David Stewart MSP

Speech to Scottish Labour conference in Oban on establishing a Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses

29 October 2010

Today, I make no apologies for returning to a topic I spoke about at conference last year – an issue that I believe is too easily ignored but which directly affects one in every five people living in Scotland – and indirectly affects every one of us.
One in five people.
One million Scots.
That’s the number – the shocking number – of people who are either victims of, or witnesses to, a crime. One million people who have been exposed to criminal behaviour, ranging from the extreme trauma of crimes like murder and rape to the upset and anxiety caused by petty theft and anti-social behaviour.
And make no mistake, the indirect impact on witnesses can be just as devastating as the direct impact on victims.
One million people.
It’s a chilling statistic, but not as chilling as the stories of human suffering that lie behind it.
Like every MSP, MP and Councillor here today I have spoken to many constituents who have suffered as a consequence of crime, and the tales they tell can be heartbreaking.
Like the woman I spoke to recently whose family went through an unthinkable tragedy when her mother died in an act of brutal murder at the hands of her father.
How can you begin to imagine how that felt?
And how can your heart not go out to that family, all of whom, along with their friends were victims of that terrible crime?
Yet that family’s experience of the Scottish Criminal Justice System left them hurt, confused and angry. They described the way they were dealt with as “thoughtless” and they could not understand the delays and difficulties placed in their way as they tried to cope with the aftermath of the crime.
Perhaps worst of all, they had to return to the scene of the crime in their family home and literally – quite literally – clean up the mess left behind.
That is not acceptable.
That is not the way a civilised society should deal with people who have been through that kind of trauma, but too often that degree of thoughtlessness is how victims describe the justice system, as a remote and uncaring bureaucracy.
That family did get support – from voluntary organisations and even from the media. But it should have been there for them within the Justice system, right from the day one.
That’s why I launched a Member’s Bill last year calling for the creation of a Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses – a Victims Commissioner, as the post is more commonly known.
Victim Support Scotland and other organisations like Children’s 1st are dedicated professionals at the front -lines of victim support in the aftermath of a crime and they support the call for a Victim’s Commissioner.
It isn’t a new idea – England and Wales have one in Louise Casey.
Northern Ireland has one, and so do Spain and Australia.
And I am confident – one hundred per cent confident – that Scotland too will have a Victim’s Commissioner. It’s an idea whose time has come… an idea that is overdue.
The Commissioner will be responsible for championing the rights of victims, raising awareness of their plight and for working with politicians, police, civil servants and voluntary organisations to build a fairer and just system that puts victims’ needs first.
A system that gives them a voice and protects them from the forces that would add the insult of uncaring bureaucracy to the injury they have already suffered.
So far, this SNP Government has turned a deaf ear to the calls for a Victims Commissioner.
But it seems that at last, they may be have begun to listen.
I was pleased to see that last weekend, the Justice Secretary suggested that the SNP have begun to recognise the plight of victims of crime and might actually do something about it.
But not till after the next election.
Well, I’ve just got one thing to say to that – it’s too late, Kenny.
Too late for the family I described and many others who have been shabbily treated by our justice system
Too late because your administration should not have sidelined this issue for the last four years.
And too late, Kenny, because after next May, you won’t be in a position to do anything about it.
Scotland deserves better….
Victims deserve better….
The new Labour Government, led by Iain Gray will put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system.
Conference, I ask for you support.
Thank you.

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Written by davidstewart

November 2, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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