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Use new Victims Law to transform victims’ rights and reposition victims as participants – not bystanders – in our justice system, says Victims’ Commissioner

Victims’ Commissioner publishes new paper setting out her ambitions for long-awaited Victims’ Law and calls for criminal justice agencies to be more accountable and for victims to be accorded “participants’ rights".

Read the full report online.

New victims’ legislation is needed to give victims more rights and better treatment, says Dame Vera Baird, as she today (24 February 2021) publishes a new paper setting out what she wants to see from the government’s long-awaited Victims’ Law.

Contained in the document’s 34 recommendations are calls for the government to put victims’ rights on a proper statutory footing, with monitoring and compliance mechanisms to hold agencies to account; to lay out in law the role and rights of victims as participants in the criminal justice system; and to establish a single unified victims’ complaints system.

Dame Vera Baird says: “We know victim confidence in our criminal justice system is in sharp decline. More and more victims are withdrawing their support for prosecutions and, in my recent survey of rape complainants, only around one in seven said they felt reporting could end in justice. Superficial changes are not enough if we are to reverse this downward trend.  To regain the trust of victims, we urgently need a change of culture in how the justice system treats them.”

Dame Vera says that victims are too often seen as temporary and marginal to the criminal justice process. As one of her recommendations, she wants to see victims recognised as participants in their own right within the criminal justice process. This would formally acknowledge victims’ inherent interest in proceedings and accord them statutory rights to be kept informed by police and criminal justice agencies and supported by specialist services.

Dame Vera says: “Victims are participants from start to finish, but they are currently treated more like bystanders. We must recognise justice cannot be delivered without victims and our justice system needs to reflect this. I’m calling for a redefinition of the victim that moves beyond treating them as simply an onlooker or maybe a witness, but as a recognised participant, with statutory rights to be informed, supported and to be able to make informed choices. This does not in any way undermine the rights of the defendant and does not make them a party to proceedings, or a decision-maker, but it does confirm victims as active contributors in their own right to the criminal justice process.”

The Victims’ Commissioner also calls for victims’ rights to be put on a proper statutory footing, requiring compliance from criminal justice agencies at all times. Victims of crime in England & Wales are currently accorded rights to information and support and limited procedural rights in the Victims’ Code, but these rights are not enforceable and are only patchily delivered.

Dame Vera says: “All too often, victim entitlements are not being delivered and the paucity of data collected on victims and their entitlements make it impossible to hold criminal justice agencies to account. A Victims Law is an opportunity to finally address this issue and tackle the dilemma that victims’ rights aren’t working, aren’t enforceable and are rights only as long as the agencies responsible want victims to have them.”

Other recommendations include:

  • Rape victims to have a statutory entitlement to receive free and independent legal advice when it’s felt the victims’ right to privacy is threatened by undue data requests by the police, prosecutors or courts.
  • Police and CPS to be required to advise a victim on details and progress of investigations, including seeking victims’ views on modifying or discontinuing charges, allowing victims to make representations, and responding to those representations and providing reasons for a decision to a victim.
  • Victims of anti-social behaviour to be recognised as victims of crime and receive statutory entitlement to access victim support services.
  • Court-ordered compensation to be paid up-front by the courts, leaving the offender to repay HMCTS and not the victim. This would follow the Dutch model, whereby the courts pay the victim compensation directly and recoup the money from offenders.
  • Creating a framework for monitoring and delivering equality of access for all victims to support and to justice, including an obligation for agencies to report on how they are meeting their equality duties.

Dame Vera says: “I look forward to a future where victims’ rights are no longer viewed as an optional extra, but a key part of how we deliver overall justice. The Victims’ Law has the chance to be a once in a generation, landmark piece of legislation, which could truly transform the victim’s experience of the justice system. To achieve this, the government must have the ambition and determination to make it truly transformative. Acknowledging the true position of victims as active and valued participants in the criminal justice process is key if we are to reverse falling victim confidence in our justice system.”

The government has said it will consult on victim’s legislation later this year.

Editors’ Notes

  • For press queries or requests for interview, please contact Tom Cracknell – 07562 431727 |
  • The policy paper is to be published on Wednesday 24 February. It will be published on the Victims’ Commissioner website.
  • The paper is called ‘Victims Law Policy Paper: Victims’ Commissioner’s Proposals for a Victims Law’.
  • The Victims’ Commissioner conducted in-depth research, ran surveys of victims, and held 9 dedicated roundtables with a broad range of stakeholders, including charities, service providers, commissioners and academics.
  • There are 34 recommendations in the report. The recommendations are designed to address three key thematic areas: improving victim participation in the criminal justice system, ensuring effective monitoring and compliance of victim entitlements, and ensuring equality of access to justice for all victims.
  • Those recommendations mentioned in the press release are:
    • Victim as a participant – Recommendation 1
    • Set of core statutory rights – Recommendation 2
    • Police and CPS to take all steps to advise a victim on details and progress of investigations – Recommendation 3
    • Statutory right for sexual assault victims to be given free legal representation – Recommendation 5
    • Court ordered compensation to be paid to the victim by the court – Recommendation 7
    • Anti-social behaviour victims to be recognised as victims of crime and entitled to support – Recommendation 16
    • Establishing a single cross-criminal justice system complaints body – Recommendation 25
    • Equality of access – Recommendations 30-34
  • Declining victim confidence in the justice system:
    • In 2009/10 MoJ statistics showed 67% of victim/witnesses who had given evidence would do so again. In another survey by the CPS in 2016 witnesses were asked how likely they were to do so and only 53% said that they would with a further 36% commenting that it would depend on the case.
    • In a Victims’ Commissioner’s survey of victims conducted in April 2020, just 18% of respondents felt that victims are given enough support through the court process.
    • In England and Wales, the most recent Home Office published statistics for the year to September 2020 show that a record 25% of cases had been closed down because victims did not support the prosecution, a proportion that has more than doubled in the past five years. When you look at complainants of rape, the figure rises to 42% and complainants of violence against the person shows 44%.
    • Data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales 2018-19 showed that whilst most victims were satisfied with their initial contact with police (73%), over a third of victims grew dissatisfied with the way the police handled their case, taking too little action, not communicating about the case.
    • In the Victims’ Commissioner’s survey of rape complainants conducted in the summer of 2020, overall, just 14% of respondents agreed that ‘survivors of rape and sexual offences can get justice by reporting an incident to the police’. A full 75% actively disagreed and most respondents (71%) had experience of the system before expressing that view.