions and other forms of assistance delivered by VSS in 2022-23.

Through the Victims’ Code for Scotland, everyone has a legal right to support if they are a victim or witness of crime, as do their family members. To help spread this message and ensure no one who is affected by crime in Scotland falls through the cracks, Victim Support Scotland is raising public awareness of victims’ rights and the services they are entitled to.

Minister for Victims and Community Safety, Siobhian Brown, said: “The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that victims affected by crime get all the support they need.

“It was a privilege to hear first-hand from people going through the criminal justice system about their experiences. Sitting in the witness box helps me as Minister for Victims to understand the emotional, psychological and physical impact of giving evidence.

“It is important that victims are made aware of, and understand, their rights and know how to access the range of support that is available. The Victims’ Code for Scotland sets out these rights and who to contact for help and advice.

“The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act, introduced in 2014, built victims’ rights into legislation and the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill will further strengthen these rights.”

Kate Wallace, chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, said: “When someone is affected by crime, it can have a massive impact on their life, affecting them emotionally, mentally, physically, financially and practically. It can be very traumatic, so having the right information at the right time is critical.

“In Scotland, anyone affected by crime has a right to support and information, regardless of whether the crime was reported to the police or not. While not everyone affected by crime will want to exercise these rights, there is a significant gap between the number of crimes recorded and the number of people referred to and seeking support.

“By working closely with Police Scotland, victim support organisations, and directly with victims, we hope to raise more awareness of victims’ rights and reach more people in the year ahead. We want everyone to know that if they or someone they know is affected by crime, Victim Support Scotland can help.”

In addition to providing support, VSS also uses the experiences and voices of victims and has welcomed aspects of the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Kate Wallace, added: “Based on our knowledge and expertise, built on the experiences of people affected by crime, we believe this Bill is an opportunity to radically improve the way the justice system works for people affected by crime.

“It is important for people thinking about getting support from us to know will treat you with dignity and respect and ensure that you are part of the process that reforms our justice system. The services we provide are informed and shaped by the experiences of thousands of people affected by crime. And through that, together, we are working to make Scotland better for victims, witnesses and their families in the future.”

Victim Support Scotland data shows that over 40,000 support sessions in court and in the community were provided by the charity in 2022-23, including 850 court familiarisation visits for victims or witnesses ahead of a trial taking place.

VSS supports anyone affected by a crime, no matter what it is or when it happened. The service is free and confidential and designed to assist people who have been directly or indirectly affected by crime, helping them to see life beyond what they have experienced.

Victims Awareness Week takes please from Monday 19 to Sunday 25 February 2024, and coincides with European Day for Victims on Thursday 22 February 2024.