Victims of Crime

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 11th March 2002.

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Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Labour, Blackpool South 2:30 pm, 11th March 2002

What plans he has to give victims of crime more information about progress in (a) detection and (b) prosecution of the cases with which they have been involved.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Minister of State (Prisons), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Prisons)

I am currently reviewing the standards of service outlined in the victims charter. At present, the police have a charter commitment to keep victims informed about key developments in cases. That includes information about whether a suspect is charged and the outcome of the court case. By autumn this year, the Crown Prosecution Service will have fully implemented a system to convey its own key decisions to victims. That will include information about whether charges are dropped or altered.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Labour, Blackpool South

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and express my thanks for all the work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team are doing to support victims, including the doubling of funding for Victim Support and the promised victims charter of rights, to which we look forward eagerly. Nevertheless, from my experience, having taken up cases for victims of crime in Blackpool and held consultations on the subject, there are still problems with co-ordination of information between the CPS and the police. In particular, can I press him to consider the lack of continuity that is sometimes evident between investigating officers, those who make arrests and those who attend the court? It seems to me and to many people to whom I have spoken in Blackpool that that often causes problems in terms of relaying information.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Minister of State (Prisons), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Prisons)

I am grateful that my hon. Friend recognises the additional support that we are currently giving to victims, including the doubling to £25 million of the grant to Victim Support and the changes that we have made in the courts to ensure that intimidated and vulnerable witnesses can give their evidence in safety, including through video links where that is appropriate. It is absolutely essential that we support victims end to end in the criminal justice system. Victims are also witnesses; they should be given information and support during the process of detection, when they need to appear in court, throughout the court process, when they are told about the offender's sentence—if he or she is found guilty—and when they are part of the sentencing process, if that is appropriate, where issues such as reparation and restorative justice may arise. Unless we support victims and witnesses throughout the process, we will not bring enough offenders to justice in a timely way.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

If, as the Minister says, he cares about the rights and concerns of victims, will he explain why the Government have chosen to scrap a criminal justice Bill that would have furthered those rights and to replace it with a ban on foxhunting? Which is more important to him?

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Minister of State (Prisons), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Prisons)

We have done absolutely nothing of the sort. We have been consulting on key elements of reform in the Halliday report on sentencing reform and the Auld report on court reform. I invited the Opposition spokesperson into the Department to be briefed on sentencing reform. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that we decided at that stage to publish a White Paper in the spring with a view to introducing legislation on the criminal justice system in the autumn. Nothing has changed.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

I very much welcome what my right hon. Friend has said, but can I draw a problem to his attention and ask him to intervene? Chief constables such as mine in Essex—I understand the problem to be endemic—are operating victim support in reverse in terms of people whose cars have been stolen. Is he aware that when my chief constable says that he wants the car for forensic purposes, people get not progress on prosecution, but a bill from the car recovery outfit? That is intolerable. It is now time for him to tell chief constables that this has got to stop—from this evening.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Minister of State (Prisons), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Prisons)

I understand my hon. Friend's point. The situation has been going on for a long time, and I assure him that we are looking at it very urgently.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

May I congratulate the Home Secretary through the Minister on the support that he expressed for Sir John Stevens in his article in the News of the World on the need for reform of criminal justice? That position is rather different from his previous imprecations about his sending in Whitehall hit squads. May I pick the Minister up on the criminal justice reform Bill? He says that there has been consultation, but I have to tell him that, apart from indicating the contents of Auld, providing us with that report and giving us a briefing, the Government have engaged in no formal consultation whatever with the Opposition parties. As the importance of the criminal justice Bill is acknowledged in all parts of the House, when will the Government respond to the formal proposals that were put to them by my hon. Friend Mr. Letwin, indicating that we would co-operate on moving such a Bill through the House as quickly as possible? No valid explanation whatever has been provided of why the Bill is not being introduced in this Session.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Minister of State (Prisons), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Prisons)

It is quite extraordinary that when we invited the official Opposition spokesperson to attend the briefing on the Halliday consultation, to which we received hundreds of responses, they had not at that point bothered to respond to the consultation document. If they want genuinely to participate and to ensure that we have cross-party support for introducing criminal justice reform, they should take the opportunity to respond to the consultation.

Photo of Betty Williams Betty Williams Labour, Conwy

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the success of victim support schemes around the country. That is especially true of two schemes—Môn-Gwynedd and Conwy—in my constituency. In the context of providing more information to victims of crime, will he ensure that police authorities automatically refer cases involving victims of crime to local victim support schemes?

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Minister of State (Prisons), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Prisons)

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments about the victim support service in her area. Through the extra money that we have made available, Victim Support has developed highly effective witness services in our courts, and every court will be covered by April this year. We must ensure that there is proper communication with all the agencies involved in a case, whether it be the police, the Crown Prosecution Service or others that become involved with the victim at that point or later in the process. Within that communication process, technology must be enhanced to ensure that information is quickly relayed to the different agencies so that they can then communicate with the victim and/or witness. That is essential for the effective completion of more cases through the court process.