Victims' Rights

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:28 pm on 15th September 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 5:28 pm, 15th September 2005

I, too, congratulate Margaret Jamieson on having her motion accepted for debate tonight. I concur with many of the sensible suggestions that she made. I do not always agree with Kenny MacAskill, but I very much agree with him that something is out of kilter when the rights of a perpetrator of crime seem to count for much more than a victim's rights. That is why I welcomed much of what the First Minister said in his statement on the legislative programme about the improvements to the justice system that will take place, including action on remand and bail and reform to sheriff courts.

I will not speak much about financial compensation, which has been well discussed; I will talk about other instances in the justice system where victims' human rights seem to count for less than others' rights. I will refer to local issues and local cases.

The Minister for Justice is well aware that when Adam Carruthers appealed against his sentence for the rape of two women constables, I was concerned that the justice system seemed to let down those rape victims by the continual protraction of the case and of the appeals system. I know from replies from the minister that action was taken to try to prevent that from happening in future, but we still have a problem in the sheriff courts. I hope that the action that we will take will deal with what happens in sheriff courts.

More than two years ago in the Parliament, I referred to a case in which a nine-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a 15-year-old boy. I was concerned about the way in which the case was being protracted in the sheriff court. The young man was eventually convicted, sent to residential accommodation for a year and then returned to Dumfries and put into accommodation far from his victim. Unfortunately, he broke his bail conditions and went back to court. In his infinite wisdom, the sheriff decided to rehouse the young man with his family, which meant that he was housed opposite the school that the young girl still attends.

The young girl has moved home—her parents took her to another community—but her parents thought that it was in her interests to remain at the primary school because she had been so traumatised by her experience. Her granny lives just down the road from the school. There are conditions on the young man's bail and he is not allowed to go into the school, but they will not prevent the young girl from meeting him when she visits her granny or leaves school.

Where are the young girl's rights? Her granny came to see me during the summer recess in a fair state of upset. Nobody had told her about what was happening—she had found out from a neighbour. She said to me, "When I heard about what was happening, I was physically sick." Where are her rights? Something is still wrong and out of kilter if we do not sufficiently consider victims' rights.

I do not agree with everything Margaret Mitchell says, but I agree with what she said in this debate. I want to see a lawyer take somebody to court over a victim's rights. I challenge the real community out there to make an offer to a victim to take the perpetrator of a crime to court over the suffering that has been caused to that victim. It will take a hell of a long time for the little girl who was sexually assaulted to recover from what the young man did to her. At present, the system does not stick up for her rights.