CRIMINALS are to pay for the funerals of murder victims under a new initiative.

A £1 million fund has been set up that pools victims' surcharges - special fines imposed by courts upon sentencing - to provide services for those affected by crimes.

The money will go to a variety of schemes, including helping witnesses relocate away from their abusers or their associates, as the Victims Support Scotland victims' fund does now.

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However, it will come from criminals rather than the state.

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."

Victims surcharges are imposed by courts - but only where a ­separate restitution order has not been made to a specific victim. The new fund comes into effect as part of the Victims and Witnesses Support Act 2014. Those who have already benefited from such funding under the old scheme expressed their support.

Mr MacAskill added: "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."

The families of murder victim Jim Tierney, 27, who was killed in West Lothian, in 2011, and Daniel Turner, 21, who was killed in Glenrothes, Fife, in 2013, have both received funeral costs from the existing 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 new law, which came into force yesterday, also introduces new powers to enable victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse, human trafficking and stalking to choose the gender of their police interviewer.

It gives rights for victims to make representations to the authorities when prisoners are being considered for release. It also lowers the age at which victims can make a statement in their own right from 14 to 12.

David McKenna, chief ­executive of Victim Support Scotland, said the new law was a major advance in supporting victims of crime.

He added: "The new fund will ensure that when people are most in need we can provide the services they require."