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Speech: Victims’ Commissioner shines spotlight on poor treatment of victims in Lords debate

Baroness Newlove pictured in a debate in the House of Lords

In a speech to the House of Lords, Baroness Newlove sets out her views on what she expects from the long-awaited Victims and Prisoners Bill.

Baroness Newlove’s speech (as delivered, on November 8 2023):

My Lords, as you may be aware, last month I had the honour of being re-appointed as Victims’ Commissioner for the coming year. 

And I’d like to thank all colleagues around the House for their warm words.

I have to say I am delighted to be back where I can truly make a difference for victims. 

And my post comes at a momentous time, considering the announcement of The Sentencing Bill, The Criminal Justice Bill and, of course, the long-awaited Victims’ and Prisoners Bill, the latter being of which I will focus on today.

It is 16 years since the girls and I lost Garry.  

And hand on heart, I genuinely understand how lonely many of the victims I meet truly feel as they wade through our criminal justice system. 

I so relate to those feelings, as over these years I have had – time and time again – application after application, where I have had to find the strength and determination to see every one of them through. 

In fact, my Lords, only yesterday such determination was needed yet again, knowing another application was being heard in another place – and yet again I await the Court’s decision.

As the great man himself, Nelson Mandela said: –

 “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”.

Hence why I am so passionate and delighted to be able to ensure all victims must be treated with dignity and respect.  

I would like to firstly say to my noble friend the Minister, Lord Bellamy, who opened this debate, that I am so delighted to hear of the government’s commitment to finally continue the passage of this so long-awaited Victims and Prisoners Bill. 

I and many others have been calling for a Victims Law for some 10 years now.   

Yet, infuriatingly, during that time there have been so many false starts – and so, dare I say, for the first time I feel it may now become a reality.  

However, let me be clear from the start: I do not want legislation just for the sake of it. 

Legislation needs to transform the experience of those people whose lives have been damaged and devastated by crime and seek justice.

Only this morning, I published the findings of a victims’ survey conducted by my office.

500 victims responded to the survey.

I am grateful to every one of them for sharing their lived experience.

If anyone is in doubt whether victim legislation is needed, I urge every one of you to read this report.

Victims showed huge dissatisfaction with the police.

More than a third said they would not report a crime to the police again.

Only 61% said they would attend court again.

Just 8% felt they could receive justice by reporting a crime.

So, it will come of no surprise to everyone in this chamber, when again I say once more, it is another wake up call to all those involved in the justice system. 

For let’s be real, haven’t we, your noble Lords from all sides of this House, said time and time again that when victims lose trust, they’re less like to report a crime, leading to: fewer victims coming forward, fewer victims backing prosecutions, which, in turn, trickles down into our communities feeling fearful for their safety.

I have over the years often been told that all victims want from the criminal justice system is retribution. 

This is simply not the case. 

What victims want is justice.

For over half of those that we surveyed, how the justice system treats them matters more to them than securing a conviction.

They want the crime they are reporting investigated and want to be kept informed of the process of their case.

Meaning information being shared in a timely way when they get to meet the CPS barrister before the trial, or in fact reading their Victim Personal Statement in Court.

Victims are quite simply asking for fairness –a level playing field, where their needs are considered alongside those of the defendant.

We know there is no guarantee for any victim that a trial will result in a guilty verdict.

I know only too well.

And nor should we [make that guarantee].

But if we can – and we must – [we must] deliver procedural justice.

The Victims’ Code sets out victims’ entitlements at every stage of the criminal justice system. 

And yet, these are simply not being delivered by the criminal justice agencies.  And bear in mind, there is no mechanism to hold those agencies to account.

Often there is inadequate data to even monitor this compliance. 

Invariably, victims are not made aware of the Code. They have no clue of what it is or what they are entitled to.

Once again, this was highlighted in the survey – as only 29% of respondents were aware of its existence.  Meaning agencies are rarely held to account when they fail to deliver.

Change is needed and the Victims Bill must be [that] catalyst.

There needs to be an end to the culture where victims’ entitlements are regarded as ‘optional’ extras or ‘nice to haves’ instead of a being a core part of delivering justice.

There needs to be a justice system that is in the interests of victims. That delivers procedural justice and giving victims a meaningful voice, my Lords.

So when the Victims and Prisoners Bill finally arrives in your Lordship’s house, I can I say I know it will be given the utmost of robust of scrutiny to lay the correct foundations in giving the victims that ‘level playing field’.

Editors’ notes