The Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove (VC) and the Director of the National Probation Service, Sonia Crozier (Director), met to discuss the operation of the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS).
Meeting date: 10 October 2018
Review of Parole Processes
The VC acknowledged that the Government review into parole processes, which took place in the first quarter of 2018, had prompted a number of changes for the VCS, much of which she welcomed.
In her response to the Government’s review, the VC called for the VCS to operate more as a support service for victims, as opposed to simply providing a transactional service. She suggested the piloting of placing Victim Liaison Officers (VLOs) in victim hubs so that staff integrated with colleagues in victim support services. This would offer the opportunity of a more seamless transition for victims into the VCS and possibly in a more supportive environment. In the Government response there was a commitment to explore this further.
The Director advised that the NPS were committed to taking this work forward. A recent IT refresh meant that all VLOs had been issued with laptops and this in turn would facilitate remote working. It now meant that co-locating VLOs in victim hubs was a possibility. There was a discussion about where pilots might take place. One of the NPS directors was interested in taking this work forward. The VC undertook to raise the plans with the victim lead in the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.
The VC was keen to be involved in the discussions for this pilot.
The director advised the VC that over 1000 victims had requested that they receive a high-level summary of Parole Board reasons in their cases. The NPS and the Parole Board had been in discussion about providing reasons that were free of jargon and easy for victims to understand.
Victims had approached the VC to express shock and dismay that victims in the VCS were not being notified when their offender was being moved out of the High Security Estate (Category A conditions). The current guidance suggested that such a move was not a “significant development”. Victims failed to understand why and the VC agreed.
This represented an important stage in the offender’s sentence as it made it more likely that an offender would be recommended for transfer to open conditions.
The Director promised to look into this and report back to the VC.
The Worboys case highlighted the issue of “discretionary victims”. Most of his victims did not get their day in court as the police and CPS considered there was insufficient evidence. As a result, they were not given the opportunity to join the VCS and only found out through the media about the decision to release him.
The Government review accepted that the criteria for discretionary access to the VCS had to be reviewed. The VC was grateful to have had sight of the proposed changes to in respect of discretionary access. The changes were, in her view, comprehensive, and she was keen to know when they might take effect.
She also asked about the extent to which the changes could be applied retrospectively.
The Director would come back to her with this information.
Victims of Mentally Disordered Offenders
The VC published her report on victims of mentally disordered offenders in August. There were several recommendations that would impact on the NPS:
- Amend the Victims’ Code to afford the same entitlements to victims of both restricted and unrestricted patients as those given to victims of serving prisoners. This should include the right to submit a Victim Personal Statement at the point at which an MDO’s continued detention is being reviewed and the right to attend a hearing of the panel to read the statement. (Ministry of Justice)
- Extend the remit of the Victim Contact Scheme to provide the ongoing support of a victim liaison officer (VLO) to victims of unrestricted patients, so that they receive a comparable level of support as that afforded to any other victims of serious sexual and violent offences. (National Probation Service)
- Victim Liaison Officers to be offered refresher training on the review processes for MDOs. (National Probation Service)
- Review the support and assistance provided to victims of MDOs who wish to submit representations on conditions of discharge. (National Probation Service)
- Guarantee that when such representations are rejected either in part or in whole, full reasons are given to the victim. (Ministry of Justice)
The Director and the VC had a detailed discussion about the findings of the review. It was noted that the main changes for the VCS was to facilitate victims having the opportunity to submit a Victim Personal Statement and for victims of unrestricted patients to be given a VLO. The MoJ were looking at the recommendations of this review and the NPS was working with policy leads.
The VC asked if there was scope for some VLOs to specialise on the mental health process, so that they could offer victims a more informed service. The Director agreed to look into the possibility of this.
At their last meeting, the VC expressed concern that some victims were unhappy about the handling of their requests for exclusion zones and no contact conditions.
The VC had asked about the possibility of informing victims whether their offenders planned to resettle in the region in which they were living. This is because victims were often distressed that an offender is being released due to the risk of meeting them accidentally. Yet, in some cases, the resettlement address was many miles away; if this was made known to the victim, it would offer immediate re-assurance.
The Director agreed to look at this and see if there was scope to be more transparent with victims about resettlement plans, even to the extent of informing victims which region in the UK the offender would be resettled into.
The Director updated the VC on plans to place some offenders on GPS tracking, which would enhance the policing of exclusion zones. The VC welcomed this move.
The Director updated the VC on the refresher training that had been planned for VLOs. It had been rolled out and well received by staff.