Victims' Rights

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:21 pm on 15th September 2005.

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 5:21 pm, 15th September 2005

This debate raises strong feelings that I am sure are genuine. However, it is with deep regret that I must say that at times it seems to have become not just difficult but almost unacceptable to suggest that prisoners have human rights, that their human rights should be defended and that the violation of their human rights should not be tolerated. In this debate, that is my position. I make that case with mixed feelings following an event that I attended last night. At a time when human rights in our society are being given a bad name, I hosted an event, in a room just around the corner, as the convener of the cross-party group on human rights: the Amnesty International human rights media awards. However, I was embarrassed to see that no other member of the Scottish Parliament was present at that successful event, which celebrated the work of journalists in Scotland who support human rights. It was embarrassing to have to admit that this Parliament appears to place little value on human rights.

In many debates on justice, a clear, sharp line is imagined between victims and offenders, with the Executive keen to present itself as being on the side of the victim. Of course we should be on the side of the victim but we should also have the courage to say that we are on the side of everyone whose interests we represent. Does inhumane and degrading treatment give offenders the best chance of changing their behaviour for the better? Does the violation of prisoners' human rights act as a reforming influence and represent good policy? I would challenge any member to make that case.

Respected voices in legal circles—Helena Kennedy is one that I would cite—have questioned the distinction between victims and offenders. Many offenders in our prisons are themselves the victims of crime. It is wrong to use the legitimate demands for greater respect for victims and for a bigger place for them in the system as a means to attack the rights of prisoners or to undermine the culture of human rights.

Some members might question how it is possible to be on the side of victims and the side of prisoners such as Robert Napier. However, that is difficult to understand only if we see the issue as an equation, as the motion implies that we are doing, that puts the human rights of prisoners before the human rights of victims. However, nobody has done that. The human rights of all are important; that is why we call them human rights.

A prisoner who is compensated for the violation of their human rights is not gaining "from their crimes", as the motion says, nor are they gaining from their incarceration; they are being compensated for the violation of their human rights.