Victim Support Scotland (Meetings)

Justice and Law Officers – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 14th June 2007.

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Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour 2:15 pm, 14th June 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive when it intends to meet representatives of Victim Support Scotland. (S3O-245)

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I am keen to meet representatives of Victim Support Scotland and of other voluntary organisations that work in the justice system as soon as is practicable.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

Is the minister aware of the sense of abandonment and frustration that victims of sexual abuse feel when Crown cases are deserted for reasons other than lack of evidence? First, will he undertake, with the Lord Advocate, to review the circumstances under which such cases have been deserted, to determine whether any lessons can be learned? Secondly, will he consider whether, when there is no option but to desert a case, automatic referral to the children's reporter might provide both a community safety net and a sense to victims who come forward—often under difficult circumstances—that their voice is being heard?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

It is a difficult area, but a great deal of progress has been made on how we deal with the victims of sexual offences. That progress was begun under the previous Executive, and particular credit must be given to the current Lord Advocate. For far too long, victims were treated simply as part of the legal process, and not with the sympathy and dignity to which they were entitled. Although a considerable distance has been travelled, progress must still be made, and the Government intends to continue to build on what has been done.

I am not aware of particular problems, but I am happy to consider any representations that the member makes. There are difficulties for the Crown when, unfortunately, it is impossible to proceed in the public interest, even though a victim feels aggrieved. That can be the case for a variety of reasons, whether because victims or witnesses are not in a position to give evidence or because there are matters that it may be inappropriate to discuss with the wider public. Nevertheless, I am aware of the member's interest in the matter, the progress that the previous Executive made and the endeavours of the current Lord Advocate, on which the Government will seek to continue to build.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Some weeks ago, a pensioner came to my surgery who had been the victim of a street robbery and had lost two weeks' pension money as a result. Despite his best efforts, he had been unable to recover any of that money, and he felt that he had not been kept informed of progress in his case. That is not an isolated incident, by any means. The previous Executive made progress on conveying information to the victims of major crime. Does the minister have any plans to make it easier for victims of crime to get compensation and information about their cases as they go through the justice system?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

We are required to keep such matters constantly under review. As the member may be aware, some of the issues relate to the way in which the Crown Office interacts with victims and some relate to individual police matters. It would be inappropriate of me to interfere with the operational independence of chief constables. However, it is my experience as a constituency member and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice that, in the main, the police try to keep members of the public and victims of crime informed. There may be times when, because of pressure of work or for a variety of other reasons, matters slip through the net. The Government will seek to monitor that and ensure that best practice is adhered to.

From the lowest constable to the highest chief constable in the land, the police service has served us well and will continue to do so. Mistakes may be made, but I am sure that they will be rectified. It is a matter of trying to ensure that the best service is provided to our communities and to the victims of crime, in particular.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

The minister mentioned the role of the police service and the importance of the independence of chief constables throughout Scotland. Can he therefore advise us why, in his statement to The Courier , he said that the Executive will seek to place police officers in our communities? Is the minister going to introduce new legislation that will give him the power of ministerial direction to place such requirements on our local police authorities?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

No, it is not the intention of the Government to usurp the role of the chief constables. We will, however, provide the chief constables with the additional officers to do with what they want. I know from my discussions with chief constables that they share the Government's desire to have a visible police presence in their communities.

It is not for the cabinet secretary to specify where individuals should serve; it is for this Government to try to ensure that sufficient police officers are available to allow chief constables to deliver what their communities want, which is a visible police presence that reassures communities and deters criminals in our towns and cities.