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Give victims say on release of prisoners, Scottish Government urged

The Faculty of Advocates recommends giving victims of crime the chance to submit a statement to parole board hearings.

The Faculty of Advocates recommended that victims of crime should be able to have a say in parole board hearings (Andrew Parsons/PA)
The Faculty of Advocates recommended that victims of crime should be able to have a say in parole board hearings (Andrew Parsons/PA)

Victims of crime should be allowed to give a personal statement and make requests to be heard at prisoners’ parole hearings, Scottish lawyers have said.

A “victim personal statement” would be considered by parole boards in Scotland under proposals put forward by the Faculty of Advocates.

Responding to a consultation by the Scottish Government about making changes to the system of releasing prisoners before the end of their sentences, the representative group for Scotland’s lawyers has suggested giving victims the chance to submit evidence to the parole board.

The Faculty of Advocates has recommended a “limited” role for victims or their families, proposing they could be able to write a personal statement as part of a dossier for consideration about whether a criminal should be released from custody.

The group suggested victims or families who have requested to be notified about changes to the perpetrator’s situation “should be given the opportunity prior to each parole hearing to submit a written victim personal statement to the Parole Board for their consideration”.

It added: “This could include an option to ask the parole board to consider adding certain conditions to the prisoner’s licence if they are released, such as imposing an exclusion zone or prohibiting contact with certain individuals directly affected by the original offence.”

In its submission to the consultation, the faculty argued victims should not be able to attend parole hearings, warning it could provoke conflict.

The presence in the same room of the perpetrator of an offence and the victim or victims has the potential to produce conflict, and that is in the interests of no-one Faculty of Advocates

It wrote: “As a matter of principle it is perhaps difficult to see what would be gained by wider attendance at hearings.

“The purpose of such hearings is the assessment and management of risk.

“It is difficult to see how this task would be improved by the greater involvement of others.

“The presence in the same room of the perpetrator of an offence and the victim or victims has the potential to produce conflict, and that is in the interests of no-one.”

The faculty also noted greater openness might not be welcomed by all victims and added there were disagreements about how much detail of parole decisions should be made public.

It said: “At the moment if victims do not wish to hear about their original case it is relatively easy for them to avoid doing so.

“With a few exceptions, cases attract media attention for the time that they are in court and then fade from the public eye.

“Publicising parole decisions might well result in renewed attention for the original offences.

“For victims who wish to try to put the offence behind them, this may not be desirable.”

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Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf (Jane Barlow/PA)

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “We welcome the Faculty of Advocates’ response to our public consultation on transforming Scotland’s parole system and will consider all of the responses received as we determine the next steps.

“Victims’ needs must be at the centre of the criminal justice system and the proposals in the consultation were informed by the experiences of victims and families in Scotland’s criminal justice process.

“By making improvements such as giving victims the opportunity to make representations to the parole board and ensuring openness and transparency, I believe we can strengthen public confidence in an already fair and robust system.”

PA

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