Problems could be created by changing the way victim statements are presented in court, the Faculty of Advocates warned today.

Faculty was responding to a Scottish Government consultation on widening the scope of the current victim statement scheme, which gives victims a chance to explain how an offence has impacted on them before the offender is sentenced.

At present, written statements are provided to judges and sheriffs, but the Scottish Government is asking whether other means should be considered, such as victims reading their statement in court or pre-recording it on video.

In response, Faculty observes that statements under the existing system often contain accusations or information not related to the charges in their final form.

"Defence practitioners require to take particular care over this issue to ensure that the victim impact statement presented to the sentencing judge does not contain material that would be irrelevant and possibly prejudicial to their client at a critical stage in the process… Often the defence have, or are permitted, very little notice, and very little time, to consider the contents of the statement", Faculty says.

It adds that it could be distressing to victims if, when reading a statement or seeing a video played, the content is challenged or changed at a very late stage, possibly removing material they consider important.

“Supportive and careful management of this exercise, involving a clear explanation of the process involved, would be essential to ensure the success of any change in the way the victim’s views are provided, either in person or on video,” Faculty comments.

It also draws attention to potential problems for the accused and defence lawyers.

“The stage at which the statement is presented in court is often one of the most highly charged moments in the whole criminal process. If inconsistent, prejudicial or irrelevant material is presented, there is a real possibility that difficulties may arise in the professional relationship the accused has with his or her legal representatives. This, in turn, raises the possibility of delay, and disruption, to the process of sentencing,” Faculty maintains.

Click here to view the consultation document, with Faculty's response.