The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Baroness Newlove, is calling for a ‘Victims’ Law’ that guarantees victims legal ‘rights’ within the criminal justice system, stating that there must be a “seismic change” in the culture of the justice system.
In her speech, Lady Newlove will say: “I am calling for a ‘Victim Law’ to make the needs and rights of victims central to the delivery of justice.
“Over recent years, there has been considerable debate about putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. So why do victims complain that the justice system leaves them feeling like bystanders?”
The proposed Victims’ Law comes at a time of intense debate about how victims are best supported within the criminal justice system.
In her role as Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove promotes the interests of victims and witnesses, and highlights best practice in their treatment. She meets hundreds of victims every year, and learns first-hand of their journey through the criminal justice system.
The VC said: “I’m not advocating offenders shouldn’t have rights. Neither do I accept that giving rights to victims can only be at the expense of offenders. True justice requires both offenders and victims to be given rights that guarantee both are treated fairly.”
A Victims’ Law would guarantee a new package of core legal ‘rights’ to protect victims and set in stone provisions to ensure delivery. They include:
- A right to be informed with key information such as key dates and decisions.
- A right to be given reasons for, and have a legal right of review, of decisions to drop or reduce charges against the suspect.
- A right to make a Victim Personal Statement at trial.
- A right to be offered Restorative Justice.
- A right to be consulted on conditions of release or discharge.
As well as giving victims a set of rights, the Commissioner also wants to see a Victims’ Law commit to giving vulnerable victims their own ‘independent advocate’ to support them through to recovery.
She says: “Too often, victims are forced to navigate a maze of agencies which can be difficult at best, but utterly bewildering when you’re consumed with trauma and grief – that no amount of therapy can shift – and in some cases, suffering life-changing injuries.”
An ‘independent advocate’ would provide a single point of contact throughout the whole process, who’ll take the lead drawing up a support package to meet the victim’s needs. They’ll be able to represent the victim dealing with agencies, as well as support them at every step of the trial.
The VC described the proposed Victims’ Law as “a huge opportunity to deliver seismic change for victims. We must make the most of it,” she urged.
It will also transform the ethos of a system, which for nearly 1,000 years, has solely been about the Crown and offenders.
The VC acknowledged critics will argue the costs at a time when the public purse is under huge pressure. But she stressed the benefits of the Victim Law offers an unprecedented opportunity to help support society’s most vulnerable victims.
She said: “We owe it to victims to feel they’re part of a productive two-way relationship with the criminal justice system, where their experience and trauma counts. In short, we have a moral obligation to go the extra mile in supporting victims through their justice journey.
“Achieving the ambition of putting victims at the heart of our criminal justice system can never be achieved without cost. But to the victims, it’s a right that is priceless.”
Notes for Editors
- In 2017, the Conservative Party Manifesto pledged to “enshrine victims’ entitlements in law, making clear what level of service they should expect from the police, courts and criminal justice system.”
- Baroness Newlove’s first husband Garry was fatally beaten by a teenage gang in August 2007, dying of his injuries two days later.
- The VC will soon begin a review of independent advocacy to build the model and identify roles and responsibilities. An interim report will be published early in 2018.
For phone enquiries and interview requests, call Russell A’Court on: 07957 693147. Or email Russell.ACourt@victimscommissioner.org.uk
Or email Lorraine McBride at Lorraine.McBride@victimscommissioner.org.uk