Six ways to improve the Victim Impact Statement scheme

8 December, 2019

The Victim Impact Statement scheme was developed in 2009. It aimed to give victims of some serious crimes the opportunity to explain to the court the physical, emotional and financial impact upon them.

Through our work supporting victims, many have told us that they find the process of writing the statement helps them with the process of coming to terms with what they have experienced. For others, it is a frustrating and difficult task that they choose not to complete.

The Scottish Government recently held a consultation on widening the scope of the Victim Impact scheme. Here are six ways in which Victim Support Scotland think it can be improved:

1. Allow more people to make a victim impact statement

Currently, victim impact statements can only be submitted in relation to a limited number of crimes, and there is a strict criteria on who can make a statement which doesn’t take account of complex family and community relationships.

The consultation put forward proposals to extend the crimes that a victim could submit a statement on. From our work supporting victims, the supposed ‘seriousness’ of a crime has little bearing on the trauma an individual can experience. By allowing a victim of any crime to make an impact statement, the criminal justice system would give them a much-needed opportunity to express how they have been affected.

2. Increase the options for how a statement can be made

Victim impact statements can currently only be made by submitting a handwritten form that is issued by the Victims Information & Advice (VIA) service. This is more difficult for people who struggle with their written English skills, and children who may prefer to communicate by non-verbal means, to provide an impact statement.

Victim Support Scotland regularly hears from victims that they feel erased or invisible in the courts and justice systems. By allowing victims to submit their impact statement in a way that is most appropriate for them – whether that’s an audio recording, a drawing, a photo, or reading the statement in court themselves – it would go some way to addressing this concern.

3. Allow statements to be submitted digitally 

Often, victims will come to VSS 24-48 hours before the deadline to submit their impact statement in need of help to complete it. Under the current system, victims are issued a form which they must complete in their own handwriting and return by post.

By allowing victims to complete and submit it online, they could benefit from tools such as spell checker if they are not confident in their written language skills, and be able to receive automatic confirmation that their statement has been received.

4. Clearer information on what they can include 

A common complaint across the justice system which victims encounter is that the language and terminology is often complicated and confusing. People often come to us struggling to understand what they can and cannot include in their statement.

Victim Support Scotland have previously worked to produce court resources that make use of language which is clearer and easier to understand. This would be a simple change to make to improve the current scheme.

5. Allow victims to make their impact statement at the same time as giving a witness statement to the police

In England, all victims who report a crime can make their Victim Personal Statement (VPS) at the same time as giving a witness statement to the police. In 2018/2019 55% of the victims who were given an opportunity to make statements went on to do so. This appears significantly higher than the uptake figures for Scotland.

VSS will always support the decision of any victim who choses not to make an impact statement and their numerous reasons why that is the case. However, we also acknowledge that it can take a significant period of time to process and come to terms with the trauma they have experienced. Giving those victims who wish to make their impact statement along with a witness statement the option must be examined as part of this consultation process.

6. Provide more resources to support victims who wish to submit an impact statement

Adopting any of the recommendations for improvements to the Victim Impact Statement scheme, would likely see more people coming to VSS for assistance and support.

As a key support provider for victims across Scotland, we would welcome this and be keen to ensure we have the necessary resources in place to help those victims that have come to us for practical and emotional support throughout their journey through the justice system and beyond, in whatever way is appropriate for them.

The overwhelming feedback we receive from staff and victims is that there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ – people express themselves in different ways and this consultation is the start of long overdue process to give them the opportunity and support needed to do so.