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Making justice accessible to victims

BLOGS | 1st December 2020
Mike Findlay

As part of our Talking Justice blog series, Mike Findlay, Head of Communications and External Affairs at Victim Support Scotland reflects on how justice services in Scotland have adapted in a year unlike any other 

“You need a law degree to understand the justice system.”

I heard this quote a while back from a colleague which does, unfortunately, ring true. The justice system in Scotland is difficult to understand. Add trauma into the mix (which we know many victims of crime experience) and what chance have you got of getting to grips with the complexity of the system at a time when you need to the most?

Victim Support Scotland has for the last 35 years been working tirelessly with victims of all crime types access support and specialist knowledge. Our team of dedicated staff members and volunteers are available throughout all of Scotland and we provide support both in the courts – VSS has offices in all the Sheriff and High Courts – and within communities, combining tailored one-to-one emotional support with practical guidance around the criminal justice system.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the year 2020 has been one of our most challenging to date. From a victim’s perspective, we have heard repeated accounts of victims and families who are struggling due to delays in trials going ahead brought about by the pandemic. The emotional turmoil this has put on many of Scotland’s most vulnerable victims and witnesses cannot be underestimated.

Early this year, we saw a 400% increase in the number of safeguarding reports coming through our services, where victims and witnesses we support have talked about suicidal thoughts.

As this year’s situation has been overwhelming for many, now more than ever we need the right tools and resources available for people coming into the justice system for the first time. Community Justice Scotland’s Navigating the Scottish Justice System is a great example of this. It takes detailed and otherwise inaccessible information and breaks it down into something that’s easier to understand. By guiding people through a range of possible journeys, it helps to break down barriers to understanding criminal justice in Scotland.

The justice system must do more to make sure that information that is available to people in the aftermath of crime is engaging and easy to understand.

With this in mind, Victim Support Scotland revamped our website to help make it more victim-centred. It provides up-to-date information about our services and the criminal justice system. The site includes a range of contact methods, enabling people to access local support quickly, through webchat and self-referral or agency referral forms. It is also the portal to the Victims’ Fund, which has been increasingly used during lockdown to support hundreds of victims often in financial destitution, covering costs such as emergency household goods, food vouchers and funeral costs.

We must not take for granted literacy levels of people coming into the justice system. Visual tools, such as Navigating the Scottish Justice System, are hugely beneficial. At Victim Support Scotland we have this year invested in Browse Aloud, which is assistive technology software that adds text-to-speech functionality to websites to aid those that struggle to read.

As well as easy to digest information on the justice system, it’s important that people understand the human impact of crime in Scotland, particularly when it comes to understanding crime trends and encouraging prevention. This is why Victim Support Scotland frequently publishes blog posts from people we have supported explaining the impact of crime on them.

While accessibility is key, it’s not only about making sure people understand the criminal justice system better. We must also come up with ways of improving it based on previous experience. That way, we can help put the experience of victims at the heart of justice in Scotland.

Our Talking Justice blog series brings together reflections from across our society. We are committed to changing the conversation about justice, increasing understanding and support for what will make Scotland better for all of us. To that end, we have have created a resource that maps out the Scottish justice system. This has been developed into an interactive digital tool: Navigating Scotland’s Justice System.