100 signatures reached
To: Scottish Government
Victims Equal Rights in Court (Scotland): Lawyers for all Victims of Abuse and Stalking
Today, I would like to voice my support for victims' rights and the need for solicitors to defend them. The current justice system in Scotland appears to protect the perpetrator. Currently, no one defends victims' account, whereas abusers have access to legal counsel.
In other words, under the current system, in court victims face their perpetrators and their solicitors alone. The power dynamic is entirely unbalanced.
I would like to request equal rights for all victims of abuse and stalking, regardless of gender, and for them to be provided with legal representation.
Introducing mandatory solicitors for victims will also aid in reducing violence against women, as one in four women currently experience some form of abuse - and that is not acceptable.
Why is this important?
Victims do not choose to become victims. They become one. They are already dealing with trauma and fear for their own safety, so it is critical that they have equal rights in court.
The current justice system in Scotland appears to protect the perpetrator more than the victim. The good news is that Scotland is now working on criminal justice reform, and the new bill has recently been published. However, having Victims Commissioners is not enough. Victims need to be defended by lawyers too.
Why is it essential to provide solicitors for victims?
Here some points:
Numerous cases of domestic abuse and harassment are dismissed for lack of evidence. Prior to trials, however, the Crown Office never hears the victims' story, to check if there is any extra evidence or witnesses that could be added to the case. No one ever inquires about their emotional, psychological, or even financial consequences that they face (for example, some stalker victims may struggle to hold a job). Often, a clear picture of the damage is not fully portrayed in court. Therefore, a lawyer has the potential to alter the game. Someone who contacts victims following the police report and advocates on their behalf thereafter. They will collect additional information and evidence to provide to the Crown Office so that they can make a more informed judgement regarding whether or not to continue the prosecution. A lawyer will also provide victims with information about the legal process, what to expect, and their rights (such as the right to request a review) and advise them on the most effective strategy to move their case forward.
Victims are required to appear in court as witnesses, but they are not required to have legal representation because they have been called to court "just to share their story." However, this is incorrect. A distinction should exist between a victim and a witness. Victims are those who have suffered as a result of abuse (of any kind), and the situation has had a greater negative impact on their lives, whereas an ordinary witness may not necessarily be emotionally invested in the story. This indicates that there is no appropriate support in place for victims. They should be treated as victims until the contrary is confirmed. Their wellbeing should be safeguarded, and an attorney could assist with that.
Due to the psychological pressure survivors experience in court, they may be unable to fully articulate themselves. The experience is overwhelming. No one really prepared the victims for the experience. For the very first time, they share their story in front of the judge. Perpetrators, on the other hand, have their stories heard, they are prepared for the experience and they also have an opportunity to prepare their defence with the assistance of their attorneys. Sharing a traumatic experience is never simple, especially in a courtroom, and it can be especially intimidating for women to do so in a room full of men. A lawyer with prior knowledge of the case could also encourage the victims to tell the complete story and make the process easier for them on an emotional level.
Abusers have the right to an attorney who gets paid to manipulate the truth. The abuser's attorney is permitted to victim-blame and accuse survivors of wrongdoing in order to portray them as immoral while defending their clients' innocence. Furthermore, they are permitted to discriminate (especially against women) and adopt an inappropriate attitude and line of questioning to prove their client's innocence. While, in the other hand, there is no one to advocate for the victims' right. This is especially problematic in jury trials, where charismatic attorneys may convince jurors that their clients are blameless by leading them to misinterpret the evidence. If perpetrators' solicitors are permitted to have such conduct, then the victims' legal representation must be equally robust in order to give victims' stories the appropriate weight too. This will balance the rights from each party. Additionally, for how the system stands now, victims may experience additional psychological or emotional trauma in court. A victim's attorney will advocate for victims' rights in court, to prevent further traumatization, and put an end to victim-blaming and discrimination. Many victims suffer from PTSD after experiencing court and this needs to end.
Since victims are only required to appear as witnesses, they do not have the right to hear all the evidence presented in court. The crime is not "their case" but rather the case of the Crown Office. On the other hand, abusers have the right to access all court-presented evidence. Providing victims with solicitors will ensure that they have equal access to information. For the same principles, victims have not right to appeal for the judge's decision while abusers can. Having an attorney ensures that victims will have the same rights.
The victims' attorney could also assist them in pursuing monetary compensation. In many cases, such as stalking, victims have an economic impact. For example, if their work performance declines and end up losing their job. Because they did not choose to be victims, victims should also be eligible for compensation.
In conclusion, as highlighted above, in the courtroom the power dynamic is unbalanced -abusers have more rights than victims. Mandating solicitors for victims could be a game-changer and also play an essential role in preventing violence.
Victims must have someone to argue their case and advocate for their rights.
For yourself, for our daughters, mothers, sisters, nieces, grandmothers, and all other victims of abuse and stalking regardless of gender.
I stand by your side.
For a fairer Scotland.
And I hope you will stand by our side too.
How it will be delivered
I've been actively campaigning in the background by contacting MPs. I'll be meeting with two members of the Criminal Justice Committee soon.
I am also seeking more support from other MPs, organisations, and citizens. Many people are unaware that victims do not have access to lawyers.
I'll forward this petition to the Scottish Government to ask to amend the bill. I would like to ask to amend the bill to introduce mandatory lawyers for victims instead of commissioners.