Crime (Victims and Survivors Services)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 20 April 2022.

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Photo of Natalie Don Natalie Don Scottish National Party

4. To ask the Scottish Government what support it is making available to specialist services for victims and survivors of crime. (S6O-00961)

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

Our victim-centred approach fund is providing £48 million to 23 organisations across Scotland over the period 2022 to 2025. That will fund specialist services for people who are bereaved by crime. It will extend support and assistance to victims of human trafficking. It also includes £18.5 million for specialist advocacy support for survivors of gender-based violence.

We are also providing £38 million to more than 120 projects through delivery of the equally safe fund to tackle violence against women and girls and to support front-line services that maximise their safety and wellbeing.

I think that that underlines our commitment to victims and survivors, which is a key priority in our recently published strategy for Scotland’s justice sector.

Photo of Natalie Don Natalie Don Scottish National Party

I know that many valuable organisations are receiving funding, and I am sure that it will provide essential support to many victims of crime. However, in speaking with organisations and in my own personal dealings with constituents, it has been highlighted to me that there is concern about support for and stigma among people who are victims of facial disfigurement and facial scarring. Can the cabinet secretary provide any information or assurance on how that funding could be used for those victims?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I am happy to do so, but I would say to Natalie Don that she might be interested in, or already aware of, the fact that, in Baroness Helena Kennedy’s recent report on misogyny, she has recommended action that can be taken in relation to people who purposely disfigure others, and women in particular.

On this important issue, in recognising the profound impact that arises both where someone receives a facial injury as a result of crime and where those with facial disfigurements are very unfortunately on the receiving end of abuse, we would expect that funded organisations will be able to provide practical and emotional support but also that they will refer to more specialist support, including through health services, where that is available. We will continue to work with funded organisations as a community of interest to ensure that those issues are recognised. We would welcome any specific suggestions from Natalie Don as to how that might be done most effectively, including on how we might build a better understanding and evidence base around those concerns.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

Victims tell us that where the system is currently letting them down is in the horrifying scenario in which they bump into an offender in their community after the offender’s release from prison. It is a fact that far too few victims have been notified of the release of an offender.

Is the cabinet secretary willing to address that by supporting two principles in my proposed victims bill? The first is to ensure that more victims are notified about the release of prisoners. The second is to further empower victims by enabling them to request exclusion zones around their communities to ensure that they are not further traumatised by simply bumping into someone in a supermarket.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I think that Jamie Greene has made those suggestions before, and I do not want to dismiss them out of hand. I am happy to consider them and to look in detail at Jamie Greene’s victims bill when it is introduced.

I think that we have to increase the level of notifications and make sure that notification is being consistently applied. I am happy to concede that point, and we are doing things now that will address that. It is also true in relation to other aspects that Jamie Greene has raised in the past, such as notifications of Parole Board for Scotland hearings. I am happy to take on board those points and to continue those discussions. Notification is taking place, but we should make sure that it is being done more comprehensively. I am happy to have that discussion.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Some victims of sexual assault have said that they feel like criminals in the trial process. I welcome the commitment in “The Vision for Justice” to improve communication with complainers through having a single trauma-informed source of contact.

Can the cabinet secretary confirm that that will be treated with some urgency by the Scottish Government? Would he also consider the inclusion of some legal representation in that process? One thing that concerns me is that a person needs to have an understanding of the legal system when they talk to victims and complainers. Katy Clark and I have been proposing that measure.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

Pauline McNeill makes a very important point about people’s ability to understand legal processes. We have had discussions in the chamber about the not proven verdict in which it has been conceded that judges are not even allowed to explain to a jury the difference between not proven and not guilty.

If the people the system is meant to serve do not understand it—even if all the lawyers understand it—that is a major problem.

I have some sympathy with what Pauline McNeill says. There are some compelling arguments In relation to legal representation for complainers. There are also some concerns, including from the legal profession, but we are looking at that urgently and will publish our thoughts shortly. I am looking for additional suggestions. We are not ruling that out, but it is a complex area. I am happy to continue those discussions.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

How will the sexual assault response co-ordination service—SARCS—help those who have experienced a sexual crime?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

SARCS is a dedicated service provided by the national health service that can offer healthcare and support in the days after rape or sexual assault if a person is not ready to report that to the police or is unsure whether to do so. That is known as self-referral. Through the chief medical officer’s rape and sexual assault task force, we have invested £11.7 million in the four years up to 2022 to support implementation of the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Act 2021 and to either enhance or create SARCS across Scotland.

We know from listening to survivors that access to self-referral is an important way of giving control back to people. It is also a fundamental aspect of the forensic medical examination facilities that we are looking to roll out. Those services may have a positive influence on a person’s decision to report a crime to police, while ensuring that they are also able to access health services following an incident.