The New Government Must Keep to Manifesto Pledge of a Victims’ Law

On May 18th 2017, the Conservatives published their manifesto with a clear commitment, that if elected they would introduce a Victims’ Law. The Liberal Democrats and Labour parties also said that they would act on a Victims’ Law. This is welcome news for the Victims’ Law campaign.

However, these promises have been made before. In May 2015, the Conservative Party included a commitment to implement a Victims’ Law in their manifesto. In February 2016, the Government minister told Voice4Victims that they intended to imminently produce a Green Paper on this subject. The Paper never materialised, despite Voice4Victims contributing to its content.

On January 18th 2017, the Government in the House of Lords announced that there would be a 12 month review of the nature of the Victims’ Code, agencies compliance and accountability and the need for legislation. This concession was made after 2 years of campaigning by Voice4Victims for a Victims’ Law – incorporation of the discretionary victims’ code in legislation and other enforceable rights. It also followed the introduction of two Private members’ bills and numerous amendments to government Bills to make these aspirations a reality. Unfortunately, there is little, if any, evidence of progress by the Ministry of Justice on this January commitment.

The terms of reference for this review have not been published and it is unclear who will be consulted during the course of this exercise. Voice4Victims is asking that all parties include a commitment to a Victims’ Law rather than unenforceable, discretionary codes in their manifestos and with a detailed time frame as to how this will be delivered. This time the next Government must act or victims will be side-lined yet again.

What Voice4Victims is demanding?

Voice4Victims is pleased that all parties in the Election are committed to a Victims’ Law. This commitment should include:

• Giving victims legally enforceable rights to access timely justice
• Access to relevant, professional and properly resourced support services to aid recovery
• Access to timely compensation
• Access to easily accessible complaints procedures and reviews through help of a single point of contact
• No discriminatory behaviour by the Criminal Justice System
• Police to ensure the safety and protection of all victims and witnesses during proceedings
• Commitment to specialist training for all agencies in the Criminal Justice System on the rights and entitlements of victims
• Families of victims of mentally disordered offenders or those murdered abroad should have access to timely information and justice

Why are Voice4Victims demanding this?

There is overwhelming evidence of victims being failed justice and support with many left isolated and unable to recover from the crime. Crime is changing and with cuts to Policing and training and support services, victims of crime at being put at great risk. Many victims experience multiple problems with multiple agencies who do not exchange information nor act in a co-ordinated manner. This disjointed approach exposes victims to failings and risks.

The Victim’s Experience:
Irene was encouraged to report ongoing sexual violence and domestic violence to Police. Upon reporting, Police stated they didn’t believe her as the crime she was reporting ‘didn’t happen in green, leafy, middle class areas’. A detective was eventually assigned to the case but due to the nature of the crimes, she had to be interviewed by 18 different police office officers which was deeply traumatic for the victim and left her attempting suicide as she received no single point of contact or any help or support during the police interviews. The victim and her children were relocated due to being at high risk of murder but the social worker disclosed the safe address on two occasions to the victim’s abusive husband and the victim was brutally attacked as a result of this. Due to the complexity of the case, the Police decided not to pursue proceedings and only one of the cases went to trial. During the trial, the victim was refused special measures of a video link interview due to Police failure to fill out necessary paper work in time. This meant the victim was forced to attend court, although was allowed to give evidence from behind a screen. During cross examination, the victim was asked inappropriate questions about past sexual history. The victim’s experience of the justice system was so traumatic and said ‘ because our system is not effective enough to protect me, I have been moved away from my life and made to accept that I can never access justice and get my old life back because the system is so flawed and broken’.
Amy was a victim of Domestic Abuse and was arrested by Police due to her abuser’s false allegations. Police did not look up the history of the case and number of times the victim had called the Police about her partner. When her abuser was finally arrested for harassment and stalking, he pleaded not guilty. As a result, the case went to court but on the day of trial, the offender was acquitted as Police failed to supply evidence to CPS in time. All the evidence to show the stalking could not be used again for a subsequent trial. The stalking continued and the offender was arrested and charged again and was eventually found guilty. The victim wanted to access an IPCC review into the handling of her case due to failings but she was not able to as the offender appealed his conviction. The appeal to conviction was adjourned twice and took a year and half to go to Court. The victim was forced to attend the appeal hearing to give evidence but CPS failed to give the victim her original statements and it had been over a year and a half since she gave her original statement. The appeal was dismissed but the victim had been kept in the justice process due to delays for nearly two years after the initial crime was committed. As a result of delays and failings, her perpetrator was able to use the family courts to continue his abuse and stalking and the victim’s life was on hold during these inordinate delays. The victim said ‘I believed in the justice system and now I don’t. It allowed my abuser the opportunity to get me arrested and charged without anyone hearing my voice. It allowed my abuser to be acquitted due to Police and CPS failing to communicate. When I did finally receive justice, my abuser was allowed to appeal and that appeal was allowed to take over a year to be heard. I’m not allowed to appeal any of the decisions but my abuser has. He has all the rights along the journey and I’ve had none. I have felt insignificant and helpless in the justice system”.

What should be in the Victims’ Law?
• The right to information at every stage of the justice process
• The right to not be discriminated against or prejudiced from accessing justice
• The right to not be subjected to unnecessary delay
• The right to challenge decisions that directly impact the victim’s safety
• Revising offences that can be appealed on grounds of leniency
• Non-disclosure of victims name to perpetrator in serious sexual offences where the perpetrator has targeted a stranger
• The right to attend and make representations to any pre-court hearing to determine the nature of the court proceedings
What will the Impact be? :
• Victims could recover from the crime far quicker by feeling supported and heard during the process and easily access timely justice, professional support and robust mechanisms for complaints procedures.
• As a result of quicker recovery, victims could recover more swiftly and not face further victimisation.
• With quicker recovery, less strain would be placed on health and employment services.
• Victims more likely to participate in work and education
• Quality of life for families and children would be much improved
• Victims will be better able to contribute to their communities more effectively and positively
• Victims would be less isolated and vulnerable and experience less stress and trauma

The next Government must first publish a timetable, then consult with stakeholders and table their draft legislation. Voice4Victims urges that this be done as soon as possible as victims of crime have waited long enough for their rights to be enshrined in law.

Stalkers Unlikely to be Jailed as Restraining Orders are Ineffective

Over the recent months, we have been researching whether restraining orders are effective in protecting victims. Click Guardian article for more details

It’s time to recognise #stalking & #coercive control in the Courts by Claire Waxman

This week is National Stalking Awareness Week 2017 and it’s time to shine a light on stalking victims and their experiences because #stalkingmatters.

I know first-hand the devastating effects of stalking on a person’s life, having been a victim of a prolonged stalking campaign for well over a decade. I know just how desperate and isolated a victim of this crime can feel, when the Police do not recognise the pattern of behaviour of stalkers and ignore victim’s complaints, or the Crown Prosecution Service drop the case due to lack of evidence, poor police investigation or the stalker’s supposed human right to access the courts, which is all too often the very method many stalkers employ to continue their stalking and harassment.

It is this type of stalking that is being regularly missed or minimised and that creates financial and emotional consequences for the victim and a legitimate link for the victim and their stalker. It is what we call ‘Abuse of Process’ and an area Voice4Victims, is highlighting and addressing through legislative and policy reforms.

In 2011, I successfully challenged the CPS’s decision not to prosecute my stalker when he brought vexatious complaints against me, for the third time, through the Civil Courts. Due to the CPS failing to recognise the stalking and uphold the restraining order, I was left vulnerable and exposed to an unnecessary further 18 months of stalking hell which greatly affected my life.

Astonishingly, even with this successful judgement, 6 years later, Voice4Victims is hearing from scores of victims being exposed to the same risk and harm that I was. Lessons are not being learned and we are hearing from too many stalking victims who should be protected by a restraining order yet are being forced to face their abusers in court; be cross examined by them and even forced to pay for this ‘state sanctioned’ abuse.

Over the past year, Voice4Victims has intervened on a number of cases and have had the decision not to prosecute stalkers over vexatious claims reversed through the Victims Right to Review process. However, with mounting evidence from a recent survey (due for release imminently), abusers with restraining orders are successfully circumventing these orders by making spurious and unfounded claims against their victims to Police, regulatory boards, Social Services, and the Courts in a bid to continue unwanted contact with their victims and abuse them further.

When Police and CPS fail to value the importance of the restraining order and recognise this form of stalking and harassment, they give the abuser the belief that the order from the Court is meaningless and will not stop them. It leaves the victim vulnerable and feeling powerless as they realise the restraining order can do little to protect them from ongoing threats and that they cannot access justice or support. The victim is left weak and traumatised, fearful of what will come next and the abuser has all the power through the courts to continue.

We are determined that this form of stalking and ‘abuse of process’ should be recognised and called to account and we are now funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) to challenge the ways in which stalkers use the court processes to stalk and harass their victims. We will be publishing our survey results and Bill proposals over the coming months and will continue to work with Parliamentarians and justice agencies on this form of ‘legalised’ stalking and abuse of process.

Below are direct quotes from those suffering this type of abuse:

“When my stalker was convicted of breaching the restraining order over a year after it was put in place, all he was given was £100 fine.’

‘ For four years, despite a restraining order to prevent contact, my stalker has used family court to feed his obsession and control me. Even with his three convictions and long term serious mental health issues and the fact that three separate cafcass officers and specialist agencies have recommended no contact, family court has put their focus on me, seeing me as the problem because they have listened to my stalker’s voice above mine. Family courts recent decision, against the advice of police and social services, to force further intrusion into my life has resulted in my stalker being told where we moved to escape him. Being stalked through the court is devastating, the law and restraining order, which should be protecting me and my family from a person the police classify as a ‘high risk stalker’ is actually feeding his obsession and I feel trapped and terrified.’

“Even with court orders ,non mols and restraining orders , I’m trapped and confined within my anxiety as the orders mean nothing to him. I am financially wiped over vexatious court proceedings he brings, and even an 18 month ban preventing him from accessing the courts will soon be over. He is everywhere. He is torture in my head, on my computer screen, calling my family and friends. He appears through the letter box with a court stamp. He comes through the village I moved to in order to be free from him and my safe address has been printed on the restraining order! He is all knowing, all seeing and some days you question your strength, your belief in a safe system and if you can keep strong as he weakens you bit by bit. I fear him greatly as the court room is his battleground where he is allowed to throw false allegations and verbally abuse me and crush me mentally and financially. He revels in his power of being able to use this system to hurt me. If I wanted to uphold any court order he keeps breaching, it is me who has to pay thousands and enter the court arena where I’ll be verbally attacked and crushed just to try and get justice and protection from him. Justice and protection should come without such emotional and financial cost.”

Voice4Victims welcomes Government Announcement to Protect Victims in Court

Voice4Victims welcomes the announcement today that the Government will be legislating to stop victims of domestic violence being cross examined by their abusers in Family Court.

In July 2016, Voice4Victims held the #AbuseofProcess conference which looked at different ways abusers exploit their rights to access legal platforms in order to continue unwanted contact with their victims and abuse them further. One of the areas highlighted was the Family Courts and Jess Phillips attended the conference to share findings from her campaigning with Women’s Aid.

In December 2016, the Guardian newspaper ran a series of articles based on Women’s Aid #childfirst report and Voice4Victims #abuseofprocess report which highlighted abusers cross examining their victims. Today the Government has responded and announced that they will be addressing this high risk and re-victimising procedure.

Voice4Victims will continue to campaign on Abuse of Process as they hope the Government will widen their legislation to include the civil courts, where many victims of stalking ,harassment and domestic violence are being cross examined by their abusers.

‘We are seeing too many victims forced into vexatious legal proceedings so their abusers can see them, harass them and harm them further. It is vital that the Government recognise all forms of abuse of process in all legal platforms in order to safeguard victims’ says Claire Waxman, Founder of Voice4Victims.

The government also announced today that they will be reviewing the use of sexual histories during cross examination of rape victims. This also comes on the back of another Voice4Victims’ campaign after they have drafted a Rape Shield Bill with Liz Saville Roberts, which was introduced as a ten minute rule bill on Wednesday February 8th 2017.

Again, through Voice4Victims’ campaigning, the impact of this brutal cross examination on victims is being recognised and hopefully will be restricted in the future in order to protect victims.

Harry Fletcher, Co-director of Voice4Victims said ‘The impact of cross examining a person about their sexual history is intended to undermine the credibility of the victim and humiliate them. It’s welcome that the government is looking to change the law in this area’.

Voice4Victims was set up to ensure that the voices of victims are heard and as evidenced today, their ground breaking campaigns play a vital role in influencing future policies, services and legislations to protect victims of crime.

Voice4Victims drafts Sexual Offences Bill 8th February 2017

A new private member’s Bill will be introduced today, to coincide with Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness week, to prevent the cross examination of rape victims about either their sexual history, previous behaviour or appearance. The Bill has been drafted by Harry Fletcher and Claire Waxman of Voice4Victims following their analysis of numerous case studies which illustrate major loopholes in current law and procedure. Voice4Victims has received cases where rape or attempt rape victims have been cross examined about their number of previous sexual partners, affairs they may have been involved in, any previous history of alcohol abuse or mental health and the clothes they were wearing at the time of the offence.

The Bill is being introduced by Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cyrmu) and has all party support (see full list below).

The new Bill means that British legislation would replicate the Rape Shield Law which exists in USA, Canada and Australia. This law seeks to avoid putting the victim on trial for her clothing, attitude, behaviour or sexual past. In essence it prevents a defendant introducing evidence about the complainants past sexual behaviour.

In 2015/2016, there was estimated 85,000 rapes against women. Official statistics show that there 35,798 reports of rape to the Police in England and Wales and of these, just 2,689 resulted in a conviction. These figures reflect that the majority of women do not have the confidence to come forward and report and fear that if they did, they would either not be believed, inappropriately cross examined or blamed for the offence.

Ivy, a rape victim was told at a Ground rules hearing that her sexual history would not be used. However, in Court she was asked by the defence how many sexual partners she had experienced and alluded to the fact that she was promiscuous.

Jenny, a teenager made a complaint against an adult male. She had a history of abuse within the family including a rape conviction against her uncle. She ran away from home in order to escape from adult males. She later did have sex with a male at a homeless shelter. At the trial the defence implied that as she had consented to sex with an adult male, she must have also consented with the alleged rapist.

In a further case a victim of an alleged attempted rape, M, was asked why she had chosen to wear a red dress on the day of the attack which occurred on a hot summer day.

A year long study undertaken in Newcastle by Dame Vera Baird QC concluded that in 1/3 of 30 cases observed, there was question about prior sexual conduct of the complainant. In a further 4 cases, the court rules about cross examination were disregarded as applications were made on the morning of the trial or after trial commencement to introduce sexual history.

This private members Bill would severely restrict the cross examination that occurred in the cases above and numerous other cases which greatly affect victims’ confidence in coming forward to report rape.

The Bill also prohibits in certain circumstances the disclosure by the Police of a victim’s identity to a stranger attacker. It also extends the range of serious offences which may be referred to the Court of Appeal on the grounds of undue leniency. It amends the requirements for Ground rules hearing to make it clear that cross examination on the grounds of sexual history is unacceptable. It also makes provisions for the guidance on safeguarding in schools following cases referred to Voice4Victims which showed that underage female victims were further traumatised by being placed in the same class as their alleged abuser.

Harry Fletcher, Co-Director, Voice4Victims says ‘there is clear and overwhelming evidence that rape victims are questioned about their previous sexual history, behaviour and appearance. This would not happen to victims involved in other types of trials. Changes to legislation are needed urgently. The government needs to act now’.

Claire Waxman, Founder Voice4Victims said ‘this brutal cross examination of rape victims re-traumatises the victim and causes them irreparable harm. It’s this victim blaming attitude of rape victims that needs to be stamped out from the justice process to ensure victims have the faith and confidence to come forward and report these serious crimes’.

Top Cop urges Rape victims to speak out

Ivy interview and Claire Waxman & Baroness Brinton on Victoria Derbyshire 25th January 2017

Hear Ivy talk exclusively to Victoria Derbyshire Show about her awful ordeal of the Criminal Justice System and how she was failed and hoped for a Victims’ Law.

Ivy Full interview with Victoria Derbyshire

Voice4Victims Founder Claire Waxman and Baroness Brinton talk live to Victoria Derbyshire about Ivy’s case and Victims Code failings and the need for Government to commit to a Victims’ Law.

Listen to Claire Waxman & Baroness Brinton discuss Ivy’s case on Victoria Derbyshire Show and why Victims’ Law is needed

The Victims’ Law Campaign Journey

In January 2013, after a long discussion with fellow campaigner Ann Moulds, I launched Voice4Victims campaign, a campaign to improve the rights of victims in the justice system and to ensure that those rights were legally enforceable.

At the start, those I met were sympathetic to the cause but all agreed that the Victims’ Code was a good vehicle for ensuring victims’ rights and entitlements and they would not publicly support my campaign. Very few could see that more needed to be done, that without the foundations of legally enforceable rights for victims, the victim’s journey would be littered with mistakes that would deeply impact their route to justice and recovery.

I knew from my own long, relentless experience as a stalking victim, that the code was ineffective and that I had no rights when navigating through the complex justice process I was forced to face. I met with the Victims’ commissioner, MP’s, other agencies and charities and yet most failed to see the importance of the Victims’ Law campaign.

Over time, the evidence from other case failings started to materialise and amass and this supported my notion that the code was failing to deliver for others too. A year into the campaign, I was joined by Harry Fletcher, who had successfully worked on both the stalking law reform and coercive control campaigns. He believed in the cause and gave his support. There was also Kate Waley from MAMAA UK and Eve Henderson from Murdered Abroad, who strongly supported the campaign for a Victims’ Law. They gave their time freely to helping me with pushing this campaign forward. It was Kate Waley who twisted my arm (literally) to go and hear Keir Starmer speak about his work commissioned by Labour, about proposals for a Victims’ Law. I thank Kate for pushing me into that room, forcing me to put aside my own personal views of the ex-DPP of CPS and listening to him speak. At the end of his speech, I knew that ironically the man I blamed for much of the CPS failings on my case, was the man to help move this campaign forward.

We met with Keir regularly and whilst he worked on his proposals and plans, Harry and I undertook the huge task of going through endless cases and cases and results from our Victims’ Rights surveys, cross referencing with the Code, in order to draft a comprehensive Bill of Rights for Victims.

In March 2015, with the victims’ bill completed, , Elfyn Llwyd , MP introduced the bill as a ten minute rule bill. The bill had cross party support but made no further progress, due to the election and Elfyn retiring. Thankfully, in September 2015, Keir, as a newly elected MP, agreed to take the bill and help strengthen it to include his own proposals. Together we worked on a ‘gold standard’ bill of rights for Victims of crime. This bill, which received cross party support, was tabled as a ten minute rule bill on 20th October 2015.

As the bill failed to reach second reading we worked on taking key aspects from the Bill and getting these supported and tabled as amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill. In October 2016, Baroness Brinton, who was sponsoring these amendments, held a conference in the House of Lords where victims including ‘Ivy’, gave powerful testimonies highlighting the failings they had endured on their cases and the awful impact these failings had on their lives.

As a result, the amendments were supported in the Lords and voted in on December 12th 2016.

In spite of this win, the Government refused to be hurried, even though they made a manifesto commitment to a victims’ law in May 2015. Their position unmoved by our work and our victory, as they re-iterated that the victims’ code was giving victims of crime, entitlements and rights.

Since the Lords vote on December 12th, Voice4Victims has worked tirelessly to ensure that the minister and the government can see the evidence from victims’ cases and the endless reports which clearly state the Victims’ Code is toothless and provides no real support for victims of crime. After a month of solid campaigning, the Government conceded on Wednesday 18th January 2017 and agreed to a 12 month timeframe of reviewing the code with the aim of primary legislation for victims’ rights and ensuring agencies would be accountable for failings.

This is a huge step forward and a big win for the Voice4Victims Victims Law campaign.

But our work and our campaign does not end.

Voice4Victims must now ensure that the Government fulfills their manifesto commitment to a Victims’ Law and honours the promise given in the Lords last week. We must keep showing the Government how the victims’ code is failing and demonstrate how a Victims’ Law would make a real difference to victims on the front line.

Many of these victims face terrible ordeals at the hands of the justice agencies and this week, one of our brave supporters, Ivy, shared her story publicly for the first time (Ivy Full interview with Victoria Derbyshire). In Ivy’s interview she relives the harrowing experience of not only the awful abuse she sustained for years, but also the awful treatment she received from every agency she came into contact with. The failings on her case highlight how the Victims’ code did not provide her with the rights and entitlements she was owed. It clearly illustrated how certain rights and enforceability are missing from the code which prevent it from being anything more than a well-intentioned document.

It’s for victims like Ivy, myself and for the thousands we have now encountered on this campaign, that we must continue this work. I am overwhelmed that 4 years on, so many now support this campaign and believe in a Victims’ Law and that victims must be placed at the centre of the justice process with legally enforceable rights.

It’s been a four year long and emotional journey where sometimes I felt as if I was ‘wading through treacle’. Those were the words Yvette Cooper said to me on the very first meeting I had about my hope for a Victims’ Law. She told me it would be like ‘wading through treacle’ and she couldn’t have been more accurate. I thank her for her first words of support. I thank Baroness Royall who also offered lots of support at the start for this campaign; to Ann Moulds who inspired me to do this much needed ground-breaking work in the first place; to Kate and Eve for championing me; Harry Fletcher for sticking around and helping me navigate the halls and processes of Parliament and introducing me to the law changers; Keir Starmer, who has given, and continues to give, so much guidance and support and is now in my opinion, brilliant; To Baroness Brinton, who is as driven as I am to make sure we win this battle and finally, the biggest thanks must go to Ivy and to all the other wonderful, inspiring victims turned survivors/campaigners who keep me going on the days where I think I’ve just had enough of treacle!

I ask that you all continue to support this campaign publicly, in articles, on your twitter feeds and continue to share experiences and stories with us, so we can add to the overwhelming evidence of why this law is needed.

We will be resurrecting the Victims’ Forum and sadly although Keir will not be able to be at the helm, he will be very much part of the work we do. So for those who share our vision of a justice system that is fair, equal, transparent and balanced for all, please do get involved and help us reach the finishing line – a VICTIMS LAW.

Listen to Claire Waxman & Baroness Brinton discuss Ivy’s case on Victoria Derbyshire Show and why Victims’ Law is needed

Ivy Full interview with Victoria Derbyshire

The Government Fails Victims of Crime and Breaks Manifesto Pledge to a Victims’ Law

On 10th January 2017, the Conservative government voted against the acceptance of the Lords amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill, which gives victims of crime, legally enforceable rights and redress.

The amendments were based on a Bill drafted by Voice4Victims CIC and introduced by Sir Keir Starmer, MP with all party support. Supporters included: Tim Loughton, Conservative, Sarah Champion, Labour, Caroline Lucas (Green) and Liz Saville-Roberts, (Plaid).

The Conservative manifesto published in 2015 contained a commitment to introducing a Victims’ Law “We have already introduced a new victims code and taken steps to protect vulnerable witness’s and victims.Now we will strengthen victims’ rights further, with a new victims law that will enshrine key rights for victims’”. In February 2016, Voice4Victims were told by Ministers that a Green Paper on the subject was imminent and that a Victims’ Law would be introduced in January 2017. Voice4Victims was involved in drafting questions for the Green Paper in spring 2016, however, the paper has still yet to be published and it seems the Government has forgotten its pledge.

On December 12th 2016, the amendments in the Lords were passed by a majority of 136-130 and if enacted, the amendments would have ensured that victims of crime had, for the first time in history, enforceable rights throughout the justice process and an easily accessible complaints system with sanctions.

Support in the Lords intensified after Peers heard first hand testimony from aggrieved victims and the appalling impact the lack of victims’ code compliance and rights had on them. It’s a shame the Government refused to hear these voices and have rejected these much needed amendments. This rejection will impact victims negatively as they will continue to suffer unnecessarily trying to access timely justice and support and will do little to restore public faith and confidence in our justice system.

Successive governments have claimed that victims are at the centre of the Criminal Justice System. In reality, this is not the case as victims remain peripheral and nothing but an afterthought. Our campaign has heard from hundreds of victims of crime who are suffering unnecessary delays; inadequate treatment and support; postponed court hearings; lack of information and contact with Police and other justice agencies; their complaints being ignored, dismissed or not investigated properly, to name just a few. As a consequence of these failings and lack of enforceable rights, victims are being re-traumatised and are becoming isolated, demoralised and even suicidal.

Only a day before the Government’s decision, we heard the Prime Minister speak of a ‘shared society’ and the need to make it a ‘fairer society’, to ‘tackle injustices’ and ‘help those who have been ignored by the Government for too long’. Based on these principles, we question how the government can then reject proposals that would ensure a fairer justice system which would be more transparent, inclusive and supportive? The Government’s vote yesterday has shown us that they continue to ignore victims of crime and have no real interest in their struggles or to understand the ordeal they must live through, when trying to navigate a flawed and broken justice system. It seemed their concerns were more focused on the agencies who might have to be accountable should they breach a victim’s right.

We now urge all our supporters to email their MP’s to ask if they supported the amendments? If they didn’t, ask them why they do not feel victims need enforceable rights? We would suggest you ask for a meeting so you can describe to them exactly how the system has failed you and how the victims’ code does very little to empower you and acknowledge your rights and your voice.

We must now all work together to hold the Government to account on its manifesto commitment and ensure a Victims’ Law is no longer an empty promise but a reality that will save victims from ongoing injustices and hardship.

Claire Waxman, Founder Voice4Victims.

Victims’ Rights amendments passed in House of Lords.

On 12th December 2016, a number of amendments drafted by Voice4Victims as part of their Victims’ Law campaign, were voted on by Peers in the House of Lords and the Government was defeated.

The Bill will now return in January 2017 to the House of Commons and we anticipate that the Government will either support these much needed amendments or offer a compromise. It would be astonishing if the Government chose to oppose these amendments as they would then be perceived by the public as anti-victim and that their manifesto commitment of a Victims’ Law made in 2015 was a broken pledge.

Some of these amendments include:

• The right to information at every stage of the justice process
• The right to not be discriminated against or prejudiced from accessing justice
• The right to not be subjected to unnecessary delay
• The right to challenge decisions that directly impact the victim’s safety
• The right to a case companion
• The right to attend and make representations to any pre-court hearing to determine the nature of the court proceedings

In addition, the amendments creates a professional regulatory body which has the power to accredit any victim support or treatment service to ensure that the organisations adhere to strict codes and ethics. This body has the power to ensure that all victims’ rights, outlined in the amendments, are upheld and enforced and gives it the power to investigate any complaints in a timely way and has the power to impose sanctions if these rights are breached.

The amendments also places a duty on the secretary of state to publish and implement a strategy to provide training for all relevant professionals and agencies on the impact of crime on victims including understanding stereotypes and myths that need to be recognised and challenged.

Finally, the amendments would ensure that Victims finally had legally enforceable rights which would dramatically improve their experience of the justice process and help them recover quicker from the impact of the crime.

Our Response to Government Announcement on Stalking Protection Orders

Today the Government announced plans for Stalking Protection Orders and many have publicly supported this step as positive. Our organisation deals with an overwhelming number of stranger stalking cases who cannot access any justice and support and arrive at us, desperate for help. We therefore hear first-hand from the victims and what impact the crime and/or lack of Police & CPS support has on them. Many victims we hear from are being stalked for months, even years before action happens. Even if action happens, the victim is being exposed to further harm and struggle for any help from the ongoing trauma of being stalked. When our voluntary agency is forced to intervene on cases, action happens but we feel this should be occurring as standard across the country and not dependent on us as we are not funded to provide such a service to victims.

The fundamental problem we see with these cases is that four years after the introduction of the stalking legislation, there are still far too many Police officers, especially front line officers, who are not trained or not trained effectively enough to understand and recognise stalking. This is creating a barrier for the stalking victim when they try to access justice and support and are not convinced this will change with the introduction of a Stalking Protection Order.

We have discussed these new proposals with front line Police officers and many have raised their concerns. Whilst there are potential positives, many feel there is already existing legislation such as Protection from Harassment Act and the Stalking amendments to this legislation that can and should be used for criminal investigations. Police can already charge using these legislations and there are bail conditions which can be issued upon charge and restraining orders, all in existence to help protect the victims.

If there are claims of stalking, should Police waste vital time getting a stalking protection order when the law is there to be used? Or will this be another hurdle for the victim to go through which stalls Police response and action?

Early intervention is key and why we urge Police to respond to stalking claims swiftly and robustly. With the latest figures that 1 in 5 women are stalked and there have been only a total number of 1,683 prosecutions in past 3 years, it’s obvious that there is an urgent need for proper training for both Police to investigate complaints properly and for CPS to charge with the stalking legislation and prosecute more effectively.

We believe the emphasis should still be on prompt and effective investigation and a concern with this new initiative is that it could lead to stalkers having another platform to access where they can claim they are the victim. This happens so frequently in stalking cases which Police and CPS are still failing to recognise and why Voice4Victims launched Abuse of Process campaign to tackle this problem. This new order could give rise to an Abuse of Process whereby the perpetrator uses the Police and/or courts through the Stalking Protection Order to continue stalking their victim on their behalf. We therefore hope great care and understanding will be taken before applying for such an order to prevent abuse of process taking place.

This order should not detract from the Police time needed to conduct a thorough investigation into stalking claims which should take priority as per the Victims Code. The government really needs to be focusing on how to better train officers and agencies to recognise stalking earlier on and to use the legislation in existence to protect the victim. Police must stop seeing stalking crime as a low level ‘incident’ and actually recognise it for the insidious life changing crime that it is.

In short, we expect the government to now fund better training programmes for the Police to understand stalking. Further the Police need to recognise the Abuse of Process that many stalkers use in order to harm their victims. Finally, the government needs to urgently fund easily accessible treatment programmes for the stalkers as currently there is no funded specialised clinics or therapeutic programmes to help deal with their obsessive and fixated behaviour.

Voice4Victims runs the Victims’ Law and Abuse of Process Parliamentary campaigns and continues to offer voluntary support and advice to stalking victims struggling to access justice and support.