Scotland lags behind rest of UK on victims’ rights 

6 September, 2021

Victim Support Scotland (VSS) has published a report on Friday 3 September, making the case for a Victims’ Commissioner for Scotland, following commitments in the SNP, Scottish Labour and Scottish Green Party manifestos for the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections.

The charity is stressing the urgent need for this role to represent the voices, experiences and views of people affected by crime, across Scotland.

Victim Support Scotland highlights that victims and their families are less represented than elsewhere in the UK, and don’t feel they are being heard due to the lack of an official role at a national level, advocating for their rights. VSS is therefore calling for the Scottish Government to introduce a Victims’ Commissioner Bill in the next year.

According to the charity, the creation of an independent and properly resourced Victims’ Commissioner for Scotland will allow the voices, experiences, and views of those affected by crime to be heard and to influence decision making that impacts on the justice system.

The report draws parallels with the Children and Young People’s Commissioner role for Scotland and sets out the vision for the responsibilities of a Victims Commissioner, calling for it to be:

Independent – separate from the government and criminal justice agencies to advocate for change.
Representative – being required to directly involve people affected by crime and support organisations so their direct experiences can help inform best practice throughout the justice system.
Oversight – provide scrutiny of the criminal justice system to ensure victims’ rights under the Victims & Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 and the Victims’ Code for Scotland are upheld.

Lynn Burns, victims’ rights campaigner and Victims’ Taskforce member said: 
“Victims, witnesses and families that I have spoken to have all been wholly supportive of this role for Scotland. The question is why have we been waiting so long to ensure that we have robust victims’ rights that are comparable to elsewhere in the UK.
“Now is the time for the creation of an independent and properly resourced Victims’ Commissioner role for Scotland has the potential to allow the voices, experiences and views of those affected by crime to be heard and to inform decision making. “

Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, said: 
“A Victims’ Commissioner for Scotland, with a requirement to work with people who have been directly affected by crime, would finally give victims’ the voice they deserve and work towards meaningful change in the justice system.
“The role should not take away from resources or funding for direct support services, and must have a clearly defined remit around advocacy and victims’ rights.
“As we’ve seen with the Victims Taskforce, directly engaging with victims and their families is key to driving vital changes in the justice system and improving the support available. The continuation of this work cannot be left to goodwill and the changing whims of politicians.
“Victims already tell us that they feel invisible in the justice system, and this is reinforced when they see that a Victims’ Commissioner already exist in Northern Ireland, England and Wales.
“We must not delay progress otherwise Scotland will continue to lag behind the rest of the UK on victims’ rights.”

Read the full report here: Making the case for a Victims’ Commissioner for Scotland