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The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 2:


Before Clause 6, insert the following new clause:

("Duty to provide victims with information

. In all proceedings there shall be a duty upon courts to recognise the position and vulnerability of victims and their families within the criminal justice system, and a consequent duty to provide victims with information about the progress of their case, on request.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the purpose of Amendment No. 2 is to secure in the Bill a statement of principle with which I doubt that any noble Lord present today would disagree. I believe that it would enhance the law of Scotland and send a powerful message to

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the Scottish people if the concern of the criminal justice system for victims of crime could be enshrined in the statute.

Let me set the context of the amendment. We already have in the statutes many measures of care for offenders. We have probation orders with and without special conditions, community service orders, supervised attendance orders, intensive probation schemes, diversion from prosecution schemes—that is, both reparation and mediation—and bail accommodation schemes. All those are community-based disposals.

In prison, we have personal officer schemes, social work departments, education departments, alcohol and drug dependency projects and special units. The Scottish Prison Service has as its motto: "Dare to care". There are parole schemes, fiscal fines which avoid criminal records, police warnings, and 16 and 17 year-olds may be referred by the courts to the children's panel rather than being dealt with as offenders.

All that is excellent and, as someone who has worked on social work projects within the criminal justice system for several years, I am convinced of their merit, with the one proviso that the offender must be at the right stage to benefit from them. However, I detect a feeling in Scotland that the balance of care is tilted too far towards offenders. My solution to that is not to diminish services to offenders, but to add weight to services to victims. We already have a situation where victims are being helped on an informal basis by the police, court officers, their family and friends and by volunteers from the victim support schemes which operate throughout Scotland.

I believe that the statement of principle in the Bill would send a signal to the criminal justice system, to the general public, to offenders—especially those on social work disposals—and finally to those victims who have lost faith in the system and believe that personal revenge is the only way forward.

Before moving the amendment, I wish also to speak to Amendment No. 85. It seeks to confirm a particular task upon the court system in dealing with victim witnesses in particular. I say "confirm" because I know that many of the tasks described in the amendment are already happening on an informal basis. I believe that the ideas in the amendment, which has been drafted by Victim Support Scotland, would focus the attention of all courts throughout Scotland and enable them to work to a new national standard. I fully accept that the court staff in Scotland are rightly busy, but I believe that flagging these ideas would improve the quality of the court service and enable it to build expertise in that direction in the future. I beg to move Amendment No. 2.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar: My Lords, from this side of your Lordships' House, I wish to add support to the general principle enunciated by the noble Earl in the two amendments. I am not nit-picking and I do not say that the wording of the two amendments is particularly apt. However, that is a matter for consideration perhaps at a later stage in another place.

From the information that I have received, I know that the Government are looking closely at the question of the interests of the victim. What the noble Earl was

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doing was to put down a necessary marker that the Government cannot walk away from the problem of the impact of crime on the victims and, importantly, their families. That would impinge on the effects on the families of people who are killed, murdered or victims of culpable homicide. It is quite common for people to complain that once they have given their statement to the police, they do not know what is happening. We have been through this before, sometimes such people read about it in the local newspaper and wonder why they were not informed.

I hope that the initiative which the Government have already indicated they will follow will be pursued with some vigour, and that they will take the message from the noble Earl that the victim should at least be on a par with the offender in terms of information about what is happening.

I wish to raise one issue in relation to Amendment No. 2: whether the words "on request" are necessary or whether there should be a duty to provide victims with information as to the progress of "the" case, because it is not "their" case. The case belongs to the state because the state brings it, but there are victims in the case who are entitled to know precisely what is going on. To take the matter one stage further, they are entitled to know when the offender is being released from prison, if he has been sent to prison as a result of the offence. I support the noble Earl.

Lord Milverton: My Lords, the principle of the amendment is good and so is the initiative, for the offender and the victim of crime. Not only in Scotland but in the rest of the country there is a feeling which I have come across, as all noble Lords have, even down this way. It seems that the victims and their families are too easily dispensed with, unless for some reason the press think that it is good for the victim of the crime and the family for it to take notice. Then the press will go into it headlong.

I believe that it is important because victims and their families do not get a fair deal, the emphasis is too heavily on the offender, always finding a reason or an excuse for him so that he does not have to accept any responsibility, as he should and must do. Therefore, the principle and the initiative are thoroughly good and I hope to hear from the Government that they will agree to the amendment and are willing to work on it. I support the amendment.

Lord McCluskey: My Lords, I apologise for the roughness of my voice as I have laryngitis and also for the fact that, having just arrived from a trial in Glasgow, I have only recently discovered that the groupings include some of my amendments with Amendment No. 2. I am afraid that once again I do not accept that grouping.

As to Amendment No. 2, I wish to join in the welcome for the principle that lies behind it. However, I remind the House that a number of problems have not been addressed in it. First, it is vital to draw a distinction between a person who is the alleged victim of an alleged crime before the jury or the judge has returned a verdict and the person who is the victim of an established crime which the jury has held to be proved. It is important not

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to jump the gun and suppose that everyone who complains of having been the victim of an assault is necessarily the victim. That is an abuse of language which I have seen in legislation in the United States and it can lead to an unfortunate position. We must find some way of differentiating in our legislative language between persons who are alleged victims and persons who are undoubtedly victims.

I seek to make that distinction and shall speak to it when I deal with Amendment No. 57. That amendment is concerned with people who are established to be the victims of a crime and it gives them a right to attend the sentencing proceedings. At that stage the crime has been proved and it has been proved that there is a victim. As I said in Committee, often after a street battle the winners go into the dock as the accused and the losers go into the witness box as the witnesses and the victims. Sometimes it takes a sophisticated process to determine who are the real victims and what were the real assaults.

I also wish to draw attention to the duty in the amendment to provide victims with information about the progress of the case. That would be a most extensive duty to perform. In Amendment No. 57 I have sought to impose a more modest duty in respect of sentencing proceedings in solemn procedures; that is, in jury cases, which are relatively small in number. However, if in every case in Scotland where there is a probable victim it becomes necessary to supply him with information at all stages of the process, the cost to the criminal justice system would be staggering and it would not work.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, in moving the amendment, the noble Earl suggested that there might be a statement on the face of the Bill which indicates the concern that we all have for victims in Scotland. I understand his desire to do that, but I hope that from a broader reading of the Bill he will appreciate that one of the principal themes running throughout is that we should be taking steps to improve the position of witnesses, in particular victims. In Clauses 11 and 14, for example, we are trying to put in place better arrangements so that witnesses who may be victims are not unnecessarily brought to court to give their evidence. Clause 18 tightens up the provisions relating to attacks on character. We see that as being helpful to victims who are often extremely offended by such attacks. The provisions included in Clauses 12 and 13 to try to bring forward through the use of intermediate diets earlier pleas of guilty would similarly be of advantage to victims.

Furthermore, my Amendment No. 84 would insert a new clause that would establish a criminal courts rules council. I do not wish to go into the detail now, but the noble Earl will see that subsection (2) provides for:


    "two persons appointed by the Lord Justice General after consultation with the Secretary of State, at least one of whom must be a person appearing to the Lord Justice General to have... an awareness of the interests of victims of crime and of witnesses in criminal proceedings".

I hope that with that additional provision the noble Earl will appreciate that we share his objective of doing all that we can to ensure that victims are properly regarded

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in our criminal justice system. I appreciate the importance of ensuring that the vulnerability of victims as they attend court is properly understood.

Last October, I attended the launch of the report of a working party on victims within the criminal justice system. It was based on the experiences at Hamilton Sheriff Court. That report offered valuable insights, and I was encouraged to see that a number of its recommendations have already been adopted by the main agencies as normal working practice. Against that background, I see no need to impose on the courts a statutory duty of the kind proposed. Moreover, it is difficult to see what imposing a duty in such general terms would achieve.

The second part of the amendment, which deals with the provision of information to victims, is also laudable in principle. But the courts are in a position only to provide certain kinds of information; for example, to use the terms of a previous amendment tabled by the noble Earl, information about the procedure and processes of the court. However, information about the progress of the trial is a matter about which the court might be completely ignorant. Such information would have to be obtained perhaps from the procurator fiscal or the police. As was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, that would be an extremely extensive duty to place on the courts and I do not believe it is proper to do so. It would require them to provide information that they did not have to hand and it may be that the procurator fiscal would be the appropriate person to go to.

As I explained at an earlier stage, support for victims at court is best provided by the court-based social worker and by volunteers from Victim Support (Scotland). Arrangements for that are already in place. I believe that such an approach would be appropriate; it would be inappropriate to impose a general duty as provided in Amendment No. 2.

Amendment No. 85 contains a number of technical defects, not least concerning who is the victim and at what time he can appropriately be described as such. The noble Earl moves from discussing victim witnesses to victims and I am far from clear about what is proposed.

I hope that the noble Earl will recognise that we are sympathetic to the general aims of his amendment. However, we believe that the administrative changes already in place and the various agencies within the system are already doing what they can to improve the position. I hope that on that basis he will withdraw Amendment No. 2. The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, indicated that he did not wish now to speak to his amendments in the group and therefore I shall not respond to them now.


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