The Victims' Commissioner welcomes proposals for a new Victims' Code
Today, the Ministry of Justice launches its consultation on a new Victims Code. This consultation is an opportunity for victims to have their say, but they must act quickly as it is only open for a few weeks. Only through hearing the voices of those who have experienced justice as a victim of crime can we be sure the new Code will meet the needs of those it is designed to support.
I am therefore calling on the Government, the media and all criminal justice agencies to do everything within their power to promote the consultation. I want to see a national conversation on how we treat victims of crime.
As Victims’ Commissioner, I welcome the Government’s plans to simplify the Code and to offer a set of victims’ rights to underpin their entitlements.
I particularly welcome the proposal to have overarching victim “rights”. A victim of a serious crime is not just another member of the public, whose interests are represented by the prosecution in the way that the prosecution represents the state and therefore all of us. They have a strong and often deeply personal and painful interest in the case. They cannot be treated as if they were a by-stander.
Ultimately, I want to see these rights enshrined in primary legislation, but developing them for the Code is a step in the right direction
The big challenge is to ensure that victims’ rights and entitlements are complied with. We have had codes of practice since 2006, but victims tell us day by day that they do not get their full entitlements and often are not aware ad are not told what those entitlements are. Research similarly shows that 80% of victims have never heard of the Code.
This is disappointing because the Code is intended to offer information and support essential for victims of crime to get through the criminal justice journey without being re-victimised by feeling disregarded. It is the duty of all criminal justice agencies to ensure victims are aware of their rights.
Members of the public will not read the Victims Code out of interest. They will only be concerned with it if they become a victim. So, it is important they know that it exists and they must be apprised of its contents by the Police CPS, Courts Service and Victim Contact Scheme.
As from April of this year, Police and Crime Commissioners are responsible for monitoring Code compliance in respect of a handful of key entitlements. This is the right way forward.
I believe this needs to be replicated at a national level by the Victims’ Commissioner, who should be responsible for preparing an annual report on Code compliance, looking not just at whether the entitlement has been delivered, but also the quality of the interaction. This report should be laid in Parliament.
This, coupled with statutory rights will have a positive effect upon criminal justice agencies making moves towards improving delivering for victims.
We also need to look at how victims can seek redress when entitlements are not delivered. At present, the victim has to find out which agency is responsible and pursue a complaint through their internal complaints process.
If this is unsatisfactory, they have to write to their MP in the hope they might refer the matter to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Only a handful of cases are referred to the Ombudsman every year.
We need to review this process of seeking redress to see how it might be streamlined, for example having a single point of contact for processing all initial victim complaints, giving victims direct access to the Ombudsman once these have been exhausted.
A link to the Government’s consultation can be found here.