Support for the victims of crime will be overhauled following the launch of the inaugural cross-Government Victims Strategy in which Justice Secretary David Gauke sets out how the Government will ensure that support for victims – including those of violent offences such as terrorism – is aligned to the changing nature of crime and boost services at every stage of the justice system.
The Victims Strategy makes clear the specific support victims can expect, beginning immediately after a crime and ending long after any court proceedings. The Government currently spends roughly £200 million per annum on support services for the victims of crime.
The launch also serves as the next step in the delivery of Manifesto commitments to establish an Independent Public Advocate for victims of public disasters and enshrine victims’ entitlements in law.
Commenting on the importance of this work to the Government, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Nothing can take away the distress and trauma of being a victim of crime, but ensuring that people receive the support they need as they rebuild their lives is vital. How we support victims is fundamental to a caring society, and in recognition of that we are taking steps to enshrine their rights in law for the very first time. The first duty of a Government is to keep the people safe, but it’s not enough to simply bring offenders to court. Victims need to know they are protected and listened to, and we will continue to work with charities and support groups to improve their experience.”
Justice Secretary David Gauke added: “Many of us will be lucky enough to not have to encounter the justice system as a victim of crime, but those who do must not also become a victim of the process. We will enshrine victims’ entitlements in law by beginning a consultation early next year, and otherwise seek to boost the Victims’ Code. This Victims Strategy addresses the changing nature of crime and sets out the support victims should receive at every stage of their journey through the justice system from providing statements to police, appearing in court or in front of the Parole Board, as well as every step in-between.”
Key aspects of the strategy
The Victims Strategy sets out how the Government will:
*Consult on a revised Victims’ Code to ensure that entitlements better reflect the needs of victims and the changing nature of crime. For example, the Government will reduce the points of contact for victims through reviewing the roles and responsibilities of agencies that support victims, and also seek to review support for the victims of mentally disordered offenders
*Consult on a Victims’ Law to underpin the Code, which will include strengthening the Victims’ Commissioner’s powers. The Government will launch a consultation in early 2019 with the aim of an amended Code being put in place in 2019
*Consult on the establishment of an Independent Public Advocate to help bereaved families following a disaster. They will help guide families throughout an investigative process, ensuring that their voices are heard at inquests and that they’re directed to appropriate support services
*Review the entire Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme such that it reflects the changing nature of crime, and particularly so around applications relating to child sexual abuse and terrorism. The Government will consider reform of the eligibility criteria, and also abolish the “unfair and arbitrary” pre-1979 ‘same roof rule.’ The Government will launch a consultation on a review of the scheme by early 2019
*Improve communication and support for victims during the parole process. The Government will simplify the Victim Contact Scheme and improve the quality of communication, allow Victim Personal Statements at parole hearings and roll out revised training for Victim Liaison Officers
Significant progress has been made to address the causes of crime, including the work announced in the Serious Violence Strategy and the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act. However. ministers are clear that more must be done for victims. For example, fewer than 20% of victims were aware of the Victims’ Code, which sets out the minimum entitlements and services they should receive by law. Only 15% said they were given the opportunity by the police to make a Victim Personal Statement.
Timely focus on the needs of victims
Baroness Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, observed: “This is a timely focus on the needs and rights of victims as well as a major step forward towards ensuring they receive the care, support and justice they deserve. Victims consistently tell me that they feel their status in the criminal justice system is not comparable with that of the offender. As Victims’ Commissioner, I have long been calling for a Victims Law’ to ensure that the rights of victims are central to the delivery of our justice system. I welcome this Victims’ Strategy which brings us a step closer to seeing a Victims’ Law on the statute books. Such a law will mean that no victim in the future will have to fight for the support to which they are entitled. I will continue to push Government to ensure that victims whose lives may be devastatingly transformed by the criminality that’s committed against them are afforded the rights they so justly deserve.”
Diana Fawcett, chief officer of the independent charity Victim Support, said: “As the national charity for the victims of crime, we welcome the steps set out to bring forward a Victims’ Law and strengthen the Victims’ Code. We’re also pleased that the Government has announced a much-needed review of criminal injuries compensation for victims. We have worked closely with the Government as the Victims Strategy has been developed and we look forward to continuing collaboration to ensure that the reforms truly work for victims.”
The Victims Strategy sets out new policy and brings together existing funding commitments made by various Government departments. It outlines plans to improve support for the victims of major tragedies to ensure that the painful experience of the Hillsborough families isn’t replicated.
Further measures in the Victims Strategy include:
*Commitments to increase spending from £31 million in 2018 to £39 million in 2020-2021 in order to improve services for the victims of sexual violence and abuse who seek support from Sexual Assault Referral Centres
*Greater support for families bereaved by homicide, including new funding for advocacy support for families bereaved by domestic homicide
*Boosting the number of Registered Intermediaries (ie communication experts helping vulnerable victims and witnesses give their best evidence at police interview and trial) by 25%
*Improving court environments, with new victim-friendly waiting areas and an emphasis on accessibility for the most vulnerable
*Keeping the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme under review and considering an extension such that victims and the public can have sentences reconsidered by the Court of Appeal
*Focus on better enforcement of the Victims’ Code, with increased responsibility for Police and Crime Commissioners in monitoring the delivery of services
*The creation of a short, user-friendly overview of the Victims’ Code in hard copy and electronic formats
*Developing a new delivery model for victim support services and co-ordinating funding across Government