The Scottish Conservatives have criticised the SNP for 14 years of “empty promises” and “inaction” on putting victims first as Humza Yousaf tried to gloss over their record on justice.
Justice spokesman Liam Kerr said Humza Yousaf’s headline justice policy announcement on Monday was “recycled” and slammed the SNP for letting down victims of crime time and time again.
New analysis by the Scottish Conservatives revealed that a victims fund, which the SNP launched five years late, has paid out less than a fifth of funding promised in their 2016 manifesto.
Statistics also show that violent crime has been rising for five years.
The Scottish Conservatives have put forward proposals for a Victims Law to end the SNP’s soft-touch justice system and finally put victims first.
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “The SNP’s record of empty promises and inaction on putting victims first speaks for itself.
“Now their big solution to fixing our broken justice system is a recycled a policy from the SNP’s 2019 Programme for Government and a u-turn on a Victims Commissioner role that they previously rubbished as a waste of funds.
“Humza Yousaf had to cherry-pick statistics on violent crime because for the last five years, it’s been rising under the SNP. He promised ‘concrete’ action on Michelle’s Law but the Stewart family say that hasn’t happened. He can’t gloss over the SNP’s failings with some half-hearted words.
“Only after pressure from the Scottish Conservatives are the SNP now considering a u-turn on the not proven verdict, which statistics show has a disproportionate impact on victims of sexual assault.
“The only time the SNP recognise soft-touch justice is in an election campaign. They’ve let victims of crime down time and time again.
“It’s now been uncovered that they’ve paid out less than a fifth of a flagship fund for victims, which they took five long years to set up.
“Their disastrous record on justice shows why we need a Victims Law to finally start giving victims the voice they deserve, instead of letting criminals off lightly.
“Only the Scottish Conservatives will end the SNP’s soft-touch justice system, stop their plans for another divisive referendum, and get all of the focus on rebuilding Scotland.”
The Scottish Conservative Victims Law proposal is here: https://www.scottishconservatives.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Victims.Law_.pdf
Violent crime has been rising for the last five years. Non-sexual crimes of violence have risen by nearly 50 per cent since 2014-15, from 6,272 to 9,316 in 2019-20 and have increased every year since 2014-15. (Scottish Government, Recorded Crime in Scotland 2019-20, 29 September 2020, Table 1, link).
The Victims Surcharge Fund only paid out a fifth of promised funding:
- The introduction of the Victim Surcharge Fund was delayed by the SNP 5 years after the relevant legislation passed. The Victim Surcharge Fund was introduced as part of the Victims and Witnesses Act 2014, which received royal assent on 17 January 2014. The Victim Surcharge Fund did not take effect until 25 November 2019 – more than five years after the Act’s passage. (Scottish Parliament, Victims and Witnesses Bill, Accessed 24 March 2021, link; Scottish Government, Victim Surcharge Fund, 21 May 2020, link).
- The SNP Manifesto promised the Victim Surcharge Fund would deliver more than £1 million a year for victims. The SNP manifesto for the Scottish Parliament in 2016 stated: ‘We will implement the remaining provisions of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014, including establishing a Scottish Victims Surcharge Fund, paid for by offenders, which will provide more than a million pounds a year of funding for practical help for victims of crime.’ (Scottish National Party, Manifesto 2016, 20 April 2016, link).
- In the 16 months of its implementation, the Victim Surcharge Fund hasn’t even delivered a fifth of what the SNP promised. The SNP Government confirmed that the Victim Surcharge Fund has only delivered £157,000 to date. Not only does this not match the figure the SNP promised but because of the SNP’s delay in implementation, it will be the only money victim organisations receive from the fund throughout the whole session of this Parliament – significantly short of their manifesto promise. (Scottish Government, Support for Victims, 23 March 2021, link).
- The SNP also delayed implementation of other provisions of the Victims and Witnesses Act for years. Restitution orders, which were also part of the Victims and Witnesses Act, allowed fines to be recovered by docking criminals’ benefits to pay their fine if they had assaulted police officers. It was delayed even longer than the Victim Surcharge Fund. It came into force on 24 February 2021 – over 7 years after the passage of the Victims and Witnesses Act. (Legislation.gov, Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 (Supplementary Provisions) Order 2021, Accessed 24 March 2021, link; (Commencement No.8) Order 2021, Accessed 24 March 2021, link).
Michelle’s Law failings:
- Humza Yousaf promised ‘concrete action’ to Michelle Stewart’s family. In September 2018 we held a debate calling for Michelle’s Law. Humza Yousaf promised: ‘Let me also give [the Stewart family] some reassurances about the campaign and the fact that not only are we listening to them and giving them warm words, but there will be some concrete action. I guarantee that, and I will come to that in just a second.’ (Official Report, 6 September 2018, link).
- More than two years after we called for Michelle’s Law, her family said nothing had been done. Kenny Stewart, Michelle’s father said: ‘In the two years there have been no changes. There was a proposal for change for the Scottish parole board and how people, like me, could get more of a say. It was a great thing but it has disappeared. I don't know what has happened to it. I thought it was becoming law but it has disappeared. He [Mr Yousaf] did set up a taskforce but what has it actually done? Zero.’ (BBC News, 25 September 2020, link).
- In a recent documentary, Michelle Stewart’s family reaffirmed the lack of action. In a documentary that aired on 16 February 2021 about Michelle Stewart’s murder, her family confirmed they had passed on a petition to the SNP Justice Secretary about victims’ rights, but the family said: ‘It’s a long process sometimes you feel as if it’s fallen on deaf ears, you get loads of promises with time spans, time passes and nothing’s ever been done.’ (Channel 5Star, Michelle Stewart Documentary, 16 February 2021).
- Humza Yousaf confirmed under the SNP’s proposals, victims would have to be ‘silent observers’ during parole hearings. Yousaf said of his proposals: ‘victims and family members of victims, who are registered with the Victim Notification Scheme (VNS), [are allowed] to be silent observers at parole hearings’. (Scottish Parliament, Written Parliamentary Question, 26 January 2021, link).
- The Scottish Conservatives would allow victims to make oral representations in person during parole hearings and temporary release applications. Our Victims Law, published in October 2020, confirms that victims would be able to make in-person representations each time an offender’s release is considered. (Scottish Conservatives, Victims Law, 5 October 2020, link).
The SNP’s ‘Bairn’s Hoose’ and Victims Commissioner policies:
- The SNP have recycled the ‘Bairn’s Hoose’ policy. This policy is based off the ‘Barnhaus’ concept. The SNP Government had already announced their support for the policy in the 2019-20 Programme for Government where they said they would ‘develop Scottish standards for the Barnahus concept, forming a framework for a child-centred approach to delivering justice, care and recovery for children who have experienced trauma’. (Scottish Government, Programme for Government 2019-20, 3 September 2019, link).
- When he first came to office, Humza Yousaf opposed the establishment of a Victims’ Commissioner. When asked about establishing a Victim’s Commissioner, Yousaf said: ‘We remain of the view that funding for victim support organisations is a more effective use of resources, and are providing £17.9 million in 2018-19. Those organisations represent the interests of victims and provide robust input to Government consultation and the development of policy.’ (Official Report, 27 September 2018, link).
- Nearly two and a half years after this promise, with an election coming up, Humza Yousaf says he’ll establish a Victims’ Commissioner. Just before an election campaign, Humza Yousaf promised a Victims’ Commissioner saying: ‘The commissioner will provide an independent voice to victims and witnesses and review the provision of victim services.’ (Daily Record, 5 April 2021, link).