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Victim Support Scotland’s Transformational Journey: Navigating Legislative, Financial, and Collaborative Landscapes

Monday 10 June 2024 12:00

Explore Victim Support Scotland’s 40-year transformative journey and learn about its key milestones and innovative approaches. Our article looks at the significant legislative, financial, and collaborative challenges Victim Support Scotland has faced and how it has addressed them to support victims effectively by implementing virtual reality court experiences, trauma-informed frameworks, and specialist services.

Marina Kazakova, VSE: As we delve into Victim Support Scotland’s transformative journey, could you paint a vivid picture of the landscape they’ve navigated, particularly in terms of legislative, financial, and collaborative challenges?

Kate Wallace: Victim Support Scotland will be 40 years old in 2025. What started as a collection of fragmented local services, offering victims separate and inconsistent services, has – over the years – been transformed into a cohesive national organisation which provides all victims across Scotland with a consistent level of support that is tailored to their personal needs.

Victim Support Scotland’s journey has led it to modernise, to make the best use of technology, and to provide high quality support for all victims of all crimes.  We strive to provide victims with support when, where, and how they want it. While we recognise we can’t support everyone, we believe that between ourselves and other victim-centric organizations, both in Scotland and beyond its borders, we can work together with purpose and respect to reach every victim needing support.

Marina Kazakova, VSE: What are the defining moments or key milestones that have marked this journey, that have reshaped the organization’s approach to supporting victims and witnesses within Scotland’s justice system?

Kate Wallace: Scotland has a strong history of valuing victims’ rights and in 2014 the Scottish Government passed the Victims and Witnesses Act as a direct result of the EU’s Victims’ Rights Directive; the 2014 Act awards Scottish citizens with rights as victims and witnesses of crime.   Since then, Scotland has had its own Victims’ Code and each criminal justice agency has its own Standards of Service to which it must adhere as they determine how the organisation enacts the Victims’ Code.

The 2014 Act consolidated legislation for ‘vulnerable witnesses’ e.g., victims of domestic abuse or sexual crime, older victims, and child witnesses.  These groups are now entitled to ‘special measures’ that allow them – for example – to give their evidence by video link to the court, to be screened in court from their accused, and to be accompanied by a person of their choice whilst giving evidence.  Since 2017, further vulnerable witness legislation allows victims to (video) record their evidence prior to the trial; this is known as ‘evidence by commissioner’ and is mostly used for victims of sexual offences and for child witnesses.

Navigating Legislative, Financial, and Collaborative Challenges

Marina Kazakova, VSE: Can you provide an overview of the new Victims and Witnesses Bill, with a focus on the implementation of a trauma-informed justice system and the role of the victims commissioner?

Kate Wallace: New legislation, the original draft of which was the second largest in the history of the Scottish Parliament, is being discussed in Scotland that embeds the explicit desire for a ‘trauma-informed’ justice system.  Such a quintessential commitment would ensure that victim-centric decisions regarding resources, planning and processes could be carried out with the explicit intention of being ‘trauma-free’ from the outset.  If we can reduce secondary trauma caused by systems and processes, then we can get on with the job of helping victims to recover from the trauma they experienced following a crime.

Victims have long been calling for an independent commissioner, a champion who will ensure judicial accountability and respect for victims’ rights. However, while VSS has gathered much evidence from many victims – and continues to work on their behalf – there is widespread scepticism as to how this role will be implemented.

This situation is further aggravated as there have been 7 Justice Secretaries and 8 First Ministers since the start of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. The collapse of a recent coalition means that we have a minority government and support for the victims bill is by no means universal with some parties now reneging on their manifesto commitments and instead criticising the proposal.  The next 6-12 months are crucial for victims’ rights in Scotland.

Marina Kazakova, VSE:  How do you see the Knowledge and Skills Framework impacting justice professionals’ support of victims and witnesses?

Kate Wallace: We are exceptionally lucky in Scotland in that we now have a knowledge and skills framework, which ensures a trauma-informed approach for staff and volunteers working with victims and witnesses, that is applicable to all sectors including health, education, justice private sector etc.

The knowledge and skills framework allows training to be tailored to the needs of each organisation at the following levels: Trauma-Informed, Trauma-Skilled, Trauma-Enhanced and Trauma Specialist.

Trauma Informed Justice: A Knowledge and Skills Framework (

Marina Kazakova, VSE: Could you tell us about the Trauma-Informed Roadmap?

Kate Wallace: The trauma-informed roadmap sets out how organisations can become trauma-informed throughout their operation: from leadership to policy, buildings and environments. An explanation of this useful tool can be found via Implementation – National Trauma Transformation Programme

Marina Kazakova, VSE: Can you share information on the Emergency Assistance Fund, which has been designed for victims facing financial hardships, and give us details on its annual allocation and eligibility criteria?

Kate Wallace:  Our Emergency Assistance Fund is explicitly for people who experience financial hardship and are in immediate financial need as a result of the crime.  We focus on the poorest and most in-need to ensure they are prevented from entering destitution.  Those in need – or organisations working on their behalf – can apply through our online portal VSS Emergency Assistance Fund – Victim Support Scotland.

Funding for the EAF (approx. £0.5m per year) is achieved through a surcharge or levy that is applied to court fines in Scotland.

Marina Kazakova, VSE: How has the Emergency Assistance Fund impacted victims’ lives, and can you provide any specific examples?

Kate Wallace:  The EAF is used to support around 2000 people per year.  Over 50% of the applications come from people experiencing domestic abuse, though requests for home security equipment (alarm systems, motion sensitive lights and CCTV systems) are common.  Appeals for emergency food and clothing vouchers are often received from people fleeing domestic abuse, who have not had the opportunity to take their belongings with them.

An example of support we offer would be the provision of emergency accommodation and security measures that were provided for a trans sex worker who was a victim of domestic abuse, was being threatened, and was facing a court case. His support organisation reached out to us and we were able to not only find him somewhere to stay but also to put him in touch with our court support services to ensure he received assistance when giving evidence.

Marina Kazakova, VSE:  I’m intrigued by the innovative approach of virtual reality court experiences. Could you elaborate on how this initiative benefits victims and witnesses?

Kate Wallace:  This is new project that builds on our 360 degree court tours: Virtual tours of Scottish courts – Victim Support Scotland.  VR enhances the experience by providing a virtual guided tour of the courthouse complete with individuals explaining their roles and interaction with the victim.  We’ve been filming courthouses across Scotland and will soon launch this project which will enable those who live at some distance from the court (or who can’t participate in a personal visit, or who might require more than one visit) to familiarise themselves with both the courthouse and those they will meet there.  By simply putting on a headset they can travel to court as many times as they wish.

Marina Kazakova, VSE:  Could you highlight some of the specialist support services available to families affected by homicide and how they differ from traditional support offerings?

Kate Wallace:  Our Support for Families Bereaved by Crime service works with family members affected by murder or culpable homicide. The service has been available for the past five years and supports around 200 families who are referred to us by the police at the time of the incident. We then  allocate the family a caseworker; but unlike our other services the (practical and emotional) support is usually delivered by a staff member, rather than a volunteer, due to the need for continuity and the intense nature of the support required.

Marina Kazakova, VSE:  It’s exciting to hear about Victim Support Scotland’s first Barnahus which is run in partnership with Children 1st. Can you provide an insight into this collaboration and its significance for vulnerable children?

Kate Wallace:  VSS and Children 1st received funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery for the Bairns’ Hoose – a converted residential house – which opens in the summer of 2024.  The Bairns’ Hoose activities are based on the Icelandic Barnahus concept that provides children with all the support they need under one roof.  The premises offers an interview area for use by police and social workers (interviews are recorded and can be used as evidence), a trauma-recovery space for therapeutic work, a health suite, and a room that hosts links to the court where children can give their evidence from ‘home’ and thus avoid attending the court.

We think the Bairns’ Hoose is a beautiful space and it has already excited interest from other countries.

Marina Kazakova, VSE:  Can we take a virtual tour of Scotland’s first Barnahus to better understand its setup and functionality?

Kate Wallace:  Bairns Hoose | Children 1st | Children 1st

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