Problems lurk in oral or video victim statements, Faculty suggests
PROBLEMS could be created by changing the way victim statements are presented in court, the Faculty has cautioned.
Currently, written statements are provided to judges and sheriffs, but the Scottish Government is asking whether other means should be considered, such as victims reading their statement in court or pre-recording it on video.
In response, the Faculty said statements under the existing system often contained accusations or information not related to the charges in their final form.
“Defence practitioners require to take particular care over this issue to ensure that the Victim Impact Statement presented to the sentencing judge does not contain material that would be irrelevant and possibly prejudicial to their client at a critical stage in the process…Often the defence have, or are permitted, very little notice, and very little time, to consider the contents of the statement…” the Faculty stated.
It could be distressing to victims, the Faculty added, if, when reading a statement or the video was played, the content was challenged or changed at a very late stage, possibly removing material they considered important.
“Supportive and careful management of this exercise, involving a clear explanation of the process involved, would be essential to ensure the success of any change in the way the victim’s views are provided, either in person or on video,” said the Faculty.
In addition to possible difficulties for victims of crime, the Faculty also wanted to draw attention to potential problems for the accused and defence lawyers.
“The stage at which the statement is presented in court is often one of the most highly charged moments in the whole criminal process. If inconsistent, prejudicial or irrelevant material is presented, there is a real possibility that difficulties may arise in the professional relationship the accused has with his or her legal representatives. This, in turn, raises the possibility of delay, and disruption, to the process of sentencing,” said the Faculty.
The consultation document, including the response, here