Meeting with the Director of the National Probation Service: 23 October 2017
On 23 October, the Victims’ Commissioner and the Director of the National Probation Service (NPS) met to discuss the support given to victims who had opted into the Victim Contact Scheme.
At their last meeting, the Victims’ Commissioner asked the Director to consider offering all existing members of the Victim Contact Scheme a transcript of the trial judge’s sentencing remarks in those cases where the NPS was holding a copy. The Commissioner was concerned that many victims who were in court were not in a good place to take in everything the judge said and it was unfair to expect them to pay for a copy. The transcript might help victims when drafting a victim personal statement for the Parole Board.
Following this conversation, the Director was pleased to report that since January all new entrants onto the Scheme had been offered a copy of a transcript where one was available. Since 3 July, the NPS had piloted offering a transcript to existing members of the Scheme whose cases were going to parole. 40 victims had taken up this offer and the Director thought that this initiative was likely to continue.
The Commissioner was grateful to NPS staff for taking this forward.
Parole Board Oral Hearings
The Commissioner is aware of victims unhappy about attending oral hearings, only to find that they have been deferred at the last minute. This can be very distressing, given that these hearings can be a traumatic experience.
The Commissioner felt that it was important that the risk of deferral be made clear to the victims from the outset, together with an explanation of the reasons behind cases being deferred. This would set the scene and victims would be better prepared. The Commissioner asked if there was a script on which the Victim Liaison Officer might base their explanation of the parole process and parole hearings and if so, whether it would it be possible for her to see it?
The Director will look into this and feedback.
The Commissioner advised the Director that her office and the Board has agreed to explore the possibility of doing an information video which can go on You Tube, giving victims a first-hand account of victims’ experiences when attending hearings. This would be an opportunity to assist victims in preparing for the experience. The Director advised that the NPS would like to be involved in this piece of work.
Victims of Mentally Disordered Offenders
At the last meeting, the Victims’ Commissioner raised concerns about victims whose offenders were detained under the provisions of the Mental Health Act. She was concerned about the support these victims were receiving and whether VLOs were fully familiar with the processes in respect of the Mental Health Review Tribunal.
The Director advised that the NPS team responsible for the National Training Programme had incorporated this issue into the training package for Victim Liaison Officers. This is to be rolled out in 2018.
At the last meeting, the Director mentioned that she was keen to see a victims’ app being developed that would enable victims, post-trial, to receive information quickly and efficiently. There was already an app available for victims prior to the trial taking place. The Commissioner was very enthusiastic about this idea.
The Director updated the Commissioner. This piece of work was underway and the app would form part of the NPS digital plan. The NPS had organised an event for victims to take their feedback. One of the points raised by victims is that they would like the technology to be able to speak to other victims, share experiences and offer mutual support.
The Director would keep the Commissioner informed.
The Director and Commissioner also discussed the concept of a “victim passport” that prevented victims from having to repeat their story over and again.
The Commissioner has been approached by victims who are unhappy about the handling of their requests for exclusion zones and no contact conditions.
She has raised the issue with the Parole Board and it has agreed to consider whether it can provide victims with full reasons when it amends or rejects a request for licence conditions. The Board has also agreed to look into the advice it gives to panels when considering exclusion zones that are some distance away from where the offender plans to resettle.
The Director was keen that NPS be involved in this discussion.
The Commissioner also asked whether it was possible to inform victims whether their offenders planned to resettle in the region in which they were living. She was aware that victims were often very distressed that an offender was being release because of the risk of meeting them accidentally. In some cases, the resettlement address was many miles away; if this was made known to the victim, it would offer immediate re-assurance. However, the NPS was reluctant to share this information for data protection reasons.
The Director agreed to look at this and see if there was scope to be more transparent with victims about resettlement plans, even to the extent of informing victims which region in the UK the offender would be resettled into.