Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘the place of the victim

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

Unduly lenient sentences: scheme extension

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For many years, the victims of a number of serious crimes have been able to make an application to the Solicitor General that the sentence imposed in their case was too lenient. Crimes such as murder, robbery, and a range of terror offences were covered by the scheme.

If the Solicitor General agrees he/she may refer the case to the Court of Appeal for a reconsideration of the sentence. In 2018, around 100 convicted criminals had their sentences increased under this scheme.

In its Victims Strategy, published in November 2018, the Government stated that it would review the scheme to see whether it should be extended to more offences.

The Government has announced (September 2019) that there should be an extension of the scheme to 14 further offences, including offences of controlling and coercive behaviour, as well as child sexual abuse offences, such as those involving the taking, distributing and publishing of indecent images of children and abusing a position of trust with a child.

Implementation of these decisions requires the approval of secondary legislation which is expected in the autumn 2019.

Further details of the changes is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/more-victims-able-to-challenge-unduly-lenient-prison-sentences.

The Victims Strategy 2018 was noted in this blog on 29 November 2018

Written by lwtmp

September 19, 2019 at 9:58 am

The Victims Strategy – 2018

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In September 2018, the Government published its cross-government Victims Strategy. It sets out a criminal justice system wide response to improving the support offered to victims of crime and incorporates actions from all criminal justice agencies, including the police, CPS and courts.

It is divided into 5 key sections

  1. overarching commitments. These include:
  • Strengthening the Victims’ Code, and consulting on the detail of victim focused legislation, including strengthening the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner, and delivering a Victims’ Law.
  • Holding agencies to account for compliance with the Victims’ Code through improved reporting, monitoring and transparency.
  • Developing the detail on the role of the Independent Public Advocate for bereaved families who have lost loved ones in extraordinary and tragic events.
  • Abolishing the rule which denied compensation for some victims who lived with their attacker prior to 1979 and consulting on further changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
  1. improving support for all victims of crime, whether or not they report the crime. This includes commitments to:
  • Increase spending from £31 million in 2018 to £39 million in 2020/21 to improve services and pathways for survivors and victims of sexual violence and abuse who seek support to and from Sexual Assault Referral Centres.
  • Develop a new delivery model for victim support services, coordinating funding across government.
  • Expand and extend support available to families bereaved by homicide, including bringing in new funding for advocacy support for families bereaved by domestic homicide.
  • Spend £8 million on interventions to ensure support is available to children who witness domestic abuse.
  • Pilot the ‘Child House’ model in London, whereby multiple services are brought together in a child-friendly environment to minimise additional trauma.
  1. improving victim support after a crime has been reported. This includes commitments to:
  • Introduce improved police training, including new guidance on conducting interviews and collecting evidence, and a trial of body worn cameras to take Victim Personal Statements.
  • Increase the number of Registered Intermediaries, communication experts helping vulnerable victims and witnesses give their best evidence at police interview and at court, by 25%.
  • Increase opportunities for victims to engage in alternative solutions to court.
  • Improve overall victim communication, including when explaining decisions not to prosecute and on the right to review Crown Prosecution Service decisions.
  1. better support for victims during the court process. This includes commitments to:
  • Improve the court environment, with new victim-friendly waiting areas and a new court design guide focussing on accessibility for the most vulnerable.
  • Free up court time in the magistrates’ court by dealing with crimes with no identifiable victim (e.g. fare evasion) outside court hearings.
  • Continue to use video links to allow vulnerable victims to provide evidence away from the defendant and courtroom altogether.
  • Encourage take up of pre-trial therapy by launching new guidance and a toolkit for prosecutors and therapists.
  1. making sure victims understand a court’s decision, the implications for them, and for the offender. This includes commitments to:
  • Review and consider extending the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme so victims and the public can have sentences reconsidered by the Court of Appeal.
  • Reform the Victim Contact Scheme, making it easier to opt in, introducing more frequent communication, and greater use of digital contact methods.
  • Improve Victim Liaison Officer training, especially in supporting victims during parole hearings and in making a Victim Personal Statement.
  • Review and consider whether any improvements need to be made to entitlements for victims of mentally disordered offenders.

This is substantial agenda of what seem to me to be good ideas. Some of them can be implemented quickly. Others will take more time. What is therefore also needed is a committment to publish progress reports which show how these initiatives are developing throughout the country.

Source: Adapted from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/victims-strategy/victims-strategy-html-version where the full text of the strategy statement can be found.

Parole Board – review of procedures

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The decision by the Parole Board to release the London Cab Driver John Warboys – who had been convicted of raping a number of his customers – has generated a great deal of publicity. Many of the challenges in that case arose from the fact that Warboys had been sentenced to an Indeterminate Sentence, which meant that he could continue to be detained after the period set by the judge as punishment for his crime, where it was anticipated that his release would be a danger to the public. (The law relating to such sentences was changed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.)

The Government has now announced that there is to be a review of the practices and procedures of the Parole Board. This is to include a review of how the work of the Board impacts on the victims of the crimes committed by those the Board is considering for release.

The terms of the reference are as follows:

This review will consider the case for changes in law, policy and procedure in relation to Parole Board decision-making. It will include an examination of the transparency of the process and reasons for parole decisions, and how victims are appropriately engaged in that process. It will take account of the interests of justice, public confidence in the system and the impact on victims. The review will draw on the views and experience of victims, practitioners and international best practice.
The review will focus on the following areas:
1. The law, policy, guidance and practice relating to challenges to Parole Board decision making, specifically whether there should be a mechanism to allow parole decisions to be reconsidered.
2. The transparency of Parole Board decision making, including:
whether the outcomes of Parole Board decisions should be published or otherwise
disclosed;
whether the reasons for those decisions should be published, and if so to what extent; and
whether there are any other changes that should be made in order to contribute to greater transparency.
3. Victim involvement in Parole Board hearings:
to review the relevant entitlements outlined in the Victims’ Code to determine whether improvements should be made to how victims are currently involved in and contribute to Parole Board hearings;
what improvements should be made to how their involvement is facilitated.
4. Arrangements for communicating with victims:
to review whether the current entitlements for victims who qualify under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 for the Victim Contact Scheme are adequate, including in relation to Victim Personal Statements and licence conditions;
to review whether improvements can be made to the way that the scheme operates in practice, in particular the process by which victims are notified of their entitlements and of decisions; whilst respecting the victim’s preference for how they are contacted;
to consider the question of ongoing contact with victims who are eligible for the Victim Contact Scheme but have previously opted out; and
whether there need to be new entitlements or procedures for victims not covered by the statutory scheme.
Interestingly in its own Press Release, the Parole Board observes: “Justice needs to be seen to be done and the Canadian model for victim contact could provide a good starting point.”
As far as I  am aware, decisions have not yet been taken as to who should lead this review, nor the time line for the completion of the review. I will endeavour to keep you posted on such developments.
The terms of reference are at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/674955/pb-review-terms-of-reference.pdf
The Parole Board Press statement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/parole-board-welcomes-independent-review-of-victim-contact-and-extended-terms-of-reference-for-review-of-parole-processes

 

 

Written by lwtmp

January 24, 2018 at 12:46 pm