Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

New Code of Practice for the treatment of victims of crime

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For some time, the Government has been promising the publication of a new Code of Practice on how the victims of crime should be treated by those involved in the criminal justice system. Following a consultation, the new code was published in November 2020. It has been laid before Parliament and will come into effect on 1 April 2021.

The Code provides that victims have the following 12 rights. They are set out, in summary, as:

  1. To be able to understand and to be understood. You have the Right to be given information in a way that is easy to understand and to be provided with help to be understood, including, where necessary, access to interpretation and translation services.
  2. To have the details of the crime recorded without unjustified delay. You have the Right to have details of the crime recorded by the police as soon as possible after the incident. If you are required to provide a witness statement or be interviewed, you have the Right to be provided with additional support to assist you through this process.
  3. To be provided with information when reporting the crime. You have the Right to receive written confirmation when reporting a crime, to be provided with information about the criminal justice process and to be told about programmes or services for victims. This might include services where you can meet with the suspect or offender, which is known as Restorative Justice.
  4. To be referred to services that support victims and have services and support tailored to your needs. You have the Right to be referred to services that support victims, which includes the Right to contact them directly, and to have your needs assessed so services and support can be tailored to meet your needs. If eligible, you have the Right to be offered a referral to specialist support services and to be told about additional support available at court, for example special measures.
  5. To be provided with information about compensation. Where eligible, you have the Right to be told about how to claim compensation for any loss, damage or injury caused as a result of crime.
  6. To be provided with information about the investigation and prosecution. You have the Right to be provided with updates on your case and to be told when important decisions are taken. You also have the Right, at certain stages of the justice process, to ask for decisions to be looked at again by the relevant service provider.
  7. To make a Victim Personal Statement. You have the Right to make a Victim Personal Statement, which tells the court how the crime has affected you and is considered when sentencing the offender. You will be given information about the process.
  8. To be given information about the trial, trial process and your role as a witness. If your case goes to court, you have the Right to be told the time, date and location of any hearing and the outcome of those hearings in a timely way. If you are required to give evidence, you have the Right to be offered appropriate help before the trial and, where possible, if the court allows, to meet with the prosecutor before giving evidence.
  9. To be given information about the outcome of the case and any appeals. You have the Right to be told the outcome of the case and, if the defendant is convicted, to be given an explanation of the sentence. If the offender appeals against their conviction or sentence, you have the Right to be told about the appeal and its outcome.
  10. To be paid expenses and have property returned. If you are required to attend court and give evidence, you have the Right to claim certain expenses. If any of your property was taken as evidence, you have the Right to get it back as soon as possible.
  11. To be given information about the offender following a conviction. Where eligible, you have the Right to be automatically referred to the Victim Contact Scheme, which will provide you with information about the offender and their progress in prison, and if/when they become eligible for consideration of parole or release. Where applicable, you also have the Right to make a new Victim Personal Statement, in which you can say how the crime continues to affect you.
  12. To make a complaint about your Rights not being met. If you believe that you have not received your Rights, you have the Right to make a complaint to the relevant service provider. If you remain unhappy, you can contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

While the new Code is to be welcomed, there are at least three challenges to be faced for it to become effective:

First, as the Government itself acknowledges, the existence of the code is not widely known amongst the general public. Their potential role in trying to ensure that the practices set out in the code are actually delivered won’t be fulfilled if they do not know about the code.

Second, there have been enough reports in the media in recent months which suggest that there is an urgent need for training on the content of the code in all criminal justice agencies – the police, prosecutors, the courts, the probation service, the parole board have all been criticised for ignoring victims.

Third, while the Victim’s Commissioner (currently Dame Vera Baird) has statutory responsibility to promote the interests of victims and witnesses; to take such steps as considered appropriate to encourage good practice; and to keep under the review the operation of the Code, a recent independent report argues that she lacks adequate legal powers to enable her to fulfil her responsbilities. The report recommends that the Commissioner needs additional powers to:

  1. Undertake effective review of the operation of the Code;
  2. Rely on the cooperation of bodies named in the Code when encouraging them to adopt good practice;
  3. Identify weakness in the implementation of the Code;
  4. Require action if bodies are found not to be complying with the Code;
  5. In the last resort and if necessary to clarify the law in the public interest, to bring appropriate legal proceedings;
  6. Receive and direct complaints from victims as users of services provided by bodies named in the Code;
  7. Conduct and commission research and training on, for example, what constitutes good practice and on victims’ emergent needs;
  8. Require changes to the Code if it is found to be inadequate;
  9. Ensure that Parliament is fully aware of victims’ needs, and upholds their entitlements and rights;
  10. Recommend changes to the law.

As the Government has stated that it wishes to introduce a new Victims Law, the Commissioner hopes that these proposals may be considered as a key element in the development of new legislation.

The new Victims Code may be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-improving-the-victims-code and follow the links to Government response, and Victims Code 2020.

The report on the Victims’ Commissioner’s powers is at https://victimscommissioner.org.uk/news/independent-report-calls-for-the-victims-commissioner-to-have-enhanced-powers-to-ensure-agencies-are-held-to-account/ – again follow the links.

Written by lwtmp

January 4, 2021 at 11:04 am

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