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Offenders may face victims under Victims and Witnesses Bill amendment

13 November 2013

Offenders in Scotland could be confronted with victims giving a face-to-face account of the impact that the crime had on them, under an amendment to the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill passed by MSPs yesterday.

Opposition and independent members on the Justice Committee combined to pass the "restorative justice" provision on a 5-4 vote, against the arguments of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill that a more flexible approach was preferable.

Under the amendment, victims of crime will be offered the opportunity to have their say and receive a face-to-face apology from offenders. The aim is to force offenders to take personal responsibility in the presence of their victims. Such meetings would be at the option of the victim and would take place before sentence was passed. Offenders are assessed for their suitability for the process.

The approach is already used in tackling youth crime and is claimed to be a success.

Moving the amendment, Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said that restorative justice could be helpful in assisting victims overcoming their experience, and in enabling those who had committed crimes to appreciate the harm they had caused and make amends.

She added that there were excellent restorative justice systems in place around the country, but these were emerging in a “very ad hoc fashion” and provision was inconsistent, with best practice not being shared.

Mr MacAskill said he supported the principle of restorative justice, but was “not persuaded that the time is right to introduce what is essentially a statutory right to access such services". He added: “Detailed consideration would need to be given to the nature and effectiveness of the services offered and to the potential costs, which clearly cannot be ignored in the current financial situation.”

There were “compelling reasons” for introducing a more flexible approach, as it would be difficult to establish the circumstances when restorative justice would be appropriate. He would consider a review of the benefits if there was support from victims organisations.

Victim Support Scotland in fact welcomed the move. David Sinclair of the organisation said: “There are benefits from victims being able to hear from perpetrators reasons why they were the subject of whatever crime. It’s something that can be of assistance in understanding why they were the victims.”

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