‘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.

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