A public consultation on a new ‘Victims’ Law has begun, according to the Justice Secretary, which would ensure increased victim input during the criminal justice process. The Crown Prosecution Service, the police, and the courts would all have to account for the services they provide to victims and ensure that their views are heard.
Who or what is a victim?
In the criminal justice system, the terms complainant and survivor are also employed, according to the government’s definition of victim. A victim is someone who has been harmed (physically, mentally, or emotionally) or has lost money as a result of a criminal offence, or a close relative of someone who has died as a result of a criminal offence.
Why is this necessary?
Every year, one out of every five people is estimated to be a victim of crime. In order to have an effective legal system, victims must be cared for so that they remain involved in the process. The government wants to make sure that all victims get the help they need and that their opinions are heard by engaging in high-quality interactions with all authorities. If they don’t get good service, there needs to be a clear road to redress and consistent oversight of the organisations who are supposed to aid them. Finally, the objective is to provide services that will assist victims in rebuilding their lives and recovering from the effects of the offending, with funds provided by the Victim Surcharge.
The ideas are centred on better taking victims’ opinions into account at frequent intervals throughout the process, and the consultation covers five main issues:
- What victims should expect
- Accountability and performance.
- The Surcharge for Victims.
- Support services in the community.
- Support for advocacy has improved.
The following are some of the proposals:
Meetings with victims – Prosecutors will be compelled to meet with victims of certain crimes before to making a charging decision in order to understand the impact on the victim.
Community impact statements would allow an account of an offence’s collective impact to be given, even if no apparent victim could be identified. In Canada, a comparable system exists; one case involving numerous offenders who had viewed photographs of child sexual abuse was an example. A collective impact statement was used to allow a number of victims portrayed in the video to discuss how the crime affected them.
Expectations – Victims might anticipate a certain level of service from the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the courts. Victims’ voices would be amplified in the system, more support would be provided, and organisations would be held more accountable for delivering that support.
Advice services, advocacy services, and recovery and support work are all included in the notion of community-based support. Victims are having difficulty getting the help they need, and there is a growing need for services. The government plans to expand funding and recognises the need for personalised or specialised services as well as the necessity to accommodate victims of various ages and offences.
The consultation examines how to better coordinate support services through more formalised frameworks in order to increase effective collaboration between agencies. There are inquiries concerning formalised collaboration frameworks and how to clearly define roles and duties in order to optimise service delivery.
Victim advocates play an important part in the consultation because their satisfaction is second only to that of qualified counsellors or psychologists. The positions will be funded, but the government wants to think about how it might support professional advocates for adult and child victims of “hidden-harm crimes” in the future. They’ll also look at how advocates collaborate with other organisations to provide a more comprehensive service.
A victim surcharge is levied whenever an individual is punished; the amount of the punishment is determined by the type of sentence issued. The money will be used to fund victim support programmes, and one of the options is to raise the penalty amount by 20%.
The cost began as a £15 flat fee and now ranges between £22 and £190. The fee amounts for 25% of the funds dedicated to victim and witness assistance services. It is proposed that the amounts be increased to between £26 and £226, or that the minimum be raised to £100. Increases in the minimum rates for more serious offences are also being considered to reflect the impact on victims and to ensure proportionality.
There will be obvious routes of redress if victims do not receive the degree of support they are entitled to. The survey also asks if tightening inspection regimes and expanding the role of Police and Crime Commissioners could improve overall system performance.
Because responsibility for issues linked to victims’ experiences is divided across many different agencies, getting a clear picture of how the system is working for victims can be challenging. The Victims’ Commissioner, specific agencies, Police and Crime Commissioners, and agency inspectorates are among the present supervisory methods. The consultation asks about how the PCC may strengthen its commissioning of support services, as well as collaboration and data sharing at the local level. It also considers what the government may do to strengthen existing roles so that they can focus more on service delivery, as well as possibilities for more effective victim data collection and regular reporting.
Quarterly performance scorecards will be sent across the entire system. The scorecards are part of a larger push for increased transparency and accountability among all criminal justice authorities. The government claims that disclosing the information will aid in identifying and addressing issues. The scorecards will also include information on the number of cases currently being processed through the system, as well as the timelines for investigation, charging, and closing the case. The first scorecard covers the entire criminal justice system, with local scorecards expected next year to offer more detail in each region of the country.
Scorecards are used to create transparency so that the government can understand where victims are failing and remedy the problems. The ultimate goal is to raise standards and disseminate best practises. Geographic performance comparisons will be possible thanks to the local scorecards.
In some instances, Section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 permits for the pre-recording of victims’ testimony. The government has confirmed that victims of sexual and modern slavery crimes would be able to pre-record their testimony for the crown court, eliminating the need for them to testify in person during the trial. The technology is now being tested in seven courts, and the government says it will collaborate with the judges, police, and Crown Prosecution Service to devise a plan to make it available “as quickly as feasible” to all courts.
The Rape Review
The Rape Review, which took place earlier this year, included the distribution of pre-recorded evidence. According to a study just produced to track the progress made, significant progress has been accomplished, including:
- The publication of scorecards relating to offences of rape;
- More funding has been acquired for Independent Sexual Violence Advisors to provide advice and support to victims, as well as serve as a liaison between the victim and the police, social services, and criminal justice agencies.
- The suspect’s behaviour is given more weight in investigations than the victim’s believability;
- an experimental programme to return victims’ cellphones within 24 hours or issue a replacement;
- 1000 expert rape prosecutors, 470 new CPS personnel, and 11,000 additional police officers, out of a total of 20,000 promised; and
- A quarter-billion-pound investment to support the court’s recovery, including increased capacity in Nightingale courts, super courts to deliver faster justice, and unlimited sitting days in the crown court.
Victims’ Code – In April, the new Victims’ Code will take effect, outlining the amount of assistance that victims can anticipate. Victims are entitled to be treated with “respect, dignity, sensitivity, compassion, and civility,” according to the Code, and the consultation asks whether the Code should be made law.
Only 18 percent of victims recall being asked whether they wished to make a victim personal statement, and only 45 percent believe the police and other justice agencies kept them updated. According to the Code, vulnerable or frightened victims should be informed about special measures, but according to a poll, just two-thirds of rape victims who appeared in court remembered being given the option. Victims must be aware of their rights under the Code in order to feel confident in asking inquiries if such rights are not provided.
What else is being done?
Other measures, such as improved, targeted support for victims of various crimes, are progressing, according to the government. The new domestic abuse plan, a new hate crime strategy, modern slavery, and study of strategies to combat anti-social behaviour are all examples mentioned.
By 2024/25, £2.2 billion in additional money will be made available to assist victims. A 24-hour sexual violence helpline will be funded, and the number of Independent Sexual and Domestic Violence Advisors will be expanded.
The Victims’ Bill consultation will run until 3 February 2022, after which a response and legislation will be drafted.
How can we help?
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