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.

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