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.”

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