Scotland politics

Victims bill backed by Holyrood committee

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Media captionThe bill aims to improve support and protection for victims and witnesses

A bill to improve the experience of victims and witnesses in the justice system has won the backing of Holyrood's justice committee.

The Scottish government's proposals include making offenders pay towards the cost of supporting victims.

While supporting the legislation, MSPs said changes were needed to balance the rights of victims and those who are accused of crimes.

They raised concern over using the term "victim" before an offence was proven.

Committee members said using the term could compromise the rights of the accused, and a balance should be found.

The justice committee's report set out its recommendations for the Scottish government's Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill.

The MSPs had heard how victims had to recount what happened to them about sixteen times to various criminal justice organisations. They said that was not acceptable and better co-ordination was needed.

'Case companions'

The committee backed measures including video links and screens to support vulnerable witnesses giving evidence in court.

It said funding and training would be required to ensure victims were kept informed about their case in language they could understand.

Committee convener Christine Grahame MSP said: "Our committee believes this bill provides overdue support and protection for victims and witnesses, and we hope it will improve their experience of the criminal justice system."

She said the committee looked forward to the Scottish government's response to the issues raised in their report.

The legislation has already been criticised by some victims who said it did not go far enough.

Peter Morris, whose sister was killed by her husband Malcolm Webster, said the bill was disappointing and called for further measures such as "case companions" to act as a single point of contact for victims.

Helen Richardson, whose sister was killed by her husband with an axe, also called for case companions to be introduced following her experience of the criminal justice system.

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