Criminals will soon be made to pay for victims' costs such as funerals for people who have been murdered or the protection of witnesses.

A new Scottish Government fund will allow victims or their families to share in almost £1 million a year of cash seized from criminals.

It is designed to pay for costs incurred by victims of crime, such as funeral costs or moving costs to help victims get away from abusers or their associates.

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The Government's Victim Surcharge Fund, established under the Victims and Witnesses Act, will be modelled on the existing Victim Support Scotland victims' fund.

The families of murder victim Jim Tierney, 27, who was killed in Pumpherston, West Lothian, in 2011, and Daniel Turner, 21, who was killed in Glenrothes, Fife, in 2013, have both received funeral costs from the existing victims' fund.

Mr Tierney's mother Christine, 63, said: "We did not know that such a thing as this fund existed and it was a huge relief to discover that financial help was there."

Mr Turner's mother Corrine, 46, said: "£1,000 is a month's wage to this family. We simply did not have the money to bury Daniel and no-one, unless they have suffered what we have following the death of a son, will be able to appreciate the anguish and strain we were under."

Siobhan Melrose, 27, from West Lothian, needed help to move away from an abusive ex-partner and his friends who were spying on her.

"I knew I was not safe staying where I was and that I was being followed on a regular basis," she said.

"My ex-partner was sent to prison for his assault and abuse of a number of women, including me, but it seemed that his friends were holding me accountable. For my own safety and that of my family, I had to get away."

The Act will also introduce new powers, from today, to enable victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse, human trafficking and stalking to choose the gender of their police interviewer.

Victims will also be permitted to make representations to the authorities when prisoners are being considered for release.

The Act lowers the age at which victims can make a statement in their own right from 14 to 12.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "The measures coming into force today mark a major milestone in improving the rights of, and support for, victims in our justice system.

"Today I have heard the harrowing stories of victims of crime and the very real and practical support Victim Support Scotland was able to offer at such a difficult time.

"I look forward to working with them on delivering the new fund, which will build on the vital assistance already offered while providing support on a far greater scale.

"We are working with our justice partners and victim support organisations to ensure that the important reforms coming into force today, along with further measures introduced by the Act, will help place victims and witnesses at the heart of our justice system, making them feel involved and, hopefully, better able to cope with their experiences."

David McKenna, chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, welcomed the measures in the Act coming into force today, describing them as a major advance in supporting victims of crime in Scotland.

He added: "Once established, the new Victim Surcharge Fund will ensure that when people are most in need, when they have nowhere else to turn, that Victim Support Scotland will, through the fund, be able to provide the services they require."