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Victims Commissioner seeks clarity on new ministerial portfolios

Dame Vera Baird asks the Justice Secretary for guidance on which ministers will be leading key victims' work, including the Victims' Bill and Rape Review.

The Victims’ Commissioner has written to the new Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, seeking clarity on recent ministerial appointments and changes, following last month’s ministerial reshuffle.

Highlighting the key victims’ work being conducted by the department, spanning the Policing Bill, the Victims’ Bill, and the Rape Review, Dame Vera Baird stressed how important it was to have clarity on the new ministerial roles, so she could direct her work and queries accordingly.

“I am writing to request your assistance in seeking clarity on the ministerial changes that have occurred over the past few weeks,” she writes. “Whilst I understand that it is early days for the new ministerial roles, it is essential that I understand ministerial portfolios and areas of responsibility in order to effectively discharge my role and provide a voice for victims.”

On 15 September, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reshuffled his Cabinet. Dominic Raab MP, previously the Foreign Secretary, replaced the then incumbent Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland MP. This was also accompanied by a number of moves and changes across more junior ministerial levels. The new ministerial appointments and portfolios were communicated at a later date, with some ministers taking on broad responsibilities across wide and varied policy areas.

The Victims’ Commissioner had been actively engaging with the government on proposed amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill, including amendments concerning police requests for rape victims’ personal data. However, since the ministerial reshuffle, it has not been clear which minister has responsibility for this work. Dame Vera says this work is “particularly urgent” and asks for assistance in finding a way forward.

Some of the changes include the recent move of Victoria Atkins MP from the Home Office to the Ministry of Justice. She will retain aspects of her Home Office brief, where she was designated the Minister for Afghan Resettlement, but she will also support the Justice Secretary on several areas, including prison operations, as well as Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO), and Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG). She will also be responsible for youth justice, extremism and the Home Detention Curfew, and Releases on Temporary License schemes.

Her appointment as a minister for VAWG was welcomed by Dame Vera, who had used an appearance on Sky News on 24 September to call for the government to appoint a dedicated VAWG Minister.

However, whilst Minister Atkins is responsible for these areas within the Ministry of Justice, Rachel Maclean, the new Safeguarding Minister in the Home Office, also has VAWG under her remit, with the Home Office remaining the lead department on VAWG.

In her letter to the Justice Secretary, Dame Vera Baird writes: “I am sure that you can appreciate that this is a complex and somewhat confusing picture for us as we engage on key victims’ work”, adding that she “would welcome clarity and an explanation of these roles and how they will work together”.

It had previously been understood that Kit Malthouse MP would be leading work on the Rape Review. However, there were also changes which mean that Kit Malthouse MP will no longer have responsibility for victims, whilst Tom Pursglove MP, a new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (joint with the Home Office) will support on victims and witnesses.

Adding to a confusing picture, Minister Malthouse has recently appeared in broadcast interviews indicating that he does retain a leading role in the Rape Review.

Dame Vera writes: “I would welcome your direction on which minister will take overall responsibility for the implementation of the End-to-End Rape Review as well as guidance on how issues on VAWG will be managed in the future, given the relationship between ministerial appointments and departments. This is a key area of work for my team and it is important to ensure that I can effectively engage with ministers to get the right outcomes for victims.”

The letter, sent on 1 October 2021, comes amid a crucial time for victims’ work as the PCSC Bill continues its passage through Parliament and with a Victims’ Bill on the horizon.

The ministerial changes also preceded the recent developments in the Sarah Everard case, where pressure has been growing on the police and government to respond to what is being termed an epidemic of violence against women and girls.

Download the letter (PDF).