Victim Support Scotland highlights concerns about mental health of victims during Covid-19 pandemic
Charity sees 400% increase in safeguarding reports of service users feeling suicidal.
Victim Support Scotland Chief Executive, Kate Wallace, has written to members of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee to highlight the devastating and lasting impact that delays to the operation of the criminal justice system has on victims of serious crime, while courts are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Victim Support Scotland has raised concerns that the use of a smaller number of jurors could result in an increase in mistrials, due to illness or a juror having to self-isolate if they present with COVID-19 symptoms.
This, it is feared, could cause further delays to trials and be distressing for victims.
In the letter, Victim Support Scotland also claims that there has been a 400% increase in the number of safeguarding reports coming through its services, where victims and witnesses supported by the charity have talked about suicidal thoughts.
Victim Support Scotland wants assurances for victims that proceedings in serious crime cases are concluded as early as possible to avoid further traumatisation for vulnerable victims and their families.
Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, comments:
“We know all too well how wating for criminal proceedings to be brought forward for serious crimes can be profoundly challenging and traumatic for victims.
“I am deeply concerned that proposals for smaller juries increases the risk of mistrial. Any move that increases the potential for a mistrial to occur will have a devastating impact on the mental health and wellbeing on people affected by crime.
“I press upon members of the Justice Committee to ensure that decisions on the resumption of jury trials respect both the rights of the accused and victims during this global pandemic. To not consider these issues in full, runs the risk of further trauma to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable victims and witnesses.”
“It is also hugely concerning that we at Victim Support Scotland have witnessed a large increase in the number of our service users saying that they are feeling suicidal, due in part to the situation with coronavirus.
“In some instance, we have heard that people have become distressed due to early release of prisoners. Feelings of isolation are compounding an already difficult situation for some victims resulting in self-harm.
“In response, we are doing all we can to support these people. We have increased our webchat service, for example, making it available on weekends. Our Victims’ Fund has been extended, thanks to additional emergency Covid funding from the Scottish Government, which means that victims will be able to access financial assistance for goods and services.
“Over the last month, there has been a number of incidents where our staff and volunteers have provided critical support to someone on the verge of taking their own life. By reaching out to them and linking in with other support agencies, we have helped develop a support package that suits their individual needs.
“We have also put in place a health and wellbeing programme to support our workforce of staff and volunteers. It’s important during Mental Health Awareness Week that we realise that we all need support with these difficult issues, if we are to ultimately provide the best services that we can for Scotland’s victims.”