Putting Victims & Children at the Heart of Scottish Justice

Putting Victims & Children at the Heart of Scottish Justice

The report on the Scottish Programme for Government was published earlier this month. It includes new legislation to protect vulnerable witnesses in court, proposals to set international standards for tackling domestic abuse, and plans to reduce the incidence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). It recognises that tackling adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) will require collaborative working across early years, education, health, justice, and social work. The report also outlines plans to challenge inequality and make wider reforms to the criminal justice system in Scotland. Recognising the links between inequality and involvement in the criminal justice system, it outlines plans to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty, inequality and deprivation, through tackling and preventing the root causes of poverty.

Planned reforms to the criminal justice system include extending the presumption against short sentences to 12 months; a new model for the female custodial estate; work to improve health and social care services in Scottish prisons to help reduce inequalities and tackle health-related causes of offending such as drug and alcohol use; and enhancing support for children affected by parental imprisonment to tackle adverse childhood experiences.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

This focus on preventing adverse childhood experiences and improving life chances for all is intended to shape how future generations engage with the justice system. People who have had four or more adverse childhood experiences are up to 20 times more likely to have been in prison or a young offender’s institution at some point in their life. By preventing and mitigating the impact of adverse childhood experiences now, the Scottish Government aim to reduce the need for intervention from the justice system as those children become adults.


The Criminal Justice System

Whilst reoffending rates are at an historic low in Scotland, the report recognises that the nature of crime and policing is changing. The Scottish Government pledges to continually improve the experiences of victims and witnesses within the criminal justice system, including plans to:

  • take specific actions to support victims of rape and sexual and domestic abuse and drive forward work to end violence against women and girls
  • consult on new hate crime laws
  • take forward a package of measures to better support the victims of crime
  • put victims and witnesses at the heart of reforms to the criminal justice system
  • maintain a focus on prevention, early intervention and services that support rehabilitation and reduce re-offending

Wider plans include:

  • reducing and where possible, eliminating the need for victims to have to retell their story to different organisations as they look for help
  • widening the range of serious crimes where the victim can make a statement to the court about how the crime has affected them physically, emotionally and financially,
  • ensuring victims and their families have better information and greater support ahead of prison release arrangements
  • increasing the openness and transparency of the parole system, consulting on specific proposals later this year
  • establishing a new support service in Spring 2019, developed and delivered with Victim Support Scotland, to give families bereaved by murder and culpable homicide dedicated and continuous support

This will all build upon recent progress made through the the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) Bill introduced to Parliament in June 2018 to remove legislative barriers to child and vulnerable adult witnesses giving pre-recorded video evidence.


Tackling Domestic Abuse

In the past year, new Scottish legislation has created a new offence to respond to perpetrators of domestic abuse who use coercive controlling behaviours against their partner or ex-partner. In the autumn the Scottish Government plan consultations about new protective orders that could be used to keep victims of domestic abuse safe by banning perpetrators from their homes and on whether changes are needed to the current system of exclusion orders.
New legislation and changes to policy aim to enhance the safety of those at risk of domestic abuse, and ensure that courts consider the harmful impact on children when sentencing for domestic abuse as witnessing it is one of the core adverse childhood experiences.


Adverse Childhood Experiences

Research shows that adverse childhood experiences have a huge impact on children and can have lasting effects throughout adulthood. ACEs incorporate different types of abuse, neglect and family difficulties, including parental separation, domestic abuse and parents or carers with experience of alcohol or drug problems, imprisonment or mental ill-health.

The Scottish ACE Hub (led by NHS Health Scotland) and a range of people and organisations will focus on better prevention of ACEs and supporting the resilience of children and adults to overcome early life adversity.

Work will proritise four key areas:

  • providing intergenerational support for parents, families and children to prevent ACEs
  • reducing the negative impact of ACEs for children and young people
  • developing adversity and trauma-informed workforces and services
  • increasing societal awareness and supporting action across communities

Plans to reduce the negative impact of ACEs for children and young people include:

  • schools and local authorities delivering health and wellbeing interventions (such as investing in educational psychologists, family support staff and counselling services) to support their pupils, including those who have suffered adverse childhood experiences
  • investing in the provision of schoo lnurses and counsellors in schools and working to implement the recommendations of the Personal and Social Education Review with actions that will support children’s understanding of mental wellbeing, societal and cultural issues which affect them
  • building on the work done to deliver national guidance on anti-bullying, and improve recording and monitoring of bullying incidents in schools. ‘respectme’ will continue to work with local authorities and other young people’s organisations to build cofidence and capacity to effectively address all forms of bullying
  • enabling improved contact between parents in prison and their children to support positive attachment and involvement in the life of their child, where appropriate, and enabling schools to be alerted in a non-stigmatising way of children in need of support following parental imprisonment

The report also details plans to develop adversity and trauma-informed workforces and services that respond in ways that minimise distress, overcome barriers and build trust, including:

  • implementing national trauma training following NHS Education for Scotland development of a National Trauma Training Framework
  • funding development and testing of routine enquiry of ACEs in Scotland, where trained professionals ask adults in a sensitive way about adversity they experienced in childhood and how it impacts on them now
  • continuing support from Education Scotland for schools in developing effective responses to ACES by embedding nurture and trauma-informed approaches
  • improving experiences of the Children’s Hearings system to respond compassionately to traumatised and neglected children and young people
  • considering how the Barnahus concept for immediate trauma-informed support* for child victims of serious and traumatic crimes can operate within the context of Scotland’s healthcare and criminal justice system
  • supporting work with adults affected by ACEs and trauma in health and justice settings, such as the Navigator Programme in hospitals and improvement fund for health and social care in prisons

* Further information on the Barnahus concept for immediate trauma-informed support



About Hugh Asher


Hugh is an author, practitioner, trainer, researcher and consultant.

He keeps rare breed sheep and cows.

He also shares his house with the world’s largest puppy, called Charlie.

Although he was told from a young age that “Life isn’t fair” he has refused
to give up on his goal to make other people’s lives as happy as he can.

His vision for a better world involves giving people the skills and
confidence to make a positive change to other people’s lives.

To learn more about Hugh and the mission of Soma, click here.​

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