Claire Waxman & Sir Keir Starmer interview on Victims’ Law

MP’s to Champion the Rights of Victims of Crime

Embargo 00.01 20th October 2015

A comprehensive Bill giving victims of crime new, enforceable rights, will be introduced in Parliament by Sir Keir Starmer QC, MP on October 20th 2015, with all party support. Sponsors include; Tim Loughton, (Conservative), Sarah Champion (Labour), Jenny Chapman (Labour), Sir Edward Garnier , (Conservative), Barry Sheerman (Labour) Caroline Lucas (Green) and Liz Saville-Roberts (Plaid Cymru).

The Bill has been drafted by Claire Waxman , founder of Voice4Victims CIC and Harry Fletcher from Digital Trust CIC, following scores of complaints from victims of crime being re-victimised and failed by the Criminal Justice system.

“As a stalking victim, I experienced first-hand the appalling treatment and re-victimisation at the hands of our Criminal Justice System. I naively believed that the system was structured to help victims, however, I soon learnt that victims’ needs and rights were neglected. Victims are faced with a terrible ordeal which only compounds their trauma and delays their recovery. The system continually placed the rights of my stalker above my rights to be protected ‘ said Claire Waxman, founder of Voice4Victims.

Victims of crime have complained that communication and treatment were consistently poor across all criminal justice agencies. One victim complained about the frustration of her case dragging on for over 18 months “’my case was dragged out for 18 months before getting to court, it was the longest 18 months of my life and in the dark for most of that time causing me more trauma and distress’. Others have shown how they were not consulted about police charging decisions, and some not even notified of court proceedings that directly affected them and their case. Many victims describe the courtroom as a terrifying ordeal as they had not been supported during this difficult process. Routinely, victims were not involved in the parole process or told about release arrangements or license conditions of their perpetrator, with many suffering undue stress, years after the crime had been committed. A high proportion of victims reported significant financial loss as a result of the poor treatment they received with loss of work days due to illness or time attempting to navigate through the complex justice system with very little information, support and guidance.

Claire Waxman & Harry Fletcher strongly believe that the strengthening of victims’ rights can only come via robust legislation and a culture shift of attitude towards victims. “We have had a victims’ code for over a decade, yet this code is not working effectively to protect victims’ rights. It is routinely ignored and breached by many of the agencies with no remedial sanctions and no one is held accountable for the inadequate treatment of victims. This is evident in our findings during this campaign, says campaign lead, Claire Waxman.

The Bill places a responsibility on the Secretary of State to publish a victim’s legal framework and outlines numerous statutory duties to ensure that the framework is legally enforceable.

The Bill ensures that a victim of crime shall be entitled to receive accurate & timely information throughout the process, to have access to services and justice, have direct communication with relevant agencies, have rights to review decisions, receive fair and non-discriminatory treatment and representation in all proceedings.

In addition, amongst other entitlements, the Bill ensures that public authorities must not disclose any personal data about a victim and that victims of crime should have access prior to proceedings of any evidence which may cause alarm or distress. The Bill also gives victims the right to access financial compensation and to have any property seized as evidence, restored to them promptly without them incurring more costs and damages.

Critically, for the first time ever , the Bill establishes a victims regulatory body which will enforce the Victims’ framework and will have a duty to investigate complaints from victims of crime if their rights have been breached. If the regulatory body upholds a complaint, it may impose a fine on the agency and the complainant shall have the right to refer an individual or agency to a disciplinary body.

Claire Waxman states ‘‘we believe that this vital bill will help all victims’ of crime access justice and ensure their rights and voices are recognised as an important part of the justice process. Currently, there is an imbalance of rights which is detrimental to victims ‘ safety and well-being. If victims could engage with a fairer and more inclusive justice process, this would dramatically reduce the cost of crime , as victims would receive better support and treatment and recover quicker.”

Harry Fletcher, Criminal Justice Director at the Digital-Trust said “There is also an urgent need for the establishment of a Professional body to regulate victim services and to have powers to investigate and act on victims’ complaints. These necessary reforms would ensure that proper quality standards were in place and that victims had redress.”

Restoring the Balance campaign launches report

Restoring The Balance

THE RIGHTS of victims need to be enshrined in law and significant change is needed to stop perpetrators from manipulating the court system for their own gains – that’s the verdict of a comprehensive report being released today (Tuesday 29 September 2015).

The report, (summarised below) is being released as part of the Restoring the Balance campaign in England and Wales. The campaign was launched at 36 Bedford Row, London by keynote speaker Sir Keir Starmer KCB QC, survivors of stalking and domestic abuse and experts in the field of criminal, family and civil justice.

Restoring the Balance seeks to answer the question of how to stop controlling, obsessive, abusive perpetrators using the law to cause emotional harm to vulnerable victims, whilst ensuring the right to a fair hearing is maintained as required under article 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Claire Waxman, founder of Voice4Victims and a survivor of stalking, has campaigned for over four years for change to the court system in order to stop others from experiencing the trauma caused by stalkers making vexatious court complaints. In March 2015 Voice4Victims joined with Veritas Justice and Suzy Lamplugh Trust, who also work to support victims of stalking, to launch the campaign at the Chambers of Richard Wilson QC and William Harbage QC. Restoring the Balance runs parallel to the campaign of the same name in Scotland, which was launched in December 2014 and is being spearheaded by Ann Moulds of Action Scotland Against Stalking and Kim Leslie of Digby Brown Solicitors.

1 in 12 people who contact the National Stalking Helpline report experiencing vexatious complaints as part of the campaign of abuse against them. Cases reported to the helpline include incidents in which stalkers have brought financial claims against victims, even when no financial transactions have ever taken place between the two parties. Stalkers have also been known to make false accusations against their victims of crimes such as theft, fraud, or physical assault, and they have made claims of professional misconduct to professional disciplinary bodies. All of this is done either to cause maximum distress to the victim or to ensure that some level of contact is maintained between the two of them.

Claire Waxman, of Voice4Victims said: “As a victim of stalking, you are already being put through the most horrendous and stressful ordeal and then to have the perpetrator try and use the legal system to attack you with false allegations or vexatious complaints, feels like the final straw.”

Another common route for the continuation of stalking or domestic abuse is through access to the family court system where in some cases perpetrators who have previously expressed little or no interest in their child’s care or upbringing issue applications for a variety of orders to maintain contact with the victim and continue to exert power and control over them and their family.

Sam Taylor, of Veritas Justice said: “These problems are frequently exacerbated by the disconnection between the civil, criminal and family law court system, which hinders a co-ordinated response and places families at further risk.

These problems are compounded by the fact there are no rights for victims of crime enshrined in law. Whilst the Ministry of Justice has produced a document outlining best practice in supporting victims through the criminal justice system, called the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (often shortened to ‘Victims’ Code’), this only provides a framework for a minimum standard of service a victim of crime should receive.

In many cases those affected felt judicial ignorance about stalking and domestic abuse, including a lack of understanding of when contact with the victim or children was about further stalking, abuse and control, meant the courts did not recognise the role they were playing in perpetuating the cycle of abuse.

Sir Keir Starmer KCB QC, stressed that whilst the system as it stands is not good enough, this is not because of a lack of care or empathy from the vast majority of those who work within it. Indeed, he believes in order to begin to answer this question we need to consider whether the framework and approaches that underpin the court system are fit for purpose.

Claire Waxman added: “Whilst we must consider that perpetrators do have a right of access to courts, it is not one that has ever been regarded as absolute and we must be challenging this when there is evidence of it being used as an agent for harassment and stalking. It’s vital the system recognises this so that they are upholding the victims’ rights to protection from this ill-treatment”

The report identifies a number of key issues that need to be addressed in order to ensure the court system is more balanced towards the needs of all those who are engaged in it. Problems identified include:

As a result of the ‘Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012’ many vulnerable victims of abuse are unable to access justice
The disconnection between the civil, family and criminal courts is creating inconsistencies which offenders are using to their advantage
Judges are not sufficiently intervening pro-actively in complex cases to manage vexatious complaints
There is no formal funded mechanism for victim support in the civil or family court systems
All victims of crime who enter the family, civil or criminal courts are being placed in a system that was never created with their needs in mind

Rachel Griffin, Director of Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said: “This report has thrown up some very important issues and concerns but it is just the starting point. Now we need to look at gathering even more evidence and working with the judicial system to see how we make can make restoring the balance a reality.”


Report Summary

The Court System

Sir Keir Starmer KCB QC delivered a key note speech in which he drew upon his experience as a human rights barrister and former Director of Public Prosecutions to explore why the court system is currently not working for a large number of those who use it, including the most vulnerable.

Broadly speaking, Sir Keir said the main concerns raised by victims about the court system are:

The way in which courts are accessed
The framework of the court system
Protection from abuse

Sir Keir outlined a victim’s journey before they arrive at a criminal court. A victim of crime will have made a report to the police and during the subsequent investigation, they should be consulted and informed by various units about the progress of the case. At some point before a case reaches court a discussion should take place with the victim about whether they would like ‘Special Measures’. This means that along the route, if done correctly, there are support mechanisms in place.

Sir Keir contrasted this with civil justice in which there are two parties to proceedings who are accessing the courts in a very different way. The individual concerned could either be a defendant or claimant. These routes are very different and not as sophisticated. If an individual wants to access the court as a claimant then they have to find the resources to access the court, including finding representation. Even if that person is the victim, they are expected to take all the required steps to run the case. If the individual is the defendant then they are brought into the process and to some extent it is their job to apply to strike it out.

There is no witness and victim support service in the civil or family courts. Contrast this with a criminal justice scenario where, should the system be used appropriately, a prosecutor should protect the victim. Sir Keir asked “Whose job is it to protect a victim in civil proceedings?” The answer, he suggests, lies in part with judges taking a more pro-active part in such proceedings.

Sir Keir stated whilst the system as it stands is not good enough, this is not because of a lack of care or empathy from the vast majority of those who work within it. Indeed, he believes that in order to begin to answer this question we need to consider whether the framework and approaches that underpin the court system are fit for purpose.

The debate about the role of prosecutors and the defenders has been at the forefront of legal discussions for more than 100 years; however the concept of victims’ rights has only begun to be considered by the legal profession and Ministry of Justice relatively recently. The first Victims’ Code of Practice was launched fewer than 20 years ago and was more of a bolt on.

Sir Keir said that whilst it has been acknowledged that victims’ rights are important, there are still some major issues with appropriately and accurately recording these issues. Some who work in the criminal justice system are making assumptions about what victims want rather than listening to victims themselves.

He said: “We should start thinking about the justice system as victims’ service and entrench victims’ rights into law. “

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO)

Jenny Beck spoke on the issue of Legal Aid. Jenny is a highly experienced family lawyer who has dealt with cases involving domestic abuse for 20 years. She heads up the Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee and co-chairs the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.

Jenny opened her presentation by saying that she hears the call to be protected, to be believed. She talked about recognising risk and acknowledging the level of risk is so high it cannot be ignored. Access to justice in family law impacts the most marginalised and vulnerable: “We need to find a mechanism to ensure there is a safe passage in the court system. To allow the court process itself to be a vehicle for abuse is a very dangerous thing.”

Jenny outlined the 12 legal remedies available for people who are experiencing domestic abuse. However, she went on to say that all of them are useless unless people can access them. Jenny said, “If the solutions that are available cannot be accessed, women will be killed and they will live in fear.”

The Justice Select Committee found the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Act 2012 (LASPO), which restricted access to Legal Aid, has harmed access to justice. The four aims of LASPO are:

Discourage unnecessary and adversarial litigation at public expense
Target Legal Aid to those who need it most
Making significant savings in the cost of the scheme
Deliver better overall value for money for the taxpayer

Of these aims only one, making significant savings, has been achieved. The vast majority of cuts have impacted family law. Under LASPO individuals cannot access Legal Aid assistance unless they have experienced domestic abuse and they have to have evidence of that. The victim is required to provide a medical report which they are required to pay for, which creates a gateway which must be passed through before any form of support is available to the victim. 50% of people cannot get through the gateway even though they meet the criteria for receiving Legal Aid.

Due to cuts some family lawyers are serving protective orders via text. However, Jenny is seeing cases in which the Crown Prosecution Service will not prosecute a breach of a protective order that has not been served in person.

Without improved access to Legal Aid we will not be able to readdress the balance of justice in the court system.

Two panel discussions took place during the seminar. The panel members in the first discussion were Sir Keir Starmer QCB KC, Ann Moulds, Claire Waxman and ACC Garry Shewan of Greater Manchester Police. The second panel consisted of Sir Keir Starmer QCB KC, Jenny Beck, Olivia and Sam Taylor. Both sessions were chaired by Paul Infield, Chairman of Suzy Lamplugh Trust and a barrister at 36 Bedford Row. Below is a summary of each topic of discussion.

Human Rights Act

Paul Infield asked how the problem outlined by Claire and Sam, of a convicted abuser being granted access to the court, can be legislated against in order to stop other women going through this. Sir Keir said that there is not an unqualified right for a parent to have contact with their child or access to the courts. If there is a good reason, if it is necessary and proportionate, then these rights can be restricted. Sir Keir stated that the Human Rights Act 1998 gives an answer to this question if interpreted correctly. In regard to this problem, he does not think we need more legislation; instead we need better implementation of current legislation.

Victims Law

Panel members were asked for their thoughts on the potential solutions to the problems that were outlined in the victims’ presentations. Sir Keir stated his strong belief that victims’ rights need to be enshrined in legislation otherwise remedial action will proceed a lot more slowly. This is not to say that police and prosecutors do not need more training but a legal framework of support is also required. ACC Shewan agreed that enshrining victims’ rights in law is overdue: “There has to be a point where you begin to enshrine the rights of the victim in law otherwise you are only able to go so far.

All panel members stressed the need for cross party support to achieve a Bill of Rights for victims that will endure. Claire Waxman referred to her recently drafted proposals which received cross parliamentary support at their first hearing on 4th March. She also emphasised that any victims’ legislation would need to be supported with specific training. All speakers agreed victim blaming and stereotyping is still entrenched in many of the relevant agencies and that this needs to change in order to see positive effect.

Cultural Shift

This discussion led on to a conversation about a need for a cultural shift within the family, civil and criminal court systems. Reference was made to the lessons that could be learnt from the recent revelations about the way child sexual exploitation has been handled in places like Rochdale and Rotherham. In these cases decisions were made not to prosecute based on assumptions of what a victim would or should do in cases where they had been a victim. Answers to these questions led to decisions being made on how ‘credible’ a victim would seem in the eyes of the courts.

Judges and the adversarial system

Central to changing attitudes within the court system is changing the attitudes of the judges themselves. There was much debate in both panel sessions about the need for high-quality judges who are more vocal, and willing to intervene and take robust case management decisions. In our current adversarial system judges are often in a ‘referee’ position as they oversee two parties arguing their respective cases.

In civil court cases where one party makes an allegation that the complaint is vexatious, the burden is on the individual to come to apply to strike out the claim and to prove that it is vexatious.

Paul Infield referred to the field of family law in which judges are moving towards a more inquisitorial-type system, something which is much more common on the continent.

Police and civil courts

Sir Keir identified there needs to be a much better overlap between the civil and criminal courts. The police officer in charge of Claire Waxman’s case outlined the frustration he experienced at being unable to assist Claire when her stalker was bringing vexatious civil complaints against her. He said the police have no right to address the civil court if they are not an ‘interested party’. He asked if it would be possible to make a recommendation in any new victims’ law that where there is a criminal case ongoing or restraining order in existence, the police could apply for the right to address the civil or family court. ACC Shewan responded that more work needs to be done to explore what right the police have to address the courts and how they can utilise it appropriately.

Sir Keir said that whilst the ability for police to be able to make the court aware of criminal proceedings is a good thing, he would be concerned that this could potentially let judges ‘off the hook’ and that judges should be making proactive judgements on whether a case is vexatious.

Government in breach of the EU Directive on minimum standards for Victims?

Sex Abuse charity funding crisis hits our headlines and exposes that thousands of victims of sexual abuse are waiting for more than a year for counselling with many never receiving treatment. Sadly, that is an underestimation, as it doesn’t stop at sexual abuse victims. We hear from all victims of crime who struggle to access any form of treatment support and are left stranded by this government trying to recover from the aftermath of a crime unsupported and isolated. Many are not even automatically referred to victim support, a basic entitlement on the victims code.

When I met Theresa May in 2013, shortly after the implementation of the stalking legislation, she assured me that although there was no money to fund treatment services for stalking victims, victims of sexual abuse and domestic abuse would be receiving the majority share. She didn’t feel that stalking victims needed government funded treatment support as other victims were more of a priority. Try telling that to the 700,000 stalking victims.

However, she assured me that the Ministry of Justice provides over £50 million to diverse victims groups and that 78 rape centres were receiving grant funding of £4 million. She also assured me that there would be an increase in revenue for Victim support services through the victims surcharge, as offenders would be ordered to pay and would be contributing £50 million to spend on victim services. Do we know if the victims surcharge is actually contributing to victim services?

However, what with the increase in the number of child sex abuse victims, demands are clearly not being met and victims are struggling to become survivors.

In November, this government will need to ensure that the EU Directive of minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime is implemented. So far, the government is covering much of these entitlements within a weak, toothless victims code. This code is continually breached by Criminal justice agencies as it’s not legally enforceable and allows victims entitlements and rights to be pushed aside to save pennies and cut corners.

As part of the EU Directive, victims must be able to access support and that includes longer term physical and psychological assistance.

What this government needs to realise, is that if victims needs were met, then we could reduce the cost of crime. If victims received support they could remain in or return to work sooner thus reducing the cost in state benefits. Adequate and timely support would reduce the strain that victims of crime can place on our health service if they don’t receive the right treatment to help them recover. Effective support would be needed for shorter periods as we witnessed the time taken for victims to cope and recover reduce.

We have worked for the past three years on drafting the first ever victims rights legislation and believe strongly that this Victims Rights Law is desperately needed to address the terrible re-victimisation many victims face when trying to access justice.
Our law will ensure that victims have the right to access justice, support, treatment and compensation and will ensure that a victim is treated fairly and with respect. To find out more about our bill, please visit the press section on our website

Please support our campaign. Together we can help create a more inclusive, fairer and effective justice system for everyone.

‘Creaking two-tier justice system is failing victims’ says Michael Gove

Today Gove has recognised that the courts are failing victims of crime. He claims that this failing is making victims ‘suffer twice’. Sadly, it’s not just courts that fail victims of crime. It’s every aspect of the Criminal Justice system that is failing victims of crime. From the moment the crime is committed, victims will face issues such as trying to access justice, being heard, being kept up to date with basic information on their case and the terrible delays and multiple adjournments to getting to court. Then they are faced with the courtroom and being subjected to discrimination and disrespectful as well as demeaning treatment and to top it all, they are often exposed to the perpetrator and the perpetrators’ family sitting near to them and causing more upset and distress. We’ve had one victim being told not to be overly emotional in court where her son’s murderer was facing trial, otherwise she would face removal from court.

You cannot believe how awful the court room really is, until you step into one as a victim. Then, if you’re lucky, there may be a sentencing, which you may have to wait months, sometimes years for. In that time, it is impossible for the victim to recover from the crime as their lives are on hold waiting for justice. If justice is finally served, then the victim must relive the crime and trauma post trial when dealing with victim liaison units and probation and being advised (or not advised) of appeals and release dates. The trauma of the entire justice process is so distressing from start to finish that you question why you reported the crime in the first instance. So Mr Gove, it’s NOT a case of ‘suffering twice’. We wish it was. It’s a case of suffering constantly throughout the entire broken process of justice.

Once this Government recognises this, then we can start to make the necessary changes to improve the system for everyone that engages with it. We wish it was as simple as digitally reforming the courts as Gove suggests, to make them more effective. Unfortunately, we will need much more to fix the terrible ordeal victims face.

In our campaign, we believe that a strong solution to many of these problems, comes with the legislation of Victims Rights in the form of a Victims Bill. In the bill we have been working on, we have covered the ordeal of the court process and every aspect of the criminal justice system. Our campaign priorities and proposals have been identified through our extensive work with victims.

The courts have made little progress in providing discreet waiting areas for victims or improving disability access. The discriminatory behaviour that victims are subjected to and the terrible delays in court , ensure victims remain traumatised and unable to make recovery. Prolonging victims trauma only adds to the cost of crime as many are unable to work as a result and become unwell. If Victims have legally enforceable rights there would be a decrease in revictimisation/retraumatisaion which would result in reduction to the total cost of crime. Victims could remain in or return to work sooner thus reducing the cost in state benefits. Fewer work days or hours would be lost with victims attempting to resolve issues arising as a direct result of the crime. Adequate and timely support would reduce the strain that victims of crime can place on our health service. Effective support would be needed for shorter periods as we would witness the time taken for victims to cope reduce.

Our Victims Bill of Rights covers key areas such as:
1. Advice – to give victims a right to have their case reviewed
2. Treatment – to ensure all victims are not subjected to unnecessary delay and are treated with dignity and respect
3. Representation – to ensure victims have a right to a case companion to support them during the justice process
4. Vexatious Claims- to give the Judiciary the power to disallow vexatious claims from perpetrators which are clearly an abuse of process
5. Disclosure – to ensure that personal data of any victim is not disclosed in open court with abuser present
6. Compensation & Costs – ensure that victims of crime have easy access to compensation and the right to restitution of property

The Victims Bill will establish a framework setting out the rights of victims of crime and it will establish a regulatory body to ensure that the rights of victims are enforced.

If this government is truly committed to victims of crime and delivering a ‘one nation justice system’, then now is the time to:
1. Introduce Victims Rights Law
2. Provide necessary funding
3. Provide mandatory training of all agencies

Then we can make the much needed culture shift from stereotyping, neglect and exclusion to a fairer, more inclusive and effective justice system for everyone.

Time for a Victims Bill

Victims Commissioner Report – victims are still being badly let down.

We welcome the latest report from the government which is a positive move in understanding how effective the revised victims’ code has been. It is evident from this report that the victims’ code is still being routinely ignored by many of the criminal justice agencies and is having little impact on victims who are failed and re-victimised by the Criminal Justice agencies. As Helen Newlove highlights, the complaints process is lengthy and complex and many victims are deterred from engaging in this procedure because of its complexity.

This report has identified the on-going issues that need addressing in order to help improve services to victims but as they come in the form of guidelines, it is missing the opportunity to truly strengthen victims’ rights. Despite these firmly identified gaps, there is no single legally enforceable route for the protection of victims.

Voice4Victims alongside other keys campaigners, Digital-Trust & MAMAAUK, remain clear that the strengthening of victims’ rights can only come via robust legislation. “We have had a victims’ code for many years and victims in this latest report, and those that completed our victims’ rights survey in 2014, agree that the code is not working effectively enough to protect their rights” says campaign lead, Claire Waxman, Voice4Victims.

The campaign team believes that Victims’ Rights should be placed in to statutory legislation and have drafted a bill based on the victims survey, current victims code, EU Directive and meetings with a number of victims organisations and services. The bill outlines over 25 specific rights for victims under the following key areas:

1. Advice
2. Treatment
3. Representation
4. Parental rights
5. Vexatious Claims
6. Disclosure
7. Compensation & Costs

The bill also defines an easy route for victims to complain and gain redress through a statutory body.

Elfyn Llwyd MP has tabled 20 questions in the house about the government support for victims. He will also attempt to introduce this as a Private Members Bill in February.

Claire Waxman states ‘‘We believe that the bill will help to enforce mandatory training of all agencies and the culture shift needed in order to place victims at the centre of the Criminal Justice process. ‘

Victims Rights Survey Supports Need For Victims Law

Why the Victims Code is not Enough & Why We Need Victims Law

Victims’ rights are covered by entitlements in the Victims Code which was designed to make the ‘system more responsive and easier to navigate’. The code is not legally enforceable and places discretionary accountability onto the agencies. Victim Feedback strongly suggests that agencies often fail to apply the code. Agencies who should be guided by the code are aware that a ‘failure to provide the service does not make a service provider liable to any legal proceedings.’ ’The complaints and right to appeal process within the code is lengthy and complex. There is clear evidence that victims are put off of engaging in the complaints procedures because of its complexity. This misses all and any opportunity to identify ongoing issues and improve services. The original Victims Code was clearly a well intentioned document but there was widespread agreement, including from the current government that it was not delivering all it had hoped. The New Code is extremely similar to the original which makes it difficult to see where improvement to services to victims might come. There appears to be widespread failure to meet adhere to the guidance the code offers, with lack of information and support to victims continuing to be of great concern. This leads to further distress and re-victimisation of the victim and causes a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system by victims and the general public.
Despite firmly identified gaps there is no single legally enforceable route for the protection of victims. This route can only be created via legislation of victims rights.

Why we need a Victims Rights Legislation?
If victims had legally enforceable rights there would be a decrease in the re victimisation/re traumatisation which would result in reduction to the total cost of crime. Victims could remain in or return to work sooner reducing the cost in state benefits for example. Fewer work days or hours would be lost with victims attempting to resolve issues arising as a direct result of the crime. Adequate and timely support would reduce the strain that victims of crime can place on our health service. Effective support would be needed for shorter periods as we witnessed the time taken for victims to cope reduce. The above claim is evidenced as part of the EU Directive as highlighted below:

• “Strengthening the rights of victims has a positive impact on individual victims and on society as a whole. Meeting victims’ needs before, during and after criminal proceedings can considerably reduce the overall cost of crime. This includes tangible costs in the economic and health sector as well as in the criminal justice system, and intangible costs, such as the victim’s pain, suffering and reduction of quality of life. Victims who are respected, supported and protected will recover sooner , both physically and emotionally, enabling them to get back to their normal lives more quickly. This will limit loss of earnings, absenteeism from work as well as the need for further health care. Well treated victims are also likely to become more actively involved in the proceedings, which increases the likelihood of successful prosecution and sentencing, which in turn reduces repeat offending and impunity.” [The Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime was adopted on 25 October 2012 (2012/29/EU Directive)

Victims Rights survey
The Victims’ Rights survey was set up in order to offer victims of crime an opportunity to talk about their journey through the Criminal Justice System as a victim and enable them to highlight where they felt improvements could be made.
The survey was completed by 115 people over an eight week period and these people had been victims of all types of crime. The results clearly showed that victims were very dissatisfied with the way the agencies communicated with them & the treatment they received. All agencies performed badly in these key areas but the survey highlighted that HMCT, CPS, Parole Board, CICA and Probation performed the worst, with results over 60% in the ‘extremely poor ‘and ‘poor’ categories.
The survey illustrated where the Criminal Justice System fails victims and strongly indicated that a bill of rights would rectify this situation. We have extrapolated from victims experiences the following rights that should constitute a bill of rights.

We believe that a Victims Law should be a compilation of the rights listed below, those set out in the EU Directive & the Victims Code.

Victims Rights
(1) Issue policy guidelines to ensure that crimes reported by victims are properly investigated by the Police
(2) Ensure that victims have the right if requested to accurate and timely information.
(3) Right to notice of all court proceedings, including all decisions and discussions involving all Criminal Justice agencies relating to the victims perpetrator including any prison sentence, changes to perpetrators circumstances or whilst on parole.
(4) access to interpretation and translation services
(5) Direct contact details of all criminal justice agencies and individuals involved in the proceedings.
(6)Ensure that a victims view of a crime where they are the victim is heard in any relevant Criminal or Civil proceedings
(7) Ensure that victims of crime have the right to apply for compensation
(8) To ensure that victims have the right to restitution of property and reimbursement of personal belongings seized for evidence
(9) To ensure that the victim has access to state compensation and the right to refuse to consent to any compensation order in respect of relevant perpetrator.
(10) To give the judiciary the power to suspend the parental responsibility of a parent or main carer who has been convicted of a serious violent offence against relevant victim until such time as that person can prove to the court that they are a fit parent.
(l1) To give the judiciary in family & civil proceedings the power to disallow vexatious claims which can be shown to be abuse of process and in addition for the victim not to incur personal costs defending vexatious claims in court.
(12) To ensure that all victims have the right to ask for a review of Police or CPS decision in the event of the case being dropped by the Police or discontinued by the prosecution.
(13) To ensure that all relevant victims have the right to review an acquittal if new evidence comes to light or can be shown that relevant evidence was not presented to the court.
(14) To ensure that funds are made accessible to meet the costs incurred by victims or members of their family when crime against them are committed overseas.
(15). To ensure all victims have the right to a case companion, who is properly trained to communicate on victims behalf to all agencies and ensure victim is updated and aware of case progress and impact of any legal or court decisions relating to their case.
(16). To ensure that all victims involved in proceedings are not subjected to unnecessarily delay by any other party.
(17). To ensure that the personal data of any victim should be not disclosed by any court or public authority, if that disclosure would put the victim at risk of harm by the alleged perpetrator or any other person.
(18). To ensure that victims are treated with dignity & respect & not subjected to any discriminatory behaviour throughout the criminal justice process.
(19). To ensure victims have a right to reimbursement of all expenses incurred in attending court or any related legal process that they are party to.
(20). To ensure that victims have a right to access transcripts of any related legal proceedings at no personal cost.
(21). To ensure victims have a right to access legal aid throughout legal process.
(22). To ensure that the victim has access prior to proceedings to any electronic footage or evidence which may cause alarm or distress to the victim.
(23). To ensure that the safety and protection of the victims is paramount including a presumption that they remain domiciled at the family home and conversely that the offender should be considered for relocation or electronic tagging or both in order to minimise further stress and fear to the victim.
(24). To ensure the victim has a right to be a represented party at Mental Health Tribunals and to be allowed to submit personal victim statements.
(25). To ensure that victims and people supporting the victim have access to discreet waiting areas during all court proceedings.
(26). To ensure that all crimes committed against the victim by the perpetrator are disclosed at trial.
(27). To ensure that all victims have the right to access appropriate treatment or support services for as long as necessary.

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A Victim’s Story – Published by Request

Thank you to this brave victim Jo & to MAMAAUK for allowing us to share this important story on our website. Sadly, it is yet another example of how victims of crime can be treated so appallingly by the Criminal Justice System. Poor processes, inept staff and breakdown of communication often lead to catastrophic mistakes that can deeply affect the victim’s life and well-being. The crime is hard enough to overcome but the victim is then faced with an unjust process that repeatedly ignores their needs and human rights. This is NOT a criminal justice system ‘fit’ and ‘fair’ for all who partake in it. Jo’s story highlights why we must campaign for victims rights to be equally as important as the offenders and placed firmly into statutory law.

A Victims Story – Published By Request

My name is Jo. This is my story. This is my life. It’s an ordinary name carried by someone who should have had an ordinary childhood leading to an ordinary life.

When I was eight years old my ordinary life changed forever. My mother married Keith Williams and they had a son together. My new brother would later become my rock, my confidante and my best ally. I didn’t know that then. My new step-father raped me. He continued to rape me for a period of seven years, until he had an affair and left my mother.

I never told. I thought I never would. He was gone. It would stop. I would never have to see, hear, smell or touch the monster that irrevocably ruined my ordinary life again. At fifteen years of age I believed the nightmare I had endured at the hands of the monster that had infiltrated our family had finally ended. Completely unaware of how long my nightmare would, in fact, continue I tried to return to my ordinary existence.

And then he returned to my town. And moved into a pub, becoming the landlord. I was an almost ordinary woman at that point, although living with what he had done to me was an incredible and continuous struggle. But now, as a grown woman, I fully understood what this monster had done to me. Taken from me. I knew it wasn’t my fault. I knew it wasn’t about me, it was about him and his sick perversions. Perversions that allowed him to carry out the acts against me that he had. I knew he had abused me and the trust I put in adults close to me.

By this point my brother knew what his father had done to me. We also know that he had a young daughter. My brother was deeply concerned for his half-sister and after much discussion I decided, for that child’s safety, to go to the Child Protection Unit and tell them what had happened to me at the hands of this man. I fully believed at the time that I was going to them in confidence. I wasn’t ready to go to the police. But the Child Protection Unit did. The police visited me and I told them I didn’t want to engage with them. I was terrified. Of him. Of dragging up all those memories. Of going through a court procedure that I knew was heavily weighted in favour of my abuser. But the police said I had to and if I didn’t engage with the Criminal Justice System willingly then they would subpoena me. So, somewhat reluctantly, I told. And when I told something I never expected happened. There were others like me. Other victims he had abused in the same way he abused me. They came forward too. They told. And he was charged. He was found guilty of five rape offences and one indecent assault. The trial judge compared him to Fred West, such was the heinousness of his crimes against me and each and every one of his other victims. The experience of the trial, for me, was almost as traumatic as the offences he committed against me, and in a state of trauma I never fully grasped the implications of his sentence. It would take me 12 years to realise this. In 1999 Keith John Williams was sentenced to 5 life sentences to serve a minimum of 12 years. And that was the bit I never understood. Minimum of 12 years. And nobody within the criminal justice attempted to ensure I understood. So when, last year, my Victim Liaison Officer contacted me to tell me that Williams had secured a parole hearing I began to unravel again. Thrown straight into shock and trauma I tried to comprehend how someone who had been given five life sentences could possibly be released after serving little over 12 years.

I was informed I could present a Victim personal Statement, and I did. I was told I could request that the statement should not be disclosed to the offender, so I did. My decision to attempt non disclosure was not a difficult one. Williams had contacted me toward the end of his sentence to tell me “It wasn’t over yet” and that he “would see me soon”. He had phoned me, written to me and sent two people to visit me with messages from him. Throughout his sentence the monster had taunted me and left me in fear. I was granted non disclosure and my relief was immense, though the lead up to his parole hearing had still had a great affect on me. I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly. I lost weight. I was prone to tearful outbursts. And angry outbursts. And hours of confusion that left me bewildered. Nobody attempted to offer me any independent support to help me through a time that was fraught with anxiety. I was left to simply get on with it. And I tried to get on with it, without much success. My emotional state was not only affecting me but those that loved me and those that I loved.

In November last year I was contacted and told that his parole had been denied. And that not only was his bail denied but that he had been moved back to secure conditions. Pleased (the wrong word but the only one I can think of to describe my feelings at this news) as I was with the result I was also left angry knowing that in two years time he would be entitled to apply for another parole hearing. I saw a future where every couple of years I would have to engage in another traumatic hearing. How wrong I was.

On 23 April 2013 your VPS was sent by your Victim Liaison Officer (VLO) to the Public Protection Casework Section (PPCS) who submitted it to the Parole Board along with a non-disclosure application. The Board approved the application, and at that point PPCS should have sought an undertaking from Mr Williams’ legal adviser that on receipt of the VPS they would not disclose its content to him. Mr Williams’ legal adviser was aware that a non disclosure application had been submitted, but unfortunately they were never sent the necessary documentation, or the VPS, and were therefore unable to make representations to the Board.
ln light of the procedural error, Mr Williams’ legal representative wrote to PPCS following the conclusion of Mr Williams’ Parole Board review. Unfortunately, since the correct process had not been adhered to, the case had to be re-referred to the Board, for a fresh hearing. You can of course submit your VPS again, or make a new one, and PPCS will again apply for this to be withheld from Mr Williams if this is what you would like.”

There followed a brief apology for the impact this error would have on me.

I then received a further letter informing me of the date of the hearing. I did submit another Victim Personal Statement. Again I requested non disclosure. Again I was granted non disclosure. Perhaps to add insult to injury Williams legal team appealed the non disclosure decision. So I was informed. I now felt as though I was losing my mind entirely. I asked “if they win the appeal what can I do to challenge that”. I was told nothing. If he won that part of the appeal someone within the PPCS would decide if the decision were to be to challenged. Or if my statement could be withdrawn. I, it seemed, had no rights. His legal team lost their appeal and non disclosure remained.

But at the second parole hearing Williams was granted parole. Just six months after being denied parole Williams was to be released. Because of a “procedural error.

I was informed, first by telephone, and then I was informed again in writing. I think it is important that I share the content of the letter with you.

“I am writing to inform you that the offender in your case was released today. The police in your area has been notified. All conditions are in place as discussed

If you have any queries at all please do not hesitate to contact me.” And that was it. The sum recognition of me, of my trauma, of his abuse of me, of a system that a blind man could see had failed me on every level, was little more than three lines.

But I have learned a lot. I have learned that not all grown-ups can be trusted with our well being. I have learned that not all systems can be trusted with our well being. I have learned that claims that victims will be part of the criminal justice system are not true. I have learned that claims that victims will be at the heart of the criminal justice system are not true. I have learned that a victim has no rights. I have learned that within the justice system we become less than human when we become victims and the offenders rights trump the victims at every juncture.

I have learned that not only bad men and woman traumatise, demoralise, victimise or brutalise us. I have learned that the Criminal justice System, in its current form, will also continually and without prejudice re traumatise, de-moralise, re-victimise and brutalise victims. And that isn’t justice or anything that closely resembles it.

Voice4Victims Survey

We are urging all victims of crime to have their voice heard and complete a victims rights online survey about their experience as a victim in the Criminal Justice System. This survey will give us evidence to prove that a victims code is not robust enough to protect the rights of victims and that a Victims Rights Law, supported by training of all agencies that engage with victims, is well overdue. We feel that a Victims Rights Law will re-address the imbalance of rights and create a justice system fair to all.

Please share this online survey.

Victims Rights Survey

Why we need a Victims Law

The Stalking Law Campaign & Victims Rights Campaign – Why the campaigns?

Through my journey as a stalking victim, I experienced first-hand a torrent of abuse and re-victimisation at the hands of our Criminal Justice System. Throughout the past decade, I was exposed to a system, that I naively trusted and put my faith in, that placed the rights of my stalker way above my rights to be protected and free from this man. I was rarely kept up to date with any information on my case and the CPS were beyond appalling at every court hearing, bail application and trial, allowing defence to play every trick in the book whilst I was left stranded with no access to support or guidance. I was a bystander and yet the crime was having a direct impact on my life but I was given no control and no voice to explain just how bad the impact was. Victim Support was not able to help me as they had no understanding of stalking and there was no service to offer me any support or treatment. It was the isolation and rejection from the Criminal Justice System that often compounded the effects of the crime and made it far more debilitating for me.

Over the past decade, there were catastrophic mistakes made by every agency involved from Police through to Probation, that placed me at risk and breached my human rights. At one point, I decided to take legal proceedings against the CPS for breach of my human rights for placing my stalkers rights before mine. Even after winning this high court case, my rights continued to be breached. It soon became apparent to me that there was not only a gap in legislation regarding stalking and a lack of understanding of this crime, but also a complete disregard to victims’ rights.

My first crusade, was to ensure that something was done about the stalking legislation and in 2010, I started Claire’s campaign, using my case to highlight all the gaps in legislation, we started an e-petition via Now Magazine & Facebook and asked for public support for a stalking legislation and for mandatory training. With this campaign, came overwhelming support from thousands signing the petition and other victims offering their stories to show how much legislation was needed. It was comforting to know that I was not alone and that sadly, others were experiencing the same awful ordeal with no support or help.

Shortly after the campaign started, Protection Against Stalking , a charity set up by Tricia Bernal and Carol Faruqui , publicly supported my campaign and after years, I finally received the support I had been desperate for. They were able to involve other key victims, Ann Moulds, Tracey Morgan, Sam Taylor and John & Penny Clough to join forces to support the campaign and share their painful ordeals. Each case highlighted how desperately we needed the law to change. With the hard work of these victims and others and under the guidance of Harry Fletcher and Laura Richards and the unwavering support of Elfyn Llywd, the stalking legislation became a reality. In just two years we had achieved so much. It was a momentous step but today, four years on, I am fully aware that the job is not over. We continue to work collectively as we recognise there is still much to be done for stalking victims in this country to ensure better understanding, support, protection, mandatory risk assessments and treatment for both perpetrators and their victims.

Even with this new legislation in place, it soon became apparent that my treatment as a victim was not just a result of the failings of the CJS to recognise stalking but also down to the lack of rights I had during the whole process. I began to question if victims of other crimes experienced the same sort of treatment as me.

I’ve spent the past year fact finding and gathering evidence and working with many different victims organisations and charities just to understand how widespread the issue of the lack of victims’ rights really is. Each story still shocked as I’ve heard how disgracefully victims can be treated in this country and what further pain and abuse they are exposed to once they’ve entered a system that is designed to protect those accused of crime. The system has been built on an inequality of rights, and now is the time to address that imbalance so that the system becomes fair and equal for all who partake in it and the victims’ role and rights must be included in this.

The past year has shown that the Victims Code does not work. As we highlighted last year, the code is toothless and offers no protection of rights for victims. We must have a Victims Law, and place rights firmly in statutory law. There is no quick fix here, it is not a case of picking up the existing Victims Code and placing that in law, it requires a lot of hard work and dedication to collate all the evidence and ensure all areas are covered so that we get it right for all victims of crime, not just those that shout the loudest.

Voice4Victims have created a coalition of organisations who place victims at the heart of everything they do to ensure that the victim’s voice and victims’ rights are considered. We are working closely now with the Victims Service Alliance and its members and have had overwhelming support from MAMAAUK and SAMM Abroad , who have worked on victims’ rights longer than most.

If you are a victim, then please do get in touch and share your experience so we can ensure that the CJS will listen. If you are an organisation that supports victims, and wish to support this campaign, then please do get in touch as a Victims Law will affect all victims of crime, so please make your voice heard.