Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016
John Finnie MSP, the Scottish Greens’ spokesperson on justice, has welcomed the Scottish Government’s climbdown over refusing Legal Aid for victims of crime whose personal records are requested by defence lawyers.
The Highlands and Islands MSP said he hoped the decision would make it easier for victims of sexual or domestic violence to come forward.
The Scottish Government had argued against allowing victims to access Legal Aid-funded representation in hearings to decide whether their medical, psychological or psychiatric records should be released. However, that argument was rejected by the Court of Session, and the Justice Secretary Michael Matheson MSP has announced that he will not be appealing against the judgement.
Mr Finnie said:
“This is a huge and well-deserved victory for campaigners like Ross-shire Women’s Aid.
“The decision is especially important for victims of sexual or domestic violence. Reporting these crimes and having to recount them to the police and the courts is traumatic in itself, but that is often compounded by the defence tactic of exposing the victim’s medical or psychological history in the hope of discrediting their evidence.
“Now, victims who cannot afford their own lawyer will be able to be represented at the hearings that decide whether those records should be opened – making it much less likely that that their information will be brought into open court unnecessarily.
“I hope this more rigorous approach to victims’ personal records will mean more women feeling able to come forward, and an improvement in the conviction rate for sexual offences, which is still extremely poor.
“It will also mean a great deal of unnecessary courtroom trauma to victims who have already been through so much will be avoided.”
John Finnie has been a Highlands and Islands MSP since 2011 and is the lead Green Party candidate in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament election.