The Desperate Need for Victims’ Rights

On 20th October, Claire Waxman spoke to Victoria Derbyshire about the urgent need for a Victims’ Rights Legislation and why her campaign organisation Voice4Victims with Sir Keir Starmer, have drafted the first ever Victims’ Rights Bill. Due to the government inaction on implementing the Victims Law, Voice4Victims has taken key elements of this vital bill, which Baroness Brinton and Lord Wigley are sponsoring and tabled as amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill, to be debated in the Lords in November. Claire explained the amendments and how these would greatly help victims of all crime and would have helped Anna Hemmingfield, who spoke of the many failings she has experienced of the justice system and the impact this has had on her life.

20th October 2016 House of Lords

Voice4Victims, with the support of Baroness Brinton, hosted ‘The Need for a Victims’ Rights Bill’ event at the House of Lords. Peers heard the harrowing experiences of victims of crime and the terrible failings of the Justice System.

One victim of forced marriage, domestic violence and rape, attempted suicide after the overwhelming process of being made to give interviews to multiple Police officers and repeating and reliving the abuse she had encountered over and over again. Ivy told the Peers ‘How is it acceptable that the system set up to provide victims with a route to justice, is the very system that could drive someone to want to end their life’.

Ivy was high risk of homicide and subsequently, her and her children were moved quickly to a safe location. However, a social worker disclosed their safe address to the abusive husband as she felt he had ‘a parental right’ to know where his children were, even though it had come to light that the children had been abused by their father as well. This disclosure led to Ivy being seriously attacked and hospitalised. The family were moved again, only for the social worker to disclose their safe address again and Ivy sustained another violent attack.

Police failed to manage the investigations properly and compromised not only Ivy’s safety but also justice. ‘As the system continually failed me and put my children at great risk of harm, I complied with the Police request to withdraw from remaining ongoing criminal cases’.

Ivy told the room ‘My offender walks free and yet, I, because our system is not effective enough to protect me, 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’
‘I pray today that for the sake of me and other victims, you will support these much needed changes to ensure victims have rights to protect them throughout the awful ordeal of the justice process’

Mel, a victim of a serious sexual assault told the room how her name had been disclosed without her knowledge or consent to the stranger perpetrator, at the time of him being charged. Mel described the risks of this practice to the victim and how as a result, she has changed her name due to fear that her perpetrator will try and find her once he’s released from prison. Mel is also still awaiting compensation and was denied her right to anonymity in court.

‘I believe my identity should have been better protected in the 21st Century and I am willing to fight in every way I can to get this issue addressed. My question is a simple one, what I’m asking is how did divulging my name help in the interests of justice in this case and many others like it? I am asking for a review of the law that states the accusers name should be divulged in ALL circumstances, so that in completely random stranger attacks, not just in sexual cases but all cases of a violent nature, heavy consideration is given to withholding that detail, based on the facts of the case. There are other ways to identify a victim to a perpetrator that don’t have any lasting traumatic consequences’

‘To conclude – I just want to reiterate – despite the attack I experienced, the violation of my body and my mind, the trips in and out of hospital and the trauma of the court trial – by far the most extreme and lasting violation was the handing over of my identity to the one person in the world I would do anything to remain a stranger to. It isn’t good enough to cover this issue with a blanket procedure. It isn’t good enough to say everyone regardless of circumstance has a right to know the name of their accuser.’

Anna, a victim of domestic violence, stalking and harassment spoke to the room about her ongoing ordeal and how the Police and CPS have repeatedly failed her with not supplying evidence to the Court. Both agencies blame each other for the mistakes, with CPS stating ‘…so sorry that the failure of the Police to provide us with the required unused material prevented the trial of your case to take place. If the trial had proceeded and the defendant had been convicted of the offence, then you and your children would have secured some protection from him. I can fully understand why you feel let down’

Anna 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 and ensure evidence was there on the day of trial. When I did finally receive justice, my abuser was allowed to appeal his conviction and that appeal took over a year to be heard and I was forced to have that hang over me for that long so I could not have any respite from the overwhelming cases I was involved in with my abuser. The rights for a victim to appeal against an unjust decision demands a change in the law. I am supposed to be protected by court orders but they are never adhered to and my abuser can breach them with no sanctions. My voice has been taken and I have been silenced throughout this painful ordeal. I have felt insignificant and helpless in the justice system, which to me, the victim, feels like a barren isolated world’.

Baroness Newlove, the Victims Commissioner attended the event and heard these pleas for a Victims’ Rights Law directly and fully supported that Victims needed their own piece of legislation and was meeting Dr Philip Lee, Justice Minister to discuss this.

Voice4Victims, with Baroness Brinton pledged to continue to push for these key victims’ rights amendments to be implemented as part of the Policing and Crime Bill to ensure victims have legally enforceable rights without any further delay.

Harry Fletcher, co-director Voice4Victims said ‘The evidence and experiences given to peers by victims of serious crime showed that the case for the introduction of a victims’ bill of rights was overwhelming. I hope therefore that Peers from all sides support the amendments to the Policing and Crime bill tabled by Baroness Brinton and Lord Wigley’ .

Claire Waxman stated ‘I am so pleased that the Victims Commissioner, after three years of our campaigning is now agreeing with us that there is an urgent need for a Victims’ Law. This is a huge and positive step. We are now working very hard at briefing the Lords on the necessity of these vital amendments and hope they will be well supported. We are also hopeful that in the meantime, the Victims’ Commissioner may convince the government to finally implement the ‘gold standard’ Victims Bill we have worked so hard on. Either way, we are now very positive that victims will get their much needed legally enforceable rights in the not so distant future.’

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