Victims Strategy - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:11 pm on 10th September 2018.

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Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice) 5:11 pm, 10th September 2018

My Lords, we too welcome the publication of the victims strategy and I join the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, in thanking the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement. The strategy certainly builds on the work done by government, by agencies across the criminal justice system over a number of years and by campaigners. I join in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for her work and also mention the work of my noble friend Lady Brinton in this area.

The measures to strengthen the victims’ code are extremely necessary. It needs revision. We accept that there should be consultation before revision, but it needs to be made easier to understand, easier to access and there needs to be a great deal more awareness of the existence of the code and its provisions among members of the public. The aim should be to ensure support and co-ordination of that support across the criminal justice system. It is also right that the Government propose boosting the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner to hold the agencies to account. However, the main commitment of the victims strategy is to enshrine victims entitlements into a victims law. We look forward to the consultation as to how that will be framed.

I mention in passing two further points that I have picked up. The involvement of victims in the parole process plainly needs to be increased. We need to put behind us the failures of the system of the type that led to the decision in the Worboys case and to the feeling among the public that they had been let down by an inadequate and secretive process.

I also mention the proposed improvements to the criminal injuries compensation scheme which are extremely necessary. I welcome the proposed abolition of the absurd “same roof” rule”, whereby victims were debarred from compensation if they lived under the same roof as the person who perpetrated violence against them; very often they lived under the same roof only because they were forced to do so by financial deprivation.

We are left with one very serious area of concern: the legal enforceability of the victims strategy. It does not commit to imposing legally enforceable duties on the agencies involved, justiciable at the instance of victims. It pledges to hold agencies to account, through improved reporting, monitoring and transparency on whether victims are in fact receiving their entitlements, and to make the responsibilities of the agencies clearer. However, it is more likely that the victims strategy will succeed in ensuring that agencies meet their obligations, and victims receive their entitlements, if those agencies can be held legally accountable to victims. Will the Minister assure us that the consultation on the victims law will explore ways in which legal enforceability might be achieved? The victims strategy is a good one, but to make victims rights a reality needs resources, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, pointed out. It also needs the victims law to have real teeth.