SCOTLAND'S leading charity for victims of crime says a bill which reforms the children’s justice system risks infringing on victims’ rights unless it is amended.

Victim Support Scotland (VSS) has said it is particularly concerned about the rights of young women and girls who have suffered gender-based violence.

The Children Bill will go to a final vote at the Scottish Parliament on April 24.

It makes several changes to the way the justice system deals with children, allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to be referred to the children’s hearings system rather than criminal courts.

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Victim support organisations have raised fears that these hearings will not offer the same protections for victims as adult courts.

Scottish Women’s Aid has previously warned that there is a “significant gap” in support for those who are victims of a child’s criminal behaviour.

VSS has acknowledged the Scottish Government has made progress on its concerns, but urged MSPs to support three amendments when the bill goes to its stage three vote.

Kate Wallace, chief executive of VSS, said: “This bill has brought to light significant issues regarding victims’ experiences, many of which victim support organisations have been raising for years.

“No matter how the perpetrator is supported – and to be clear, VSS is not arguing with that aspect – we at Victim Support Scotland are adamant that this should not negatively impact the support and information available to victims.”

She added: “There are already significant issues regarding the limited support, information and safety planning currently available to victims.

“Our concern is that these will be exacerbated by the proposals regarding referral of cases involving 16 and 17-year-olds.”

To illustrate its points, VSS described several scenarios where it supported crime victims.

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In one case where a nine-year-old boy was sexually abused by a slightly older child, it said a children’s hearing failed to put restrictions on the children involved, and there was nothing to prevent them from seeing each other again.

In another case, a child was seriously assaulted by another child at school.

VSS said there were concerns that the focus was on ensuring the assailant could continue their education rather ensuring the victim felt safe.

Wallace added: “We fully acknowledge that the children’s hearing system is set up to place the rights of the referred child as paramount.

“What we are advocating for here is that victims’ rights are not compromised, and that perpetrators’ rights are not prioritised over victim safety.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This bill proposes new reforms to support victims, especially for child victims and their families.

“Ministers have been working across parties and with other key partners, including Victim Support Scotland, to strengthen bill provisions.

“A robust package of government amendments were passed at stage two, including a new single point of contact support service for victims in the hearings system.

“Further measures will be lodged at stage three in this area, and Parliament will consider them later this month.”