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A great deal has been done recently to enhance the position of the victim in criminal proceedings, but there is ample room for further progress. After several years Victim Support has been successful in persuading the Home Office in England and Wales to agree to the systematic provision in each Crown Court centre of a professionally trained person, supported by volunteers, to assist victims and witnesses and, in fatal cases, the relatives of victims in the courts.
That began as a voluntary initiative, initially funded by a charitable foundation. After lengthy negotiation over a period of years the Home Office agreed to fund the programme. Recently the Home Secretary announced that he would extend it to all 80 Crown Court centres. Therefore, in about 20 or 30 Crown Court centres Victim Support is now running a full-time provision of the type envisaged in Amendment No. 129 moved by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie.
Lord McCluskey: It will be appreciated that the amendments cannot sensibly all be discussed at the same time. In my opinionand of course Members of the Committee will form their own viewthe amendment with which we are now dealing is quite different in character from the amendments which relate to the treatment of victims at a later stage in the proceedings when they have been identified as victims. Those raise entirely different points and must be dealt with separately.
Amendment No. 14 deals with a situation which arises when an accused person is given bail. The amendment requires the prosecutor to inform the victim or complainer if the accused is granted bail. The point that I made earlier that at that stage one cannot conclude that there is necessarily a victim obtains here. The noble Earl said that if an offence had been committed there must be a victim, but at that stage we do not even know whether an offence has been committed. The first object in a criminal trial is to show that an offence has been committed and then to bring home criminal responsibility to the person in the dock. It is only logical that at that stage one cannot properly talk in legal terms about a victim, although I understand that people who have been the subject of an attack of whatever kind will not engage in such niceties. However, we must do so when dealing with questions of bail. Therefore, we cannot assume at that stage that a person is a victim.
We have to recognise that it would be massively expensive and an administrative nightmare to try to intimate to every person who is a complainer whether bail has been granted. In Scotland we are already conscious that the fiscal service is massively
There is a further point. At the stage when bail is sought, if there is reason to suppose that the person who seeks bail may approach the person who is claiming to be injured, the fiscal can properly ask for a condition to be attached to the bail order preventing such an approach. The court will commonly grant that; it will not commonly be opposed.
Viscount Colville of Culross: Perhaps I may add a word from the English point of view following what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said. English practice is exactly as the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, described. If a bail application is made and it is thought that there is a possibility of the accused person approaching any witnessbecause at that time the victim is only a witnessit can be a condition of bail either that the accused does not contact that witness or, sometimes, does not go within a certain area where the accused might run into that witness.
That condition is then enforced by the police because it would be a breach of bail and consequently an arrestable matter if the person either approaches the victim or goes into that area. Not infrequently such matters come before the Crown Court as the result of an arrest, or a Bench warrant is issued because there is some evidence that the person is breaching the bail condition or is likely to do so. I suggest that it is much better to leave the matter to the judiciary to handle in that way through the police force rather than to impose what would be a difficult administrative, and, I agree with the noble and learned Lord, an expensive burden on someone.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I regret it if the grouping has caused some difficulty. I had some understanding that the grouping had been agreed. Possibly the noble and learned Lord was not aware of that agreement. That being so, it is always open to any noble Lord to deal with a matter when we come to it. Accordingly, in those circumstances, I propose to seek to deal only with those matters spoken to by the noble Earl in moving Amendment No. 14.
The amendment obliges the prosecutor to inform the victim of the granting of bail. I listened with great interest to what the noble and learned Lord said about the conditions that might be attached which would seem to parallel the way in which matters are handled south of the Border. However, this is not just a matter of imposing a condition to keep an accused person away from one against whom it is alleged he committed an offence. It is to oblige the prosecutor to inform the victim of the granting of bail. Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Windlesham that we accept that victims who wish to be informed should be given information about the progress of the case. That might include the circumstances in which bail was granted. However, we object to the straitjacket that the provision
I say to the noble Lord, if he is not already aware, that all Scottish police forces have a policy of providing information to victims. The force guidelines generally give individual officers a discretion as to the level of information to be provided to the victim. Officers make their own assessment of the victim's vulnerability and the severity of the offence. However, the noble Lord may not be aware that the Crown Office has commissioned research into information needs of victims. I can advise the Committee that the results of that research will be available shortly. Preliminary indications are that research has found that a significant number of victims are already given information on bail hearing. I am sure that that will be welcomed.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, may wish to return to victim impact statements at a later stage. However, the noble Earl made some reference to them, and they are contained within his amendment. I fully accept the principle that the effect of an offence on the victim or victims is a relevant and important consideration in sentencing. It is an important means of determining the gravity of the offence and thus an important means of determining the appropriate sentence. That is why procedures already exist to bring the relevant information to the attention of the court. I should have thought that in most cases where such information is properly to be brought before the courts, in Scotland the procurator fiscal or the advocate depute will have that information available, given our systemnot least of precognoscing witnesses; and almost invariably the victim will be one of those who has been precognosced. However, I may have to discuss later whether it is desirable to provide an impact statement in quite the form the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, suggested.
I hope that Members of the Committee will forgive me for one moment. I seek to extract what I wish to say from those issues on which I thought that the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, intended to speak.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: Perhaps I may be of some help to the noble and learned Lord. We have got ourselves into a slightly confused position. It is no responsibility of the noble and learned Lord. It seems to me that it is better if we deal with Amendment No. 14 first, and the other matters separately. Otherwise we shall get into an intolerably confused series of debates.
Lord McCluskey: Perhaps I may add a word of explanation. Unfortunately, because of my absence, I was entirely unaware of the grouping. Had I been consulted, I should certainly have suggested the removal of Amendment No. 14. from the grouping. I believe that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is one which has the approval of the Committee.
Lord Windlesham: I do not dissent from that. However, before we leave the issue, perhaps I may repeat the question in case the Minister of State requires notice. It will give him time to consider it before reaching Clause 48. I should like an answer to the question as to whether there are plans in Scotland to provide full time staff to support the victim during court proceedings. That is referred to in paragraph (c) of Amendment No. 129. Is that happening now? If so, in which criminal courts? If it is not, what is planned for the future? I look forward to the answer to those questions at the appropriate time.
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