Victim support bill passed by MSPs

From Democracy Live: MSPs debate the Victims and Witnesses Bill before passing it

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Offenders will have to pay towards the cost of supporting victims of crime, under new laws passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The government's Victims and Witnesses Bill also aims to give victims more information about their case.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said it would put victims and witnesses at the heart of the justice system.

The bill was passed unanimously by MSPs, but opposition parties said it needed further improvement.

Mr MacAskill told parliament: "For too long, victims have been treated and made to feel like bystanders in the criminal justice system.

"The passage of this bill will see more consideration given to the rights and needs of victims and witnesses of crime and will improve their experience of the system to which they turn to see justice served."

As well as the "victim surcharge" to be paid by offenders to those who suffer from criminal acts, Scottish ministers said the legislation would also:

  • Set out rights for victims to see certain information about their case.
  • Allow victims of sexual assaults to choose the gender of the police officer who interviews them.
  • Place a duty on justice organisations to set clear standards of service.
  • Allow victims to make oral representations to the Parole Board about the release of life sentence prisoners.

Labour's Graeme Pearson sought to amend the legislation, in a move which he said would better balance the rights of the accused and the needs of witnesses, although his amendment was not supported by the government.

"I hope that the cabinet secretary has taken some evidence that we've offered through the afternoon and will take steps to improve, again, the contents of this bill," said Mr Pearson.

A Conservative amendment to give rape victims the right to legal advice before personal information was accessed by lawyers was also rejected by Holyrood.

Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said her party would back the legislation, but added: "There are clearly glaring omissions in its content which we can only hope will be rectified in the future."

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