The Victims' Commissioner responds to the announcement of a new Counter-Terrorism Bill

Today the Home Secretary Priti Patel and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC announced a new Counter-Terrorism Bill, which will require terrorist offenders who receive extended determinate sentences to serve the whole time in custody and ensure those convicted of serious offences such as preparing acts of terrorism or directing a terrorist organisation spend a mandatory minimum of 14 years in prison.

The announcement states the government plan to overhaul the terrorist licensing regime, doubling the number of specialist CT probation officers, introducing measures such as polygraph testing and increasing the number of places available in probation hostels.

Importantly, the Government pledges to review support available to victims of terrorism, including families and loved ones and immediately invest £500k to increase the support provided by the Victims of Terrorism Unit, to ensure more victims get the support and advice they need, faster.

Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, says:  “As we all know only too well, terror attacks can strike at any time and any place, whether it be here in the UK or abroad. They can leave victims and their families with profound scars both emotional and physical

“Therefore, I welcome the announcement today by the Secretaries of State for the Home Office and Department of Justice of additional funding for counter-terrorism policing and a doubling of counter-terrorism probation officers. We must give police the resources they need to target, investigate and track offenders and I applaud the understanding that specialist probation staff should be trained to manage terrorist offenders as a special category community after release.

“I welcome the additional £500,000 for the victims unit in the expectation that it is to improve or boost services for victims themselves, especially  welcome the announcement that the Government plans to review of the support available for victims and their families to ‘…make sure they receive the help they need.’

“This review must involve the lived experience of victims themselves so that future needs are clearly pinpointed. It must include what financial support is given to victims and their families in the immediate aftermath of an attack, so that they can deal with urgent issues such as child care, or travelling to visit those injured.  At present, there is no one agency responsible for bearing these costs – all too often the police have to step forward.  There needs to be a central fund accessible to all.

“The review also needs to address the need for swift access to trauma care. We know a third of victims of terror attacks develop psychiatric disorders, predominantly PTSD, and id these conditions are left untreated, they can have severe long term damage. Where there are swift referrals to trauma care services, the outcomes are positive, but when there are delays, engagement drops sharply.

“The review must also address the vital issue of funding representation at inquests for victims and their families. The current situation where advocacy for public authorities is funded by the taxpayer but grieving relatives are not.  Families need to have answers to their questions and their voices must be heard.

“And for those victims who have life changing injuries, there should be a national emergency fund, underwritten by government, to provide for longer term needs and which ensures equitable treatment. These costs cannot be reliant upon public subscription alone.

“This announcement offers a real opportunity for transforming the way we support victims of terror. We must make sure we deliver.”