Today marks the unveiling of the first cross-government victims strategy by the Justice Secretary, something that the government outlined 3 years ago in their 2015 election manifesto. They pledged to ‘support victims, so that the most vulnerable in our society get the support they deserve’ by implementing a victims law said to ‘enshrine key rights for victims, including the right to make a personal statement and have it read in court before sentencing – and before the Parole Board decides on a prisoner’s release’. All of the three major UK political parties promised to reform legislation relating to victims in their 2015 manifesto’s, however the government failed to expand on this in the 2016 Queens speech despite stating that protecting survivors of sexual violence and supporting victims was a key priority.
Three years later we are finally seeing the government begin to deliver on their promise with the consultation of a victim’s law by 2019. The strategy outlines what we can expect to see from the government over the coming year, including the abolishment of the pre-1979 ‘same roof rule’. Which saw victims who lived under the same roof as their abuser unable to claim compensation for the crime if it was committed before 1979 whilst the victim and perpetrator lived under the same roof. The strategy also set out to simplify the Victim Contact Scheme, improve communication and allow Victim Personal Statements at parole hearings as well as to roll out revised training for Victim Liaison Officers.
Other measures include:
- Commitments to increase spending from £31 million in 2018 to £39 million in 2020/21 to improve services for victims of sexual violence and abuse who seek support from Sexual Assault Referral Centres.
- Boosting the number of Registered Intermediaries – communication experts helping vulnerable victims and witnesses give their best evidence at police interview and trial – by 25%.
- Improving court environments, with new victim-friendly waiting areas and an emphasis on accessibility for the most vulnerable.
- Keeping the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme under review, and considering an extension so victims and the public can have sentences reconsidered by the Court of Appeal.
- Focus on better enforcement of the Victims’ Code, with increased responsibility for Police and Crime Commissioners in monitoring the delivery of services.
- The creation of a short, user-friendly overview of the Victims’ Code in hardcopy and electronic formats.
- Developing a new delivery model for victim support services, and coordinating funding across government.
- More powers for the Victims’ Commissioner to hold government to account
- Greater support for victims of disasters through Independent Public Advocate
- The creation of the Victims’ Panel to represent the voice of victims in government policy making.
- Seeking new laws and stronger powers to protect and support survivors of domestic abuse.
- Creating new offences to protect more victims and bring offenders to justice including: revenge porn, coercive or controlling behaviour, and sexual communication with a child.
Prime Minister Theresa May commented on the new strategy by saying that ‘Nothing can take away the distress and trauma of being a victim of crime, but ensuring people get the support they need as they rebuild their lives is vital’. The Justice Secretary David Gauke echoed a similar sentiment by stating ‘Many of us will be lucky enough to not have to encounter the justice system as a victim of crime – but those who do must not also become a victim of the process.’
The Gemini Project welcome’s the overdue victim’s strategy along with the commitment to Victim Personal Statements which allows the victim to directly address the ways in which they have been affected by the crime. The strategy recognises that the funding for support services are ineffective under the current system which is not fit for purpose and sees victims treated as an afterthought. We would like to see the government go further by fulfilling their promise of implementing a victims law so it reflects a 21st century criminal justice system that is victim-centred and fit for purpose. Victims of sexual violence can be some of the most vulnerable people and support should be offered to them at every step of the process whether they decide to officially report the crime or not.
What we need to see included in this strategy is increased communication with victims that would include regular updates as to the progress of their case from one point of contact; protections for victims from certain lines of questioning and extensive cross-examination; the ability to report crimes at SARCs (Sexual Assault Refuge Centres); a right for cases to be reviewed if charges aren’t brought, a commitment to introducing advocate services, and the guarantee of support after court proceedings. The victims strategy does little to address the trauma victims experience as a result of crime and the impact it has on their lives, we would like to see the government commit to investing more in support services including counselling, that currently see extensive waiting lists. We also hope that along with the new strategy the government properly funds the pledges they have set out to fulfil. It is time victims receive the support and justice they deserve.
To read more about the victims strategy the full 52 page report can be found here: Victims Strategy.pdf
The current code of practice for victims of crime can be found here: Code of Practice for Victims of Crime.pdf