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Concern over £1m plan for victims of crime

TENS of thousands of criminals could be forced to pay from £20 up to an unlimited amount on top of their court fines in order to help compensate victims of crime.

SUPPORT: Kenny MacAskill, centre, with Harry Lindsay and Audrey McGuire, who benefited from the victims fund
SUPPORT: Kenny MacAskill, centre, with Harry Lindsay and Audrey McGuire, who benefited from the victims fund

Under new proposals confirmed by the Scottish Government in its Victims and Witnesses Bill, offenders will pay a variable sum depending on the severity of their crime.

The money will then be paid into a victims' fund, and sums will be distributed on an individual basis to those affected by crime.

The surcharge will begin at a minimum of £20 for anyone receiving a fine of between 1p and £200 and rise to 10% of any fine more than £10,000.

It is estimated the scheme – which initially will only apply to offenders receiving fines – will generate around £1.2 million a year to help victims.

However, as reported in The Herald earlier this week, there are concerns low-level offenders such as motorists will contribute most to the scheme, while more serious criminals who do not receive fines will pay nothing.

Scottish Conservative Chief Whip John Lamont MSP said: "As it stands, this so-called victims' fund will be paid for by people who commit offences like narrowly breaking the speed limit.

"But those guilty of housebreaking, assault, drugs charges and even murder will be exempt."

Mr Lamont added: "The Scottish Conservatives would give prisoners work, allowing them to earn money and pay into a fund for victims that way, as well as contribute towards child maintenance and out-standing fees, not to mention enhancing their chances of rehabilitation."

Scottish Labour also expressed concerns that only 66% of the surcharges are expected to be collected in the first year, before rising to 90% after three years.

Lewis Macdonald MSP said: "I am concerned that before the ink has dried on this Bill, the SNP has accepted that almost half of surcharges won't be collected. We simply can't have these surcharges adding to the growing mountain of un-collected fines in Scotland – all of which makes a mockery of justice.

"We will need to scrutinise the proposals closely and we will press to ensure that surcharges are paid and justice is seen to be done."

It is understood Victim Support Scotland (VSS) will be responsible for the new fund in an expansion of the organisation's existing account, which contains around £40,000.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced the Bill as he visited VSS to find out how its existing fund has helped victims of crime.

He met Harry Lindsay, whose 34-year-old son Christopher was murdered in Spain in October 2011. The fund paid for him to travel to Spain to urge the authorities to investigate the case.

Mr Lindsay said: "The victims' fund came to the rescue of my family at a time when we were at the height of a campaign to have the death of my son Christopher formally investigated by the Spanish police."

The Bill also proposes to introduce restitution orders for offenders who assault police officers – forcing them to pay up to an unlimited amount to help support the officers affected.

Victims would also be able to make oral representations to the parole board on the release of life sentence prisoners, while sexual abuse victims would be able to choose the gender of their interviewer.

Special measures, such as screens and CCTV links, could also be made available to all vulnerable witnesses in court proceedings, not just children.

A spokeswoman for the Government said the surcharge scheme may be extended to criminals who receive alternative sentences to fines.

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