“Whilst much has been achieved in improving services and support for victims, there is still so much more we need to do” the Victims’ Commissioner has today warned. She believes that the time has come for the Government to introduce a Victim Law, providing victims with statutory rights and proper redress if they are not adhered to.
Publishing her Annual Report for 2016/17, the Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove has focused on the need to do more to protect and support vulnerable victims. She highlights the needs of those who have suffered from non-recent child sexual abuse, as well as victims of trafficking and modern day slavery and victims of persistent anti-social behaviour and cyber-crime.
Baroness Newlove said:
“Throughout the year I have been particularly concerned about the support given to vulnerable victims.
More survivors of child sexual abuse are coming forward and I fear many more are still suffering in silence. It is important that all agencies with a statutory responsibility for supporting survivors have the capacity and the skills to be able to do so. Many survivors have been let down in the past. It is important that we do not let them down again”.
Her Report reviews the landscape of victims’ services following the Government’s decision in 2015 to devolve responsibility for many services to local Police and Crime Commissioners. She reports on finding positive examples of innovation and good practice and meeting many dedicated practitioners. However, she remains concerned that service delivery can be hampered by the decision of the Ministry of Justice decision to allocate funding on an annual basis, thereby creating uncertainty for service suppliers which can undermine service delivery.
Baroness Newlove said:
“Throughout the second half of the year I have travelled around the country meeting Police and Crime Commissioners, their staff and local victims. Each visit highlighted new initiatives and my meetings with local victims give me a real sense of what is happening on the ground. The challenge in a devolved climate is for good practice to become the norm, so that support for victims does not become a postcode lottery”.
The Victims’ Commissioner’s Report refers to her reviews, published during the course of the year, on issues such as Restorative Justice and the Victim Personal Statement, which suggest that compliance with the Victims’ Code is patchy and that victims are not always receiving the services they are entitled to expect.
Baroness Newlove says:
“Statistical and anecdotal evidence tells me that victims are not always receiving their entitlements as set out in the Victims’ Code. Victims deserve better. I want to know that every victim receives all of their entitlements and that these are delivered with sensitivity and respect.”
The Victims’ Commissioner believes that the time has come for the Government to introduce a Victim Law which gives victims a more established position within the criminal justice system. The law should offer victims a set of “rights” compared to the guidance that is currently on offer. These rights need to be enforceable and those agencies responsible for victims’ services should be fully accountable for their performance in delivering.
The Victims’ Commissioner said:
“I hear all too often that victims are at the heart of the criminal justice system. For many victims this feels more like rhetoric than reality. A Victim Law is the next step if we are to achieve a culture change, whereby victims are formally recognised as an integral part of our criminal justice system”
In the Annual Report, the Victims’ Commissioner welcomes announcements by ministers in improving the treatment of victims, including the roll-out of video-links for child and vulnerable witnesses to pre-record their evidence, legislation to prevent perpetrators of domestic abuse from interrogating their victims in the Family Courts, a commitment to review and enforce legislation in respect of domestic abuse and a review of the questioning of rape victims in criminal trials in respect of previous sexual history.
Looking ahead, the Commissioner promises to continue her focus on vulnerable victims and witnesses, by undertaking reviews on the Registered Intermediary Scheme (which supports child victims and witnesses), support given to victims suffering from mental illness and accessibility to criminal injuries compensation.
Notes to Editors:
- For further information, please contact Russell A’Court on 020 3334 2908 or Russell.A’Court@victimscommssioner.gsi.gov.uk
- Baroness Newlove is the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales. Appointed in March 2013 and re-appointed in March 2016, her role is to promote the interests of victims and witnesses; encourage good practice in the treatment of victims and witnesses; and keep under review the operation of the Code of Practice for Victims
- A copy of The Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses Annual Report for 2016/17 can be found here: https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/victimscomm-prod-storage-clhgxgum05k1/uploads/2014/10/Annual_Report_2016-17.pdf