Victims Strategy - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:02 pm on 10th September 2018.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 5:02 pm, 10th September 2018

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement made by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement. Today, the Secretary of State and I are launching the Government’s victims strategy. which sets out our vision for victims of crime in England and Wales. That vision is one of a justice system that supports even more victims to speak up, with the certainty that they will be understood, that they will be protected, and that they will be supported, whether or not they report a crime and regardless of their circumstances or background. However, no single department, agency, or emergency service alone can provide the services victims rightly expect to receive, as shown by recent major incidents such as the Grenfell Tower fire and terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.

To truly deliver on our vision we must all work together, and that is why we have today published, for the first time, a cross-government victims strategy, further delivering on this Government’s commitment to ensure that victims of crime get the support they need. This strategy is the latest milestone in improving the support for victims and builds on important progress over the last few years, such as the establishment of the first Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in 2006, the appointment of the first Victims’ Commissioner to champion the interests of victims and witnesses in 2010, and the publication of Getting it Right for Victims and Witnesses: The Government Response in 2012, setting out the Government’s approach for making sure that victims and witnesses get the support they need. The victims strategy consolidates and builds on that progress but recognises that more needs to be done. I want to thank and pay tribute to all those victims, groups and experts who have willingly shared their experiences and sat on the victims’ panel and their work, and to my predecessor, who initiated this work.

The nature of crime is changing and we must adapt our response to meet that challenge. While overall crime has fallen, some of the most serious crimes have risen. Serious violent crime has increased and reporting of sexual offending has also risen. In the year ending March 2018, there was a 24% increase in reported sexual offences compared to the previous year. The message from victims is clear: they want to be treated with dignity, humanity, and compassion; they want clear, timely and accurate information about what is happening with their cases from day one; and they want the opportunity and support to make their voices heard as justice is done. To help achieve this, the strategy sets out a system-wide response to improving the support offered to all victims of crime throughout the criminal justice process, and incorporates actions from all criminal justice agencies, including the police, CPS and the courts. We must ensure that those who are a victim of crime do not become a victim of the process.

First, we want to strengthen the victims’ code and make it fit for the future. Our data tell us that fewer than 20% of victims are even aware of the code. Those who are often find it too lengthy, too confusing, with too many agencies involved. We will therefore revise the code, making it more user-friendly, reducing contact points, and strengthening entitlements in key areas such as the victim personal statement and support for victims of mentally disordered offenders. We will test the proposed changes to the code in a public consultation in early 2019 and aim to have a revised code in place by the end of 2019.

We have also reaffirmed our manifesto commitment to a victims’ law. The consultation will also consider how best to enshrine victims’ entitlements in law and the detail of the necessary legislation, and will include boosting the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner, who plays a vital role in holding those agencies to account already. I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lady Newlove for all her work over almost six years to promote and protect the interests of victims and witnesses.

The criminal injuries compensation scheme must reflect the changing nature of crime. We will therefore be reviewing the entire scheme, with a particular focus on how we treat the victims of child sexual abuse and terrorism. That will include examining eligibility criteria and abolishing the arbitrary and unfair ‘same roof’ rule so that victims can get the compensation they are rightly due.

From Hillsborough to Grenfell, there have been too many failures to properly support those affected by disasters. So, we have today in this strategy set out our purpose for an independent public advocate and have in tandem published a consultation on the detail of the role, supporting bereaved families so that those failures cannot be repeated and we can properly support victims from the beginning of a disaster right through to the application of justice and beyond.

Building on the work we commenced earlier this year to improve the parole process, the strategy sets out how we will improve communication and support for victims during what can be for many a difficult time when memories of crimes committed years ago are relived. We will simplify the victim contact scheme and improve the quality of communication. We will make it easier for victims to make victim personal statements at parole hearings, and rollout revised training for victim liaison officers, so that they are better equipped and prepared to support victims through parole hearings. This can and should ensure that past failings can never be repeated.

The strategy highlights the extra funding that we are providing for victims, including increasing spending to improve services and pathways for survivors and victims of sexual violence and abuse, including spending £8 million on interventions to ensure that support is available to children who witness domestic abuse. Some of the other measures are: improved training for the police, including guidance on supporting victims through the interview process and collecting evidence; trialling body-worn cameras for taking victim personal statements so that victims have a choice in how their story is heard; expanding support for families bereaved by gang violence—the recent spate of gang-related violence, particularly in London, has shone a spotlight on the devastation that gun and knife crime can cause to families, and we will be bringing in new funding for advocacy support for those affected by domestic homicide—and new guidance on pre-trial therapy to reduce the perception that it will damage the prosecution case.

In developing the strategy we have engaged extensively with victims, victims’ groups and the Victims’ Commissioner. This has ensured that the strategy is informed by those who have had direct experience of being a victim as well as those with front-line expertise. The strategy is not a quick fix. It is about building on the work to date so that we can better support victims in the future, and it is about giving them the confidence that, no matter their background, their individual circumstances or the crime that has been committed against them, the support that they need will be available.

This is the first time that we have looked in such detail and in such a joined-up way at how we treat victims in the wake of crime. This strategy is a marker for the way that we see ourselves as a nation—one that offers dignity, empathy and compassion to people when they are at their most vulnerable. It is something on which there is broad consensus across this House. Delivery of the strategy will now commence in earnest as we continue to progress towards a system that supports even more victims to speak up by giving them the certainty that they will be understood, supported and protected throughout their journey”.