My Lords, I also thank the Minister and the Government for finally announcing this victims strategy and consultation document. Nearly two years ago, in December 2016, your Lordships’ House voted on strengthening the victims’ code and encoding it in law, and we supported making sure that the agencies had to deliver that code. Noble Lords will remember that the matter went back to the Commons and the Minister returned to your Lordships’ House in January 2017 saying that a victims strategy and proposals would be published within six months and implemented by the end of 2017. We are running a bit behind that schedule but in the interim I compliment the previous Victims Minister for coming to consult with a large number of victims’ groups. Over the past 18 months, I met him and some of them and the time has not been wasted.
I will not repeat the comments made by other noble Lords on the strengths of the strategy. For those groups I have been working with, it is not simply a matter of fewer than 20% of victims being aware of the victims’ code, as I am afraid that there are a significant number of people working in the criminal justice system itself who are not aware of the details and who do not assist victims. I am reminded of one victim saying that when she reported her case of rape, the alleged perpetrator was given breaks from questioning, tea breaks and meal breaks, but there was absolutely nothing—not even a glass of water—provided for her as a victim when giving her statement. That is the sort of fundamental misunderstanding happening at the front line of the criminal justice system at the moment for victims, and we absolutely must make sure that it is changed.
I also echo the congratulations to the Victims’ Commissioner, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I welcome the new support and strengthening proposed for her role, but it will all be utterly worthless unless there is a duty on the agencies to deliver the victims’ code and the new proposed victims law. I note with some concern that on page 18 of the strategy the words used are,
“improved reporting, monitoring and transparency on whether victims are receiving entitlements”.
We will not make progress until all parts of the criminal justice system have to deliver the victims’ code and a proposed victims law for all victims.
I will raise one other point, on a final omission. At every meeting of the victims’ forum that has met in Parliament over the two years, we have heard the organisation Murdered Abroad speak eloquently. There is a hole in the current system for victims whose family members have been murdered abroad, and the British system back here, even through the coroners’ court system, completely fails them. The Foreign Office does what it can, but at the moment there is no link at all back into our criminal justice system, and I hope that as part of the consultation the Government will seriously look at mending this hole.