Friday, August 10, 2007

Victims of serious crime to be given a say in court as Civil justice awaits badly needed reforms

Reforms to the Justice system are certainly in the slow lane these days, as the Scottish Executive dust off an old chestnut to give the victims of "serious crime" a chance to make a statement to the court which it is claimed, the Sheriff or Judge would "have" to take into account, possibly resulting in a longer sentence.

What is going to be defined as a serious crime ?

The Scotsman article quotes Mr MacAskill on this as :

"This will give victims of serious crimes such as murder, rape or serious assault the right to make a statement telling the court about the emotional, financial and medical impact a crime has had on them, after conviction but before sentencing," he said. "It's important, however, to be clear - the statements would be just one factor that judges will take into account when passing sentence."

We've heard all this before though ... time & again over the years ... pleas for victims to be heard, nothing being done, and then members of the judiciary taking their own view as they always do, because of course "they know best - better than any victim"

However, isn't all crime serious ? - even the crimes which no one wants to deal with, such as misconduct & negligence by the professions against the public ? or is that to be left conveniently sidelined as "civil issues" just to escape any responsibility for doing anything to help the thousands of people each year in Scotland who fall into the category of taking issue with the supposedly "well respected" professionals such as lawyers, accountants, doctors, Police, and the like ? .. who all happen to be self regulated'.

The Scotsman today in their story, quotes Mr MacAskill, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice as saying :

"The past Executive flagged up the needs of victims and the person who perhaps drove it most was the current Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, who realised that, as a community and as a legal entity, Scotland had forgotten the rights of victims. Nobody did it deliberately, but victims were seen as baggage, almost a nuisance. They were seen as an unnecessary encumbrance.

"We have to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. We have to realise they are the ones who have suffered, that they are not an encumbrance but that they have rights," he said.

Yes indeed, Mr MacAskill, the rights of victims does need to be put at the heart of the criminal justice system, but please don?t discriminate against the true needs of the public, and sideline the even greater numbers of victims who are left to make their own way in the horrors of the Civil Justice system in Scotland - which as you know yourself from your time as a solicitor, is in just as big a mess as the criminal justice system .. with perhaps even fewer rights available to the individual to pursue matters, particularly when it comes to access to justice issues & those who may decide that certain people with certain types of cases should not be given that access to justice.

How about extending this policy of allowing victims to make a statement as to how their lives had been ruined by the actions of others to other offences too .... For instance, when a crooked professional comes up for trial for negligence, fraud or ruining the lives of members of the public, the victims should be allowed to make a statement to the court too, to make everyone aware of the hurt and destruction one of these members of the allegedly greatly respected professions has caused to them.

It's all crime after all, Mr MacAskill .. and it's all serious too .. it's just that some people want to protect their colleagues after they have been found ripping off clients, or perhaps giving patients overdoses of medication ... so .. let the public have their say in all venues please ... rather than restrict again who gets the chance to tell their experiences at the hands of those who thrive & profit from injustice while others must suffer in silence, just to keep the lid on Scotland's not so honest legal system.

Victims to be given their say before their attackers are sentenced

MICHAEL HOWIE HOME AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT

VICTIMS of serious crime are to be given a much bigger voice in the justice system, The Scotsman has learned.

They will get the opportunity to provide a statement in court before their attacker is sentenced, under plans revealed by Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary.

He said that, for too long, victims had been treated as "baggage" by the system, but the statement would give them the chance to say how the crime had impacted on their lives, whether emotionally, physically or financially. In murder cases, the family of the victim would have the right to provide a statement.

In all instances, the statement would have to be taken into account by the sheriff or the judge, and it could result in a longer sentence.

A notification scheme, requiring prosecutors to tell victims when their attackers will be released from jail, will also be extended.

Mr MacAskill acknowledged steps had already been taken to improve the position of victims - and he pledged to ensure their rights would no longer be neglected by prosecutors and the courts.

"The past Executive flagged up the needs of victims and the person who perhaps drove it most was the current Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, who realised that, as a community and as a legal entity, Scotland had forgotten the rights of victims. Nobody did it deliberately, but victims were seen as baggage, almost a nuisance. They were seen as an unnecessary encumbrance.

"We have to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. We have to realise they are the ones who have suffered, that they are not an encumbrance but that they have rights," he said.

The move follows a two-year pilot scheme at courts in Edinburgh, Ayr and Kilmarnock. An evaluation found that six out of ten families of victims of the most serious crimes, such as murder and death by dangerous driving, wanted to provide a pre-sentence statement.

However, the Executive-commissioned research, which was published in March, raised concerns that victim statements, which are already allowed south of the Border, risked prejudicing the accused and could falsely raise the expectations of victims. Some victims also decided not to give statements for fear of reprisals.

Some of those concerns were echoed by experts last night.

Dr Susan McVie, a criminologist at Edinburgh University, said: "I think in cases where victims don't get the chance to describe the impact the crime has had on them, or cases where the victim is no longer around to speak out, this can be a very positive thing.

"In theory, it's a good idea, but many victims don't bother to take it up."

She went on: "Does it mean offences are treated differently in cases where a victim statement is read, compared to when cases are not read out? Research tends to focus on the effect on victims, but this is something that I think we need to look at."

However, most victims who signed up to the pilot scheme thought it was worthwhile, which is why Mr MacAskill plans to extend the scheme to all cases heard before a judge in the High Court or a sheriff and jury.

"This will give victims of serious crimes such as murder, rape or serious assault the right to make a statement telling the court about the emotional, financial and medical impact a crime has had on them, after conviction but before sentencing," he said. "It's important, however, to be clear - the statements would be just one factor that judges will take into account when passing sentence."

The Executive already commits £4million a year to Victim Support Scotland, which helped to operate the pilot schemes between November 2003 and November 2005.

Mr MacAskill acknowledged that rolling out the pilots will require extra funding, which is why the project will not officially be given the green light until after the government's forthcoming spending review.

David McKenna, the chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, said: "The final stages of a court case, particularly in cases such as rape and serious violence, are often the most distressing to victims of crime.

"At present, the defence can say anything they like because nobody can say 'that's not true'. The family will sit in court and hear lies and see nobody bothering to correct them because it doesn't affect the prosecution. They will hear someone being sentenced to five or six years and think that, if the court had been told that wasn't true, he would have got seven or eight years."

Under the pilot schemes, prosecutors told the victim or their family they were entitled to give a pre-sentence statement. They were then given a form and offered the help of Victim Support to fill it in. The form took the victim through the different areas where the crime might have impacted on them.

"Theoretically, there's nothing to stop the victim writing their statement on the back of an envelope," Mr McKenna said.

Bill Aitken, MSP, the justice spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said:

"I think these ideas have considerable merit and are worthy of support."
'You feel ignored - just like a number'

THE justice secretary's announcement has come too late for Frank Dewar and his wife, Allison.

Their 16-year-old daughter Karen was killed by Colyn Evans who attacked her with a knife, pushed her body into a bin and set it on fire.

It is more than two years since Evans was jailed for life for the murder that shocked a nation, but Mr Dewar still cannot understand why he and the rest of his family were "ignored" by the authorities as justice took its course.

Mr Dewar last night said he would have welcomed the opportunity to provide a pre-sentence statement to court, making clear to the world the damage the crime caused, not only to his family but to the community of Tayport in Fife, where the murder took place and where they continue to live.

He said: "The only statement we were allowed was one pre-prepared by a police officer that was read to the media.

"There was nothing. We were just put in a waiting room and told to stay there. Then we were led to court. After that, we were basically ignored all day."

Mr Dewar, 47, said he welcomed moves by the Scottish government to give victims and their families a bigger voice in the system.

He added: "We really would have liked to have the chance to express our feelings, just to put our point of view across to the judge and everyone else.

"There was a lot of anger. It had obviously affected the whole family, but it also affected the community of Tayport.

"At the moment, victims and their families feel awfully ignored. It's all too official. You feel just like a number."

As Evans was sentenced, in June 2005, Karen's friends and family shouted abuse at him in the courtroom.

One called out "animal" and shouted: "I hope you rot in hell, Evans."

The Dewar family had blamed social workers for "dumping" Evans in their village.

Fife Council placed Evans in a house in Tayport after he was released from a special needs school.

He had committed six sexual offences between the ages of ten and 16, five of which related to shameless and indecent exposure.

Notification scheme to be extended

THE number of victims of violent crime who can be warned when their attacker is released from prison is set to double.

At the moment, only victims in cases where the perpetrator is sentenced to four or more years in prison can sign up to the victim notification scheme.

That allows victims to be notified of the criminal's date of release, if the offender dies before release, if the offender is transferred outside Scotland, if the prisoner has escaped or absconded from custody, and the first time the offender becomes eligible for temporary release.

Victim Support Scotland (VSS) has been pressing the justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, to drop the minimum tariff for the scheme to kick in from four years to one year.

Mr MacAskill has agreed in principle to lowering the minimum sentence and will now press his colleagues to sanction the extra funding required during a spending review later in the year.

Mr MacAskill said: "I believe that provision of accurate and timely information to victims is also important. That is why I am keen to find ways of expanding the victim notification scheme following a recent evaluation of its use for victims of serious crimes, I hope to at least double the number of victims covered by the scheme."

The scheme currently covers about 600 offenders a year and its expansion was last night welcomed by David McKenna, the chief executive of VSS. "It might not sound very exciting but the victim notification scheme really is very, very important for some people," he said.

"It can come as a really big shock for the victim of an assault to suddenly bump into their attacker in the street three and a half years after the case.

"We have asked for the scheme to be extended for cases where the offender is sentenced for 12 months or more."

Some academics have voiced concern that the scheme could be exploited by people who wished to carry out reprisal attacks, but Mr McKenna dismissed the suggestion.

"It is something of a myth that someone will be waiting at the prison gates with a baseball bat.

"People within the system say this never happens."
Judge left in tears at mother's devastation

ELIZABETH Davidson moved a judge to tears when she read out in court a witness impact statement describing her devastation after her daughter, Margaret, was killed in a car crash with a teenage motorist.

The 26-year-old junior doctor was driving to her home in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, in May 2006 when she was hit by Nolan Haworth, 19, overtaking on the brow of a hill while driving at up to 80mph in a 50mph zone. He was racing to court in a borrowed car with no licence to answer a charge of affray.

Dr Davidson had graduated from Oxford University in 2005 and was engaged to be married.

Mrs Davidson, from Hamilton, Lanarkshire, had her statement read out to judge Julian Hall at Oxford Crown Court last September.

It said: "Margaret was beautiful, fiercely intelligent and a caring, thoughtful girl who loved fun, good food and wine, and the company of family and friends.

"How do I feel knowing I will never see her smile again? How do I feel knowing I will never see her arrive off the train, toss down her bag and wrap her arms around me and hear her say, 'how's my wee mum?'

"Can you imagine the distress of having to choose the dress she will wear in her coffin instead of the one she will wear on her wedding day?

"I can't begin to tell you the sorrow of telling my son by phone that his dear sister was dead. All that talent, all that hard work, wiped out in an instant.

"After years of studying and hard work on her part and financial struggles on ours, Dr Margaret E Davidson BM BCHMA graduated from Oxford University.

On her way up to receive her degree, she turned to me and smiled a smile of sheer joy, love and gratitude.

"Less than a year later, I collected a very tasteful carrier bag containing a cardboard box labelled 'the remains of the late Dr Margaret E Davidson'.

"I don't know if these words have conveyed my sense of loss. Perhaps I should have saved your time and said I loved Margaret from her first breath, and I will love, mourn and miss her until my last."

Haworth was sentenced to four years in jail.

17 comments:

Al said...

Excellent article as always Peter.

Yes, indeed. What about the many thousands of victims at the hands of our Cabinet Secretary FOR JUSTICE'S pals in the Scottish legal "profession" over the years?

When are they all going to have their "victim impact statement", Mr MacAskill???

Will you ever allow it under your model of Scottish "Justice"???

Anonymous said...

A bit of a contrast to last weeks effort of MacAskill isn't it ?Victims this time before assailants ?

Maybe he needs to go out more and meet with victims instead of his pals in the legal mafia.Or is this just more spin ?

Miriam said...

Al

Get MacAskill to meet with the "victims of his pals in the Scottish legal profession" and then lock the bloody door so he cant get out :)

Anonymous said...

"It's important, however, to be clear - the statements would be just one factor that judges will take into account when passing sentence."

What happens if there's a miscarriage of justice and the Crown Office put away the wrong person?

Will the wrongly convicted be able to sue the supposed victim for what they put in their statement pre sentencing (which presumably would be a lie if it was a miscarriage of justice)

wee rab said...

More BS from Bill Aitken and the fascist tories.If it were left to them victims would be sent to the gas chamber along with the convicted so neither rock the boat.

riddlemethis said...

MacAskill couldn't spell justice if it was washed up in an empty bottle of buckfast.

What will he do if one of his proud lawyer colleagues turn up on boy raping charges ? Better not allow the boy to testify to that one huh Mr Justice Secretatry!

Anonymous said...

LOL at the last comment

Is that what all Scots lawyers appearing in court are into these days ?

Seriously though the SNP are getting there so just give them a chance.Doesn't hurt to keep up the pressure !

Anonymous said...

Lets have more on the crooked lawyers

Anonymous said...

so whats your point ? complainers should be able to tell everyone how bent their lawyers are and what they did to them ?

Anonymous said...

surprised you missed this for comment about one of your arch critics at the hootsmon- http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/scotland.cfm?id=1263432007

Scottish lawyer on the mend after shipboard glacier accident

A SCOTTISH lawyer was among six passengers and crew injured on a Arctic sightseeing boat after falling ice from a glacier triggered a massive wave.

Donald Reid, a law columnist for The Scotsman, suffered a punctured lung, fractured ribs and a fractured shoulder blade after being flung across the ship when the wave struck.

Last night the vessel's Russian captain was being questioned by investigators who want to establish whether he navigated too close to the ice cliff when it broke off.

Travel company Discover the World, which booked the British passengers on the trip, claimed the captain acted "irresponsibly" in allowing his vessel to get too close to the glacier.

A spokeswoman for Discover the World said last night: "After discussions and evidence from our passengers, we are convinced that the accident was caused due to the negligence of the captain.

"We are considering what action to take next - however, the captain will not be permitted to be on board any future voyage carrying Discover the World passengers."

The Russian-crewed Aleksey Maryshev was on an 11-day charter trip around the Norwegian-owned island of Svalbard islands with 46 passengers.

Mr Reid, 56, of Bearsden, Glasgow, was travelling with his wife Ruth, 57.

When the accident happened he was airlifted to an intensive care unit in Tromso, Norway, after rescue boats from an Arctic research station in the island chain picked up the casualties; but yesterday he was well enough to be transferred to a lower category of care.

A British woman who suffered head and chest injuries and a Russian crew member were among five people flown to Tromso.

Mrs Reid is believed to have avoided more serious injury by sheltering behind a large coil of rope.

A Scottish doctor on board the ship treated the injured before they were picked up and transferred to hospital.

Peter Cherbi said...

#Al @ 3.23pm

Yes, it's about time Mr MacAskill decided to meet with the victims of injustice too, not just the professions who have caused plenty injustice. As others suggest, I think it's about time we asked for such a meeting.

#Anonymous @ 6.13pm

The official line of the Crown Office is there is no such thing as a Miscarriage of Justice in Scotland, so they won't be planning for that eventuality. You make a good point though - it will be interesting to see how a victims statement to a court pre sentencing might be handled in the event the conviction turns out to be unsafe or false.

#Anonymous @ 2.20pm

My point is that if victims of crimes are going to be allowed to attest to their experiences at the hands of the guilty, the victims in such cases as ; TOP LAWYER AT THE CENTRE OF 12 NEGLIGENCE CLAIMS or this : LAWYER SUED FOR £1MILLION or even a horrendous case I wrote about here : Lawyers complaints system thought to have caused intimidation of clients for years should also have the same rights to make statements on how their lives have been ruined by such people .. and there are thousands of victims a year in such circumstances who would welcome the chance to speak out - currently denied to them.

#Anonymous @ 4.31pm

I didn't realise that incident involved the lawyer columnist Mr Reid from the Scotsman.

I'm well aware as to his opinion of me & those who take issue with the 'honesty' of the legal profession - a senior member of the Scotsman staff told me verbatim of it, and I've read plenty of his opinions in his Scotsman 'articles', but I will refrain from engaging in comments & tactics more akin to the legal profession, who even use national newspapers to try to set people up on criminal charges, as you can see from this story : Cash laundering link to law chief stabbing Instead, I wish all of those invovled a speedy recovery.

Archie said...

Hi Pete

Smart answer wins the day again :D

If it had been you they would have been wishing you dead just like they did when your mum died.

Do I need to say keep up the good work :D

Anonymous said...

It looks like Ive stumbled upon the Jack Bauer against lawyers.Good luck kid it sounds like you are doing a lot of good against these hoods and a big hi to Scotland from NY

Anonymous said...

Just read your comments in the Scotsman on the story by Jennifer Veitch

You are certainly in tune with the news on this new complaints outfit against lawyers.Do you think it will be any good or as bad as lawyers investigating lawyers ?

catnip said...

Dont let these thugs provoke you with comments on stuff like that but I can see you measure your responses anyway.
Good work as always - the hootsmon wouldn't be the same without you !

Anonymous said...

If ever you go into legal work I'll look you up for representation

whatsinaname said...

A good answer Peter.Victims of sharp practice by their legal representatives should be allowed to give a statement on how their lives were affected just like anyone else.

You should put this idea forward to the Justice Department for inclusion in the remit of the SLCC.