Constitutional powers report

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Overview

This report considers the current powers and duties of the Victims’ Commissioner and compares them to those of selected public scrutiny bodies in England and Wales.

This report identifies significant gaps in the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner in relation to the current Victims’ Code. It identifies changes that could be made to close these gaps and to enable the Commissioner to better fulfil her statutory duties.

The Victims’ Commissioner has three core statutory duties: to promote the interests of victims and witnesses; to take such steps as considered appropriate to encourage good practice; and to keep under the review the operation of the Code. This report recommends that, in order to fully perform these connected duties, the Commissioner needs additional powers to:

  1. Undertake effective review of the operation of the Code;
  2. Rely on the cooperation of bodies named in the Code when encouraging them to adopt good practice;
  3. Identify weakness in the implementation of the Code;
  4. Require action if bodies are found not to be complying with the Code;
  5. In the last resort and if necessary to clarify the law in the public interest, to bring appropriate legal proceedings;
  6. Receive and direct complaints from victims as users of services provided by bodies named in the Code;
  7. Conduct and commission research and training on, for example, what constitutes good practice and on victims’ emergent needs;
  8. Require changes to the Code if it is found to be inadequate;
  9. Ensure that Parliament is fully aware of victims’ needs, and upholds their entitlements and rights;
  10. Recommend changes to the law.

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

“This report poses two key questions: if victims’ rights are important, why is it that they cannot be enforced? If agencies have duties, why is it that they cannot be compelled to perform these duties?

The history of victims’ codes is that everyone approves of them, but the rights are only ever patchily delivered. If we are to improve justice for victims, as we urgently need to do, simply ensuring they are guaranteed the rights that have been set out in the Victims’ Code will be a foundational first step.

I commissioned this research to have a fresh look at what minimum powers would be needed for the Victims’ Commissioner properly to review the operation of the Victims’ Code and to drive improvement in the interests of victims. I plan to give these recommendations very careful consideration.

The Victims’ Law offers a chance to 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. This report can play a key part in shaping how we make the best of that opportunity.”

Professor Pamela Cox said:

“If we uphold victims’ rights, we strengthen the criminal justice system as a whole in the wider public interest.

As the role is currently configured, the Victims’ Commissioner is established as an advocate for victims but not as an effective monitoring and scrutinising role. The Commissioner has very few tools with which to work. At present, the Code is neither enforceable in law nor able to be kept under effective review.”

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