Victims' Rights

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:08 pm on 15th September 2005.

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Photo of Margaret Jamieson Margaret Jamieson Labour 5:08 pm, 15th September 2005

Last week the First Minister spoke in the chamber of justice and respect for Scotland and for the people of Scotland. I, like others, totally agree with him. Victims of crime would also agree with him and ask how those aims can be achieved by the Scottish Executive.

Take the circumstances of the victims of Robert Napier. He was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to six years for robbing and assaulting Margaret Zambonini and her assistant Jemma Carlton, who was then aged 15. Some would say that that is justice. However, Napier went on to complain that his rights had been violated as he had had to slop out while he was in prison on remand. Unfortunately for us—the custodians of the public purse—the gravy train swung into motion and the public purse was asked to fund his case for compensation.

Meanwhile, his victims, who had been terrorised by the knife-wielding criminal for over an hour, sought criminal injuries compensation. Napier and his legal team, who were, again, paid from the public purse, claimed that he had been suffering from eczema caused by the overcrowding, the slopping out and his spending 20 hours a day locked in a cell while on remand. His victims received criminal injuries compensation for his actions. Napier, who was convicted of a deliberate act, was awarded compensation of £2,450 by Lord Bonomy for the impact of slopping out.

Members would be right to ask where the justice is in that, hence the debate tonight. The case and its ramifications were raised with me by constituents of Kilmarnock and Loudon during the summer recess. They rightly saw the public purse as having been manipulated by convicted criminals. I take this opportunity to thank Lindsay Mcgarvie, political editor of the Sunday Mail, for assisting me in highlighting the injustice that has been afforded to victims of crime.

The floodgates have now been opened by those who see the opportunity to profit from their crimes, with us paying for it all. I have attempted to obtain information on the number of people who are pursuing the Scottish Executive in a similar vein. Unfortunately, the Executive requires more time to deal with my request fully. Had that information been available, I believe that the extent of the injustice to victims would have had an impact on the number of members attending the debate. That said, we now have an opportunity to rebalance the rights of victims of crime.

It is unfortunate that Stewart Stevenson is not here now. I welcome his statement last week in which he called for ring fencing of moneys in prisoners' bank accounts to give victims the opportunity to take action. I am sorry that he did not see merit in signing the motion for this debate, which takes the issue further.

A victim's right to sue a person who has been convicted of committing a crime against them and who subsequently derives financial benefit from whatever means should be at the top of our agenda. That financial gain could come from compensation, inheritance or even a lottery win. The retired judge, Lord McCluskey, agrees that those who inflict damage and end up with assets can and should have those assets seized.

No impediment to that right should come in the way of victims. Victims of crime should not be subject to time bars in pursuit of their assailants. Local authorities have no time bar in pursuing individuals for non-payment of council tax, so why should victims of crime be treated differently? There should be a condition that the convicted person is required to advise the court of their financial circumstances, thus giving the victim the opportunity to claim redress and the state the opportunity to reclaim payment.

In the coming weeks, we have an opportunity to demonstrate that we are on the side of victims of crime, when stage 2 of the Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Bill commences. That bill will provide a power to recover money from offenders for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

Victims such as Jemma, who is in the gallery tonight, who was unable to continue her studies because the trauma of the trial and reliving the harrowing events of the crime affected her ability to go back to school and sit her exams, should have their rights protected. Why should not Jemma, as a victim of crime, be given equal treatment in respect of compensation? Why should not she be afforded the opportunity to pursue her assailant when he comes into funds?

Those are the questions that we must address if we believe in justice and respect for all in Scotland.