The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 states: “a victim or witness should be able to participate effectively in the investigation and proceedings” and there are now measures in place to assist people with different needs to contribute to the process of justice.
Is there help available for Vulnerable witnesses?
Some witnesses might be particularly vulnerable because of their circumstances or the nature of their evidence. A witness who has a mental health condition, learning disability or is suffering fear and distress at the prospect of giving evidence might be considered vulnerable.
The COPFS Victim Information and Advice (VIA) service may be able to help vulnerable witnesses, for instance, in cases that involve domestic abuse, hate crime, and sexual crime. Bereaved relatives in deaths that may involve significant further inquiries or court proceedings may also be offered support. All children are considered vulnerable witnesses and cannot be named by the media when involved in criminal proceedings.
Some special measures can be taken to help vulnerable witnesses, including all children, such as giving evidence from behind a screen in the courtroom or by a television link, or having a support person with you in court. Witnesses may also need additional support if English is not their first language. A booklet explaining different ways to help a vulnerable witness give their evidence, using special measures, is available from the Scottish Government website.
What help can be given to disabled or elderly witnesses?
Most courts provide facilities for elderly and disabled witnesses, for instance, to allow wheelchair access. Some have a loop system for people with hearing difficulties. If you have a disability or other needs, you should tell the procurator fiscal. If you are disabled or elderly and restricted in your movements, you can hire a taxi for your journey to and from court. You must agree this with the fiscal beforehand and keep receipts to claim back expenses
English is not my first language – what about interpretation?
If you need an interpreter, either for a spoken language or for British Sign Language, or translated documents, the authorities will make provisions to ensure you can understand what is happening and that you can be understood throughout the different stages. The authorities will need to know the exact language and dialect so that a suitable interpreter can be arranged.
Victims of sexual violence, domestic abuse, human trafficking and stalking
A duty is placed on police officers to provide victims the opportunity to specify the gender of the police officer who is to interview them and the medical officer who is to examine them. This option is only given to victims of certain offences and it is also dependent on the resources of Police Scotland as to whether this request can be accepted.
Can I tell the court how the crime affected me?
Victim Statements -Victims or relatives of serious crimes will be given the opportunity to make a written statement that tells the court how the crime affected them – physically, emotionally and financially. http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/256204/0076050.pdf
Key points about victim statements are:
- A victim statement is a written statement that gives you the chance to tell the court, in your own words, how the crime has affected you physically, emotionally or financially. A victim statement is different from any statement you may have already given separately to the police, Procurator Fiscal or defence agent.
- You are being given the choice of making a statement because a decision has been made to prosecute the case (that is, to go to trial).
- Your victim statement will normally be given to the court if the accused either pleads guilty or is found guilty of the relevant offence after a trial, but before a sentence is passed.
- A copy will also be given to the defence.
- The Judge or Sheriff must consider all the circumstances of the case and your victim statement and decide what weight should be given to it.
- Your victim statement will not always have an effect on the sentence.
- Your victim statement should be truthful, to the best of your knowledge.
Will I be told if and when the offender is released from prison?
Victim Notification Scheme -Victims now have the right to make oral representations to the Parole Board for Scotland (‘PBS’) as well as written representations, where the convicted person is serving a sentence for life imprisonment and becomes eligible for release on licence. All other representations through the VNS to the Parole Board are still limited to written form.
Victims will now be able to make representations via the VNS about the licence conditions that may be imposed when a prisoner first becomes eligible to be considered for temporary release from prison.
You can find out more about the Victim Notification Scheme from the Scottish Prison Service. Contact them on 0131 244 8670