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COPFS

Victims of Hate Crime with mental health needs

5 December 2012

Freedom of Information Request: Victims of Hate Crime with mental health needs

Thank you for your email dated 29 October 2012 under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) requesting the following information:

(1) What support measures does the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) have in place for people with mental health needs who are the victims of a hate crime.

(2) A breakdown of the 2011-2012 Disability Hate figures into the strands of mental health, learning disability and physical disability

For ease of reference I have numbered the responses below:

(1) The Scottish Government enacted the Vulnerable Witness (Scotland) Act in 2004 with the aim of improving the support measures available to vulnerable witnesses so they can give the best evidence they possibly can. All children are considered vulnerable witnesses under the Act. The Act provides that an adult is a vulnerable witness where "there is a significant risk that the quality of the evidence to be given by the person will be diminished by reason of:

(i) mental disorder (within the meaning of Section 328 of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003; or

(ii) fear or distress in connection with giving evidence at the trial".

Section 328(1) of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 defines "mental disorder" as

(a) mental illness

(b) personality disorder; or

(c) learning disability

All victims identified as being vulnerable witness and for victims of hate crime are automatically referred to our Victim Information and Advice (VIA) service for help and support. VIA was set up in 2002 to provide a dedicated service to certain victims, witnesses and bereaved relatives. VIA provides information on the progress of the case that the vulnerable witness is involved in, the range of practical and emotional support available to victims and witnesses, and the criminal justice system in general. VIA's aim is to increase your understanding of the criminal justice system and support the victim and witness journey through that system.

VIA staff work in partnership with the rest of COPFS and with other statutory agencies and voluntary organizations to help victims, witnesses and nearest relatives get the information and support they need. COPFS staff refer all victims of Hate Crime to VIA, so that VIA can offer help and support to such victims.

Shortly after a case has been referred to the VIA service, a member of VIA staff will contact with the person identified as a relevant victim or witness to ascertain what help and support would be suitable and make appropriate, based on the information provided by that individual or their carer. A named VIA officer will provide a single point of contact for the duration of the case through the prosecution system, including appeals.

As a matter of routine, VIA will send such a witness the Scottish Government's leaflet called "Being a Witness – the use of Special Measures" which can be found at the following link: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2006/04/26124813/0 This leaflet can be supplied in whatever format suits the witness.

VIA staff will explain the special measures that are available to the witness, which include:

  • Screens in court
  • CCTV link
  • Supporters (in addition to Screens or CCTV)
  • Evidence taken by a Commissioner
  • Remote CCTV link
  • Use of prior statements given by the witness
  • Order-making power to specify more special measures

It is also possible to use a combination of these special measures. For example, such a witness may be considering whether to use a television link and also have a support person to sit with them whilst they give evidence.

In addition, such a witness may be able to enter the court building through a different entrance, or wait to give evidence in a different room from the other witnesses. It may be possible to request extra comfort breaks to help when giving evidence, or the court might be closed to members of the public. In some cases a stand-by arrangement may be available for witnesses. This would allow the witness to attend court shortly before their evidence is to be taken rather than having to wait in the court building until called.

VIA will also offer to refer such a witness to the Witness Service. The Witness Service is a voluntary service provided by Victim Support Scotland who provide practical information and emotional support and someone to talk to in confidence to all witnesses (and their family and friends) attending court. They can also facilitate a court visit, to enable a witness to become familiar with the layout of the court and the roles of the people who work in the court.

VIA staff cannot decide nor influence who is prosecuted for a crime or what they are charged with. The Procurator Fiscal is the lawyer that makes these decisions based on the evidence available and whether it is in the public interest to prosecute. VIA staff do, however, facilitate the two-way exchange of information between victim / witness and the Procurator Fiscal.

VIA staff encourage people to make their own informed choices about the information they wish to receive and the level of support, if any, they require. All victims and witnesses have the right to opt-out of the service offered by VIA and are free to make this decision at any time.

For more information about being a witness, please see http://www.copfs.gov.uk/Victims-Crime/Victims-Crime.).)

(2) In May 2012, COPFS published its annual hate crime statistics. The figures published relate to the number of charges reported to COPFS rather than the number of individuals charged or the number of incidents that gave rise to such charges.

In relation to disability, 68 charges with a disability aggravation were reported to COPFS during the financial year 2011 to 2012. An examination of these charges revealed the following breakdown:

Category

Mental Health

Learning Disability

Physical Disability

No Victim Targeted

Number of Victims

17

8

36

1

 

As can be seen from the table, there were 51 victims of disability hate crime during 2011-2012.  In one charge, there was no identifiable victim.

There are a number of reasons why the total number of charges will differ from the total number of victims:

  • There may be more than one charge in a case - one victim may have been targeted for more than one crime, for example theft, fraud and assault.
  • The case might involve a series of crimes, committed over an extended period, against the same victim.
  • There may be more than one accused person in a case and each accused person will have a charge record however, there might be only one victim.  For example, three people are charged with offensive behaviour towards one victim.  This would generate three records in our statistical report.