Dame Vera Baird said she was “pleased” to see the government had acted upon her suggestions and she looked forward to working with the government on how the Code could be promoted and agencies held to account with the introduction of a Victims’ Law.

The Ministry of Justice announced on 18 November 2020 that victims of all crimes will benefit from a clearer set of rights regarding the support they should receive from the police, courts and other criminal justice agencies.

The Victims’ Commissioner greeted the announcement announcement as a “positive step forward for victims”. Dame Vera Baird QC said: “I welcome the government’s new, simplified Victims’ Code. These 12 rights are well set out and should provide some much-needed clarity for victims and victims’ services. I’m also pleased to see the government has taken on board many of my suggestions to improve the Code.”

The Victims’ Code sets out the minimum level of services victims can expect from criminal justice agencies. It details what each criminal justice agency must do for victims and the timeframe in which they must do it. It applies to all criminal justice agencies, including the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Courts Service, and the Probation Service.

Dame Vera Baird said this was a “positive step forward for victims” but cautioned that until these rights had legal force “this new Code is not the revolution in victim’s rights that we need.”

She cited data from the 2017-18 Crime Survey of England and Wales, which showed that only 1 in 5 of victims with experience of the criminal justice system had heard of the Victim’s Code and its entitlements. She continued: “There is also currently no mechanism to hold agencies to account int heir delivery of these services. Until such a time as there is, the Code’s entitlements cannot really be considered ‘rights’ in any meaningful sense.”

She continued: “We all want a system which delivers justice and the announcement of this revised Code, with its limitations, is to be welcomed as an important step in the right direction.” She added that there was much work to do in terms of raising awareness of and compliance with the Code and she looked forward to hearing the government’s proposals for a Victim’s Law: “I look forward to hearing the government’s proposals for a Victim’s Law and to engaging further with the Ministry of Justice on how the Code can be promoted and how agencies can be effectively held to account for delivering it.”

The new Code follows an open consultation by the Ministry of Justice in March. The new Code will be unveiled on 18 November 2020 but will not come into force until 1 April 2021, to allow criminal justice agencies and others who provide services under the Code time to embed any operational changes to meet their new obligations, the government says.

The Victims’ Commissioner has a statutory duty to keep the Victims’ Code under review. Dame Vera Baird set out her response to the consultation on 22 May 2020. As part of her submission, Dame Vera conducted a Victims’ Survey, in which participants were asked to detail their experience of the criminal justice system after reporting a crime in the past three years. The survey, which was conducted online from 7 April to 5 May 2020, received more than 400 responses.

According to the government press release, changes in the new Code include:

  • Simplifying and shortening the Code to make it clear, concise and easy to understand.
  • Changing the Victim Contact Scheme from an opt-in to an automatic referral scheme.
  • Offering greater flexibility over when a Victim Personal Statement, which tells the court how the crime has affected the victim, can be made.
  • New rights for victims of mentally disordered offenders, allowing them access to a Victim Liaison Officer to provide information on an offender’s management and potential release from hospital.
  • For the first time, the Code sets out the rights of victims of Foreign National Offenders to be updated on when an offender’s deportation may occur.
  • The new Code also includes practical information about how victims can access services provided by the National Health Service and signposts them to where they can get help and advice if they are approached by the media.

Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales said:

“I welcome the government’s new, simplified Victims’ Code. These 12 rights are well set out and should provide some much-needed clarity for victims and victims’ services. I’m also pleased to see the government has taken on board many of my suggestions to improve the Code.

This new Victims’ Code represents a positive step forward for victims. However, until these ‘rights’ have legal force, this new Code is not the revolution in victims’ rights that we need. As recently as 2018, only 20% of victims with experience of the criminal justice system had heard of the Victims’ Code and its entitlements. There is also currently no mechanism to hold agencies to account in their delivery of these services. Until such a time as there is, the Code’s entitlements cannot really be considered ‘rights’ in any meaningful sense.

We all want a system which delivers justice and the announcement of this revised Code, with its limitations, is to be welcomed as an important step in the right direction. There is much work to do to raise awareness of and compliance with the Code. I look forward to hearing the government’s proposals for a Victims’ Law and to engaging further with the Ministry of Justice on how the Code can be promoted and how agencies can be effectively held to account for delivering it.”