In our manifesto, we set out a range of commitments aimed at ensuring that victims’ rights lie at the heart of our justice system. As a result, we will appoint a victims commissioner to provide an independent voice for victims; we will review the provision of victim services; we will introduce a justice-specific knowledge and skills framework for trauma-informed practice; and we will ensure that restorative justice services are widely available across Scotland by 2023. Over the past five years, we have invested more than £88 million from the justice budget in supporting victims, including £18.2 million this year, and we are developing a new funding regime to ensure that support is available to all victims, regardless of crime type or location.
Victims’ rights should, of course, be at the centre of our justice system, and the introduction of a victims commissioner provides Scotland with a real opportunity to lead the way globally on that. Does the cabinet secretary think that the Scottish victims commissioner could emulate the success of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland?
The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland plays a crucial role as the champion and guardian of children’s rights, providing challenge where necessary. In those respects, the role is not dissimilar to that of the Scottish Veterans Commissioner, which I introduced a number of years ago.
The member is right to draw parallels with the role that a victims commissioner could play as an independent figurehead, representing victims’ views and championing their cause while ensuring that policy and practice are considered from a victim’s perspective. We will therefore work closely with victims and victims organisations to develop a role that is tailored to meet the needs of those affected by crime in Scotland, and a key facet of that role will be working with the children’s commissioner to ensure that victims of all ages have their voices heard.
This week, I received a letter from the Parole Board for Scotland, telling me that the violent criminal who committed an attack against me had applied and been rejected for parole. I am one of the lucky ones: I am entitled to this information because my attacker is serving a sentence of longer than 18 months, whereas other victims of horrific crimes, including sexual violence, are not eligible for the victim notification scheme. Will the cabinet secretary consider extending the scheme to include victims in cases in which the offender has been sentenced to less than 18 months?
As the member will know from previous exchanges, the Government is committed to making a number of changes, including in this area. Indeed, some of those changes will reflect some of the proposals that are set out in the Conservatives’ 10-point plan with regard to victims.
Amendments to the Parole Board for Scotland rules that came into force on 1 March include provisions to ensure that the board considers the safety and welfare of victims on release and that victims receive a summary of its recommendations. Further work is being undertaken to rewrite the rules in order to modernise and simplify them, and we plan to consult on those new rules towards the end of the year.
There are commonalities in the approaches taken by the Conservatives and by the Government on this issue, and I make an offer that we work together on it, as it might well be that, with the approaches that are set out in our respective manifestos, we can achieve the same ends. I hope that the member will feel able to engage in the consultation and with the Government to achieve the best outcome.