The New Government Must Keep to Manifesto Pledge of a Victims’ Law

On May 18th 2017, the Conservatives published their manifesto with a clear commitment, that if elected they would introduce a Victims’ Law. The Liberal Democrats and Labour parties also said that they would act on a Victims’ Law. This is welcome news for the Victims’ Law campaign.

However, these promises have been made before. In May 2015, the Conservative Party included a commitment to implement a Victims’ Law in their manifesto. In February 2016, the Government minister told Voice4Victims that they intended to imminently produce a Green Paper on this subject. The Paper never materialised, despite Voice4Victims contributing to its content.

On January 18th 2017, the Government in the House of Lords announced that there would be a 12 month review of the nature of the Victims’ Code, agencies compliance and accountability and the need for legislation. This concession was made after 2 years of campaigning by Voice4Victims for a Victims’ Law – incorporation of the discretionary victims’ code in legislation and other enforceable rights. It also followed the introduction of two Private members’ bills and numerous amendments to government Bills to make these aspirations a reality. Unfortunately, there is little, if any, evidence of progress by the Ministry of Justice on this January commitment.

The terms of reference for this review have not been published and it is unclear who will be consulted during the course of this exercise. Voice4Victims is asking that all parties include a commitment to a Victims’ Law rather than unenforceable, discretionary codes in their manifestos and with a detailed time frame as to how this will be delivered. This time the next Government must act or victims will be side-lined yet again.

What Voice4Victims is demanding?

Voice4Victims is pleased that all parties in the Election are committed to a Victims’ Law. This commitment should include:

• Giving victims legally enforceable rights to access timely justice
• Access to relevant, professional and properly resourced support services to aid recovery
• Access to timely compensation
• Access to easily accessible complaints procedures and reviews through help of a single point of contact
• No discriminatory behaviour by the Criminal Justice System
• Police to ensure the safety and protection of all victims and witnesses during proceedings
• Commitment to specialist training for all agencies in the Criminal Justice System on the rights and entitlements of victims
• Families of victims of mentally disordered offenders or those murdered abroad should have access to timely information and justice

Why are Voice4Victims demanding this?

There is overwhelming evidence of victims being failed justice and support with many left isolated and unable to recover from the crime. Crime is changing and with cuts to Policing and training and support services, victims of crime at being put at great risk. Many victims experience multiple problems with multiple agencies who do not exchange information nor act in a co-ordinated manner. This disjointed approach exposes victims to failings and risks.

The Victim’s Experience:
Irene was encouraged to report ongoing sexual violence and domestic violence to Police. Upon reporting, Police stated they didn’t believe her as the crime she was reporting ‘didn’t happen in green, leafy, middle class areas’. A detective was eventually assigned to the case but due to the nature of the crimes, she had to be interviewed by 18 different police office officers which was deeply traumatic for the victim and left her attempting suicide as she received no single point of contact or any help or support during the police interviews. The victim and her children were relocated due to being at high risk of murder but the social worker disclosed the safe address on two occasions to the victim’s abusive husband and the victim was brutally attacked as a result of this. Due to the complexity of the case, the Police decided not to pursue proceedings and only one of the cases went to trial. During the trial, the victim was refused special measures of a video link interview due to Police failure to fill out necessary paper work in time. This meant the victim was forced to attend court, although was allowed to give evidence from behind a screen. During cross examination, the victim was asked inappropriate questions about past sexual history. The victim’s experience of the justice system was so traumatic and said ‘ because our system is not effective enough to protect me, I 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’.
Amy was a victim of Domestic Abuse and was arrested by Police due to her abuser’s false allegations. Police did not look up the history of the case and number of times the victim had called the Police about her partner. When her abuser was finally arrested for harassment and stalking, he pleaded not guilty. As a result, the case went to court but on the day of trial, the offender was acquitted as Police failed to supply evidence to CPS in time. All the evidence to show the stalking could not be used again for a subsequent trial. The stalking continued and the offender was arrested and charged again and was eventually found guilty. The victim wanted to access an IPCC review into the handling of her case due to failings but she was not able to as the offender appealed his conviction. The appeal to conviction was adjourned twice and took a year and half to go to Court. The victim was forced to attend the appeal hearing to give evidence but CPS failed to give the victim her original statements and it had been over a year and a half since she gave her original statement. The appeal was dismissed but the victim had been kept in the justice process due to delays for nearly two years after the initial crime was committed. As a result of delays and failings, her perpetrator was able to use the family courts to continue his abuse and stalking and the victim’s life was on hold during these inordinate delays. The victim 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. When I did finally receive justice, my abuser was allowed to appeal and that appeal was allowed to take over a year to be heard. I’m not allowed to appeal any of the decisions but my abuser has. He has all the rights along the journey and I’ve had none. I have felt insignificant and helpless in the justice system”.

What should be in the Victims’ Law?
• The right to information at every stage of the justice process
• The right to not be discriminated against or prejudiced from accessing justice
• The right to not be subjected to unnecessary delay
• The right to challenge decisions that directly impact the victim’s safety
• Revising offences that can be appealed on grounds of leniency
• Non-disclosure of victims name to perpetrator in serious sexual offences where the perpetrator has targeted a stranger
• The right to attend and make representations to any pre-court hearing to determine the nature of the court proceedings
What will the Impact be? :
• Victims could recover from the crime far quicker by feeling supported and heard during the process and easily access timely justice, professional support and robust mechanisms for complaints procedures.
• As a result of quicker recovery, victims could recover more swiftly and not face further victimisation.
• With quicker recovery, less strain would be placed on health and employment services.
• Victims more likely to participate in work and education
• Quality of life for families and children would be much improved
• Victims will be better able to contribute to their communities more effectively and positively
• Victims would be less isolated and vulnerable and experience less stress and trauma

The next Government must first publish a timetable, then consult with stakeholders and table their draft legislation. Voice4Victims urges that this be done as soon as possible as victims of crime have waited long enough for their rights to be enshrined in law.

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