We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of the APPG on Victims of Crime. There is no doubt that being a victim of a serious crime is devastating and can result in physical, mental, emotional or economic harm. This can be to the victim direct, the relative of someone whose death was caused by or as a result of a criminal offence, or a close relative of an incapacitated victim. That is the current definition of a victim in the victims’ code of practice.
I have personal interest in this matter, having been a victim of harassment and stalking along with my team when I was a parliamentary candidate in Watford. My Conservative opponent was convicted of 67 crimes targeting myself and, by association, my colleagues over a period of three years. No matter how calm or logical you can be, the scars of that sort of treatment, some of it very personal, run deep and long. How much more do the victims of rape, sexual assault, coercive control or attempted murder feel when the system set out in the victims’ code fails them on top of the assault that they have already faced? They are victimised a second time.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, the former Victims’ Commissioner, who cannot be in her place today, for her encouragement and support over the last few years. I am also delighted to welcome her successor, Dame Vera Baird QC, and to thank Dame Vera for her helpful and thoughtful briefing for Members. I thank the Library for its excellent briefing too. I have also worked with Claire Waxman and Harry Fletcher over the last eight or nine years. Claire is now the Victims’ Commissioner for London, and Harry still works tirelessly to support victims to ensure that they get the support they need.
The first version of this Bill was introduced by Elfyn Llwyd of Plaid Cymru in March 2015. He subsequently stood down from Parliament in 2015, and a revised version of the Bill was tabled by Sir Keir Starmer in 2016. Both 10-minute rule Bills in another place had all-party support.
The Bill puts the discretionary victims’ code on to a statutory footing. The code was originally introduced in England in Wales in 2006 and is a set of expectations for criminal justice agencies, but it is not mandatory. Victims do not have legal rights, and agencies “may” or “ought” to respond to victims’ needs. Despite the existence of the code, victims are repeatedly failed and often face re-victimisation by the criminal justice system. Complaints and appeal procedures are lengthy and almost impossible to use.
The code offers victims things such as: accurate and timely information; adequate notice of court proceedings; information about decisions; access to translation services; direct contact details of agencies and individuals involved; no unnecessary delay; being treated with dignity and respect; not to experience discriminatory behaviour; witnesses who are vulnerable to give their evidence at a distance or behind screens; police ensuring the safety of victims during proceedings; access to a liaison officer; access to transcripts of proceedings at no cost; the right to attend pre-court hearings; and access to financial compensation from public funds.
Over the past decades, there has been an understanding that, while the code appears sufficient on the surface, the experience of victims of serious crime is very different. Indeed, most seem unaware that the code exists, let alone know about its content or about any other complaints procedures. The Victims Rights Campaign and many others have received frustrated comments with depressing regularity. Victims are not told of parole decisions—I think we all remember the Worboys case. Victims’ impact statements go missing from the Crown prosecution bundle. Screens or separate waiting areas are requested but not provided. Translation services are not available or, worse, are available in the wrong language. Probation fails to give victims vital information. Victims are unaware, until sitting in court, of previous criminal convictions. Cases take months and victims are not given reasons for delays. Personal information about victims is read out in court with the alleged perpetrator present—and I can tell you that, if someone is stalking you and your home address is read out, that is a major problem. Victims are asked to control their emotions in the witness box. I could go on.
The commitment to the introduction of a victims’ law was contained in the Conservative election manifestos both in 2015 and in 2017. It was also, by the way, a firm manifesto promise from Labour and the Liberal Democrats in 2017. Despite the Government’s promises so far, though, neither a consultation nor a draft law has been forthcoming. In February 2016, the government Minister said that a Green Paper would be published “soon”, but unfortunately that seemed to go on hold. In May 2016, the Public Accounts Committee in the Commons concluded that:
“The criminal justice system is bedevilled by long standing poor performance including delays and inefficiencies, and costs are being shunted from one part of the system to another”.
At the same time, then Victims’ Commissioner reported that many,
“victims feel ignored, unimportant and confused when raising concerns about their treatment”.
In December 2016, during the passage of the Policing and Crime Bill, your Lordships’ House voted to support amendments, in my name and others’, to turn the victims’ code into law. Sadly, this was voted down during ping-pong in the Commons immediately after the new year. When the Bill came back for consideration by the Lords in January 2017, I withdrew my amendments on government legislation that would have put the victims’ law on a statutory footing after an undertaking by the Minister the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm of Owlpen, who made a Statement at the Dispatch Box. The amendment had support from Labour, the Cross Benches and indeed some Conservative Members. The Minister gave an undertaking, in exchange for the withdrawal of the amendments, of an immediate one-year consultation for victims’ groups, to be followed by the publication of legal proposals.
In October 2018, the then government Minister told the victims’ forum that there was a commitment to a new law, but he was unable to confirm when that would happen. In the same month, there was a three-hour debate in the House of Commons on victims, and over 50 suggestions for improvement were put forward by Members in behalf of their constituents. In July this year—just earlier this week—the Ministry of Justice finally announced that there would be a consultation on:
“Greater clarity through simplified and improved Victims’ Code”.
However, that does not include a commitment to a victims’ law. In response, the Victims Rights Campaign said:
“The code must be simplified and turned into a law so that victims have enforceable rights. They should have a right to accurate information, a right to be consulted about parole decisions and a right to challenge any decision not to prosecute and much more. The consultation is a step forward but unfortunately stops short of a Bill of Rights”.
That is why I introduced this Private Member’s Bill two years ago. As with the changes to the stalking law in 2012, it seems that the cogs of the Ministry of Justice grind exceeding slow. While nothing is happening, victims of crime are being let down daily because of the lack of support, sometimes deliberate, sometimes in ignorance. The last but one government consultation talked about holding the agencies to account, but once again gave them no duty to deliver the code. That is, quite simply, what this Bill aims to do. Those of us, in debate with Ministers over the years, who hear from victims about failings in the system understand what needs to be done. This House agreed with that in 2016.
The Bill has 11 principal clauses and the Long Title is long because it covers such a range. It includes statutory rights and entitlements for victims of crime, the assessment of victims’ services, extra duties for the Victims’ Commissioner, rights to review decisions not to prosecute, reviews of homicides where no criminal charge has been made and a duty on professions to notify the police of possible child sexual abuse. I will not read each of the clauses out, because they are in front of you, but I want to give two brief illustrations from case studies. The names I give are not the names of the victims.
Rachel was in a relationship for two years and then found that her partner was a convicted fraudster and conman. She realised he was interested in her only because she owned a mortgage-free property. He then began stalking and harassing her, through unwanted letters, presents, flowers, emails, texts and phone calls and turning up at her house. This escalated to him following her in his car, contriving chance meetings, making silent phone calls from phone boxes, sending “mistaken” emails and following her on foot. The victim believes he also arranged for other men to follow her when out walking the dogs, and this continues to this day.
Despite receiving three harassment warnings from the police, he persists with this ongoing harassment. The problem is that the police have yet to recognise the pattern of stalking in this case. They have done very little to support the victim and have issued three warnings instead of using protective legislation. As a result, the stalking continues. The victim said:
“I have suffered immense psychological suffering culminating in a suicide attempt in June 2014. The ongoing campaign of stalking, harassment and now financial concerns continues to have a deleterious effect on my recovery. I have been unable to work for 2.5 years, I am on anti-depressants and receiving ongoing counselling from the NHS. I feel constantly tormented, unable to forget everything that’s happened and so unable to move on with my life”.
A victims’ law would have changed her life, providing: a route to review police inaction in her case; access to a case companion to help her access justice and get real support; access to the Victims’ Commissioner to get redress on her case and recognise that civil action was part of her perpetrator’s abuse—I did not read out earlier that he tried to take her to court; and access to relevant local support services to help with the psychological trauma of the crime.
The second case is about a victim of domestic abuse who tried to end the relationship. Her partner called the police and she was then taken into custody for 18 hours, leaving her eight week-old baby, whom she was breastfeeding. She was offered no food, and the police would not listen to her explanation that her partner was the abuser. She was treated appallingly and was then charged. Two days later, the IDAS support worker interviewed her partner and confirmed her story. Seven months after her initial arrest, charges against her were eventually dropped and her ex-partner was finally arrested and charged with harassment. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
On the day of the trial, the police failed to give prosecution evidence in time, thus risking his acquittal and the use of any of that evidence at any subsequent trial. He was arrested again months later and charged with stalking. Her ex-partner has taken her to court a total of 15 times and this has cost her in the region of £25,000—and so it goes on. She said:
“The adjournments in the family courts were torture and I was fearful as I had no real protection, sometimes, alarming the counsel as to my safety given my perpetrator’s behaviour in court … He has been into my village, where I moved to get away from him, just a few weeks after the order was made … but police didn’t arrest him as he had a ‘genuine’ reason for being there! … He has breached his RO and Police have charged him again”.
How would a victims’ law have made a difference? It would create a statutory duty on PCCs to ensure adequate local victims’ services; ensure that she received timely information and a case companion to speak to agencies on her behalf; and provide easier access to make a complaint against the police handling of her case. Police training would have ensured that she was treated in a dignified manner, and recognition of her right to review the police handling of the case should have as much priority at any appeal hearing.
Finally, I will comment on the adding in of mandatory reporting of child sex abuse. My noble friend Lady Walmsley is unable to be in her place, but your Lordships’ House will recognise that she has been prosecuting this cause for a long time. I am delighted to have been able to support her. I am pleased that Mandate Now has provided a very detailed briefing updating us since the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has been taking evidence on mandatory reporting. My noble friend welcomes the clause, but she is particularly delighted that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse last week that he now believes that we need mandatory reporting and that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York agrees. I hope the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester will be able to add some comments to that. This is extremely good news and shows that society is moving on and recognising that we need to ensure there is proper support for those of us who have responsibility for safeguarding in our communities.
The Bill would not undermine the rights of defendants or convicted offenders. It would, however, strengthen the rights of the victim, placing a duty on all the agencies to provide the support they need. The Government have long promised that they would consult on and strengthen support for victims, and, from their manifesto, I believe they genuinely mean it. But, more than that, they promised that they would deliver it. This new consultation is, once again, weak. It adds insult to injury and will not protect or help victims of serious crime until there is a duty on agencies working with victims to deliver the code.
I look forward to the Minister’s response and hope it will be more positive than just another refinement of the victims’ code. That is why a victims’ law must become law. To fail to take action is to fail to protect those for whom life is already hard enough. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill very much and the opportunity to argue for improved support and treatment of victims of serious crime. I put it that way since anyone who has promoted a Private Member’s Bill knows that these things often advance by micro-steps. I say that, as I said in the previous debate, as someone whose current Private Member’s Bill left this House after a trouble-free passage over a year ago. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, talked about the limited life expectancy of Private Members’ Bills introduced at this stage of a Parliament—whatever stage that is, of course—but we know that they can be an important stage in a campaign, and that after a lot of micro-steps the landscape shifts and, to mix metaphors, suddenly the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place.
We have heard about the Bill’s detail. I will make some broad-brush observations. It seems to go with the grain of current thinking. It reflects the developing understanding of the often unlooked-for impact of the operation of the criminal justice system. That is also very much the case with society moving on, as my noble friend put it, regarding the reporting by professionals of suspected child sexual abuse. To be effective, that needs to go hand-in-hand with an understanding of how to recognise the signs that a child might have been abused. Hard-pressed professionals need time as well as tools. No doubt that means money. The term “safeguarding” has entered the lexicon, but it must not be accompanied by transferring the blame or responsibility from the perpetrator.
Another change that I hope I observe is the importance of seeing the situation through the subject’s eyes. It must be all too easy, in pursuit of a conviction, to regard the victim as a mechanism to achieve that conviction—to be used, if you like, towards that end. Investigations and trials are far more complex than that two-dimensional view.
Another recent entry into the lexicon is “trauma-informed”, almost to the point where “trauma” is in danger of overuse and being devalued. However, the trauma-informed approach is relevant to the whole of the Bill, including the provision for training on how to work with victims. In the case of this Bill those are victims of sexual and domestic violence, but the requirement is wider. Training is described in the Bill as “specialist” and it needs to be. I am not sure why the list does not include the police. Perhaps that is covered through another route. I must be clear that I am speaking as a lay person, but one cannot begin to get evidence from a victim without understanding the psychology of trauma. Not every victim responds in the same way. I am glad to see the judiciary on the list. I have a lot of admiration for the amount of training that the judiciary now takes on board. I have heard about the training of judges in post-conflict areas in eastern Europe and how important it was for them to understand why a victim might not be able to express herself—or less often himself—and might give inconsistent accounts of events.
This is only one aspect of the Bill that has financial implications. Parts of the code of practice clearly do too. I am all too aware of the grim descriptions of physical conditions in the Courts & Tribunal Service’s estate which, inter alia, make achieving some of the code particularly difficult. Some of the points that underlie the provisions of the Bill are about stopping and thinking what it must be like to be the victim, who is not just a necessary component in the prosecution. I was particularly pleased to see that family members are included in the definition of victim, even though the approach here is that the family stands in for a person who has been harmed directly. Family members are often affected in their own right.
I am also pleased to see it proposed that members of the public should deal directly with the parliamentary ombudsman. It seems paternalistic, in this century, to require an MP to act as an intermediary. I see that the Victims’ Commissioner is observing this debate rather carefully; her suggestion of a direct reference by her to the ombudsman is strikingly obvious. As I have said before, I retain an unease about the creation of the roles of commissioner in various contexts, not just in this one. That is not, of course, in any way a comment about the individual postholders. I have not quite made up my mind whether commissioners are important indicators of progress in their respective fields, or an acknowledgment that what often seems to be the responsibility of government is not carried out by government and that we therefore need commissioners to make sure that government does its job. I am going to stop worrying about this because it is clearly the direction of travel and the commissioner needs the powers to do the job.
I share the response of the current commissioner to the provisions for area victim plans and for their assessment and quality standards. I agree with her when she refers to other actors in the criminal justice sector: police and crime commissioners, who produce police and crime plans; and the MoJ, which funds local victims’ services. The commissioner’s role needs to be clear and separate. We will all be aiming for attention to victims to be mainstreamed in the work of all agencies, not imposed or regarded as an add-on with a separate provenance.
Much of this agenda is part of the development of good practice, not least on disclosure of personal data. Dame Vera told us in her helpful briefing of the Home Office-funded pilot of legal advice for complainants in Northumbria. It is welcome that there is such a pilot, because it is clear that there is much to be bottomed out in this area. How data are handled is relevant to trust in every part of the process—in the police, the prosecution and the judiciary—on the part of the victim and, by extension, the public as a whole. I congratulate my noble friend on introducing this Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for bringing forward this Bill and applaud the intention to give a stronger statutory position for victims of crime, especially in relation to the code and the role of the commissioner. The noble Baroness spoke of the “dignity and respect” with which we should treat the victims of crime. In my capacity as Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons, I often find myself in conversations about treating with dignity and respect the perpetrators of crime. It seems obvious that we should accord at least the same to victims of crime. In the context of this debate, I am proud that my diocese has become the first English diocese formally to sign a partnership arrangement with the White Ribbon campaign in relation to male violence against women and recruiting of champions.
However, as already trailed by the noble Baroness, my main comments relate to Clause 11, concerning the duty to be placed on certain people, occupations and professions to report to the police where a child discloses abuse, or the person concerned reasonably suspects that such abuse may have occurred. As the noble Baroness pointed out, in the context of the current IICSA hearings, the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have both indicated a shift in their thinking towards the principle of mandatory reporting. The Bill does not specifically include the clergy or other church workers by occupation—youth workers in particular come to mind—but they could come within its scope in so far as their work might relate to regulated activities.
Following the IICSA hearings and when their reports are produced, it is likely that the Church of England—I cannot speak for other churches or faith communities—will seek to strengthen what is already provided for in its various measures and provisions around these matters. In particular, Section 5 of Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure could be revised in line with the direction of travel. I am given to understand that there is an intention to explore ways in which the kind of disciplinary provision already in place in for clergy might be extended to others engaged in regulated activities in a church setting.
There are details that are not simple. Certainly, if we step outside named professions and begin to talk about people in voluntary activities, we enter a different world, but, none the less, those matters need to be taken seriously. For some church traditions and communities, the whole business of information received in the context of sacramental confession is an issue. It is being looked at at the moment by the Church of England; those discussions have not yet concluded, but they are actively under way. While Clause 11 might not directly or explicitly encompass the clergy and others in churches in all respects, my view is that it would none the less offer the churches, and potentially other faith communities, helpful support as we go about strengthening our own procedures and practices in this regard.
As for the rest of the Bill, I simply say that it sounds obvious; it sounds like good practice; it ought to be there. It has my support.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Brinton on bringing this important Bill to the House. The impact of child sexual abuse on victims and survivors is devastating, even when the child reaches adulthood—as I always say, childhood lasts a lifetime. I speak today as someone who has dedicated her life to the well-being of children and to working with others who share that mission. One such organisation is the Internet Watch Foundation, of which I am a champion. I take this opportunity to highlight its work and its support for the Bill.
Over a three-month period in 2018, the IWF tracked the occasions on which its analysts had seen the child sexual abuse imagery online of a little girl with big green eyes and golden brown hair—let us give her the fictitious name Olivia. Olivia’s imagery had been taken in a domestic setting that may well have been her home, and she was with someone she trusted. Olivia was just three years old when her imagery was first discovered by an IWF analyst. She was abused over a five-year period until she was rescued by police at the age of eight in 2013. Thankfully, her physical abuse ended when the man who stole her childhood was imprisoned, but her images remained in circulation on the internet. The IWF team saw her image 347 times over that three-month period in 2018—approximately five times per day. So Olivia was still being victimised again and again.
Some young people, like Olivia, develop mental problems, depression, self-loathing, low self-esteem, drug and alcohol abuse and suicidal tendencies, especially when they are recognised by total strangers in the street, some of whom describe the abusive images they saw online and make sexual propositions and demands. Just imagine experiencing that horror and anxiety every time you go out, or having to face those who have watched your abuse and feel they have a right to want you to relive it. For this reason alone, it must be a duty to notify the police of possible victims of child sexual abuse. It is why the IWF supports any measures that would encourage the detection of those suffering child sexual abuse as early as possible.
The IWF vision is of an internet free of child sexual abuse. While it is busy removing record amounts of imagery—105,000 webpages in 2018—it knows that this remains a hidden crime, often behind closed doors, with the victim being abused by someone they know, or groomed or coerced in their own bedroom over the internet. This is why I tell children to take their televisions, computers and phones out of their bedrooms, or at least switch them off. In fact, no parent should allow televisions, phones or computers in their children’s bedrooms; or they should at least insist that their children practise the “switch it off” regime, because perpetrators are always on the lookout for children to take advantage of.
Clause 2 establishes a duty on those working in regulated professions, specifically healthcare professionals, teachers and social care workers, to notify law enforcement if they suspect a child has been the victim of child sexual abuse. While this measure has merit, it could be developed even more widely to include others who also have a duty of care towards children in their care.
The current Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has highlighted significant failings in religious institutions, residential schools, local authorities and custodial institutions, which could be included in the scope of this Bill. Any recommendations the inquiry makes about these institutions in particular should be carefully considered in this legislation.
The IWF is also keen to ensure that the Bill acts in the interests of those, like Olivia, who have been unfortunate enough to have had their abuse further compounded by having their imagery spread online. It encourages the Bill to make provision for ensuring that, where these relevant regulated professionals become aware of child sexual abuse imagery and video that they suspect has been spread online, they also have a duty to report this imagery to the IWF and the police to have it removed from the internet and to prevent it circulating further.
It makes me weep to say this, but at the moment there is a rise in self-generated child sexual abuse imagery. One of the biggest areas of concern for the IWF is the rise of self-generated imagery of mostly young girls in the 11 to 13 age range. From
The saying “prevention is better than cure” applies very much to this Bill because, while the Bill positively attempts to improve the speed of reporting, there still needs to be a much greater emphasis on preventing abuse in the first place. The National Crime Agency recently announced that there were approximately 144,000 UK child sexual abuse and exploitation offenders on some of the worst dark web sites. There needs to be much more focus on targeting the 18 to 24 year-old age range of young men, who are known to be more likely to stumble on and view child sexual abuse imagery. This must be a co-ordinated prevent campaign, led by government and including all agencies with an interest in safeguarding children, including charities such as the IWF.
We cannot fully compensate a child for having their childhood stolen from them by evil, unscrupulous people, but we must consider awarding those affected by any form of child abuse some sort of compensation for what has happened to them online, as this does not apply at the moment. At the recent Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse hearings on the internet investigation, the independent panel heard evidence from the victim’s legal representatives about the insufficient nature of the current guidance from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, which had ruled that A1 and A2—the victims of abuse at the inquiry—were ineligible for compensation because they were not victims of crimes of violence.
But, as their solicitor said at the inquiry,
“what is unacceptable offline shouldn’t be acceptable online”, and just because an issue has been facilitated by technology, that does not mean that victims of these vile offences should be exempt from compensation.
While the Government have recently taken steps by abolishing the “same roof” rule, there remains much more that can be done for victims to ensure that the law is brought into the 21st century and made fit for the digital age. Therefore, the IWF encourages close scrutiny of how a victim is defined in Part 2 of the Bill, to ensure that it was possible for a child who had been abused and had it spread online to access compensation and some form of redress. At least this would give some sort of comfort after the trauma they had suffered.
As I said, this is a very important Bill. I look forward to supporting its passage through the House and to it becoming law as soon as possible. As I said before, childhood lasts a lifetime.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Brinton on introducing the Bill, which contains a range of careful and well-thought-out measures. In opening this debate, she introduced it in a comprehensive and persuasive way. It makes an overwhelming case for introducing statutory rights for victims. My noble friend has been an assiduous campaigner for victims’ rights over a number of years and has spoken extensively in this House on the topic, as well as working tirelessly for the APPG.
The Bill is as welcome as it is important, because it seeks to give teeth to the Government’s victims strategy, which was published in September 2018. It is of course true that gone in part are the bad old days when criminal proceedings were all about the police, the prosecution and the prosecution’s lawyers, the defendant and the defendant’s lawyers, and when the principle governing the criminal justice system held that in criminal cases, the state had taken over the case from the victim to run it on behalf of the Crown. Technically, that is right, and that principle is welcome so far as it goes. However, it had the unwelcome, unhelpful and unsympathetic corollary that the victim’s role was seen merely as one of witness: yes, loser, or complainant certainly, but with no independent right to consideration or care from the criminal justice system.
With public and political pressure, that culture may have changed to a considerable degree, but we have a long way to go. The Bill would play an overwhelmingly important part in that change of culture by moving simply from cultural change to a network of legal rights to recognise and protect the position of victims of crime. The distinction between legal rights and cultural change is an important one. Legal rights lead behaviour, and in that they should be recognised as controlling cultural change rather than merely following it.
The Bill goes much further than the victims strategy in a number of areas, not merely in introducing legal rights. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, when Victims Commissioner, welcomed the victims strategy but called then for victims to be given legal rights—as she put it,
“for people to recognize what needs to be done”.
My noble friend developed the case in her opening speech that these rights should be enshrined in law. It is pertinent that the United Kingdom opted in to the European Union victims’ rights directive.
The Government may take the view that the victims strategy is enough to comply with that directive, but I suggest that that is at best dubious and invite the Minister, in responding to the debate, to consider how far that directive has been complied with. I should be highly surprised if, before and irrespective of the fact that we are threatened with leaving the EU, the Government did not take the view that complying with the EU victims directive is the right thing to do.
My noble friend talked about the support she had received from the right reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and looked forward to the contribution that we have now heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester. No one in this House could have disagreed with a word he said. His summary was important, when he said that everything in the Bill was obviously good practice and ought to be there as a matter of law. I hope that the Government found that speech and that sentiment persuasive.
Clause 3 deals with changes to the victims’ code of practice and implementations in law. The kernel of the Bill is the overriding right of victims to be treated with dignity and respect, which is enshrined in Clause 3(3)(b). Yes, of course it is obvious, but I suggest that it needs stating as a matter of law. It goes to the heart not just of a change of culture but what needs to be enshrined in law. Clause 3 also includes the right to information, including a right for victims to have information relating to relevant crimes and a right to support from relevant agencies. In the dry words of draft legislation, it is easy to forget the personal needs of victims, who are often vulnerable by virtue of who they are and their position in society, but also because of the very fact that they are victims of crime; when they are involved in legal proceedings, those vulnerabilities are at their worst.
It should be absolutely clear that all victims ought to have notice of court proceedings and relevant hearings, but there was a time—and in some cases, it continues—when victims were the very last to know what was happening to the perpetrators of the crimes against them. I suggest that it is not just court hearings: parole hearings are extremely important and there are of course changes in the Parole Board’s proceedings as a result of the Worboys case. In many cases appeals also happen without victims being told about the hearing, its date, its listing or the outcome. That is simply wrong.
The Bill includes protections for children and vulnerable adult witnesses when giving evidence. Of course, the principle and good practice is that vulnerable witnesses should be able to give evidence from remote locations or from behind the screen, but gone must be the days— which I well remember from years of criminal practice—when victims who are witnesses were cowed, frankly, from giving their evidence in a straightforward and fearless manner because they were in the presence of the perpetrators of the crimes against them and subjected to not violent but intensive cross-examination that they found completely intimidating.
There are rights in the Bill to help and advice, to access for victims to a trained person to support them with information and advice, and to the ability to liaise with relevant agencies that may be familiar to a trained person, but which may seem remote and difficult to access for victims. There is the right to attend and be heard at pre-court hearings, and particularly to trained help from intermediaries for young victims. The Bill also includes a right to compensation that goes well beyond criminal injuries compensation—which does not cover losses arising out of victims’ involvement in the court process, which can be extensive—and the right to legal advice where necessary and where ordered by a judge.
In opening the debate, my noble friend mentioned the right not to have personal data unnecessarily or unsafely disclosed. She made the simple but obvious point that the publication of victims’ addresses can do untold emotional harm and often threaten—or make them feel threatened by—physical harm. The case for ground rules hearings in cases where witnesses might include young people or those suffering from incapacity, fear or distress is also important.
The Bill contains the valuable suggestion that the parliamentary commissioner—the ombudsman—should have a role in enforcement. Extending the ombudsman’s role to victim protection would be extremely helpful. The ombudsman has been a successful innovation over the decades; it has given the public confidence that appropriate cases will give rise to a full investigation and a report to Parliament. I suggest that that would be a welcome protection for victims.
Area victims’ plans are also important. It is said that the policing body must consider the needs of victims, propose a plan for meeting those needs, consult the public, publish its plan and submit area plans to the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses annually. That will do much to keep the question of victims’ rights before the public and to ensure that they are protected properly. The Victims’ Commissioner is then given the duty to oversee those area plans.
The Bill includes a right to review decisions not to prosecute. In this context, I would mention that the position is fluid. These victims’ rights will need consideration, and having a network of rights will improve that.
In some cases, the double jeopardy rule needs reconsidering. Yesterday, my noble friend and I saw the solicitor acting for six victims of the football coach, Bob Higgins. Those cases led to acquittals before more recent, compelling evidence became available, which led to Mr Higgins’s conviction by Winchester Crown Court for the sexual abuse of 24 boys in his charge as a football coach at both Peterborough and Southampton Football Clubs over a 25-year period. In the cases that were acquitted, new prosecutions were ruled out because Mr Higgins was entitled to the benefit of the double jeopardy rule for the reason that, although the boys concerned were under the age of 18 at the time of the abuse, they were over 13 and so exceptions to the double jeopardy rule did not apply. The Bill would not cover that precisely, but my point is this: if we build in a change not just in culture but in the law, victims’ rights will move up the agenda and receive the attention that they deserve, and the kind of injustice that leads to the double jeopardy rule denying prosecutions in cases where there ought to be such will be mitigated. It is all very well to say that Higgins got an adequate sentence in respect of the offences against the 24 boys, but it is wrong to deny that a real injustice was created for the six boys whose cases were acquitted.
I welcome proposals for training for people involved in cases of sexual violence and domestic violence, on which my noble friend Lady Hamwee concentrated. I am happy to see that judges and barristers were included in those proposals because such professionals are often caught up in outdated ideas and modes of thought that they regret when they are trained to identify them; they are willing to undertake training.
I come finally to the question of the duty to notify the police of possible victims of child abuse, on which my noble friend Lady Benjamin concentrated. A consultation in 2016 put out proposals for a mandatory duty to report, but in the light of the responses the Government’s position was to refuse to implement it. It was argued that the case had not been made and the suggestion was that reporting could create unnecessary burdens, divert attention from the most serious cases, hamper professional judgment and potentially jeopardise the vital relationships between social workers and vulnerable families in their care. That was apparently based on a numerical majority of consultation responses against mandatory reporting. But I do not accept, without further argument, that that is the case; I accept the case for mandatory reporting. I invite the Government to explain what considerations there were, both logical and intellectual, that persuaded them to reject their earlier position. My noble friend Lady Benjamin, with her record of campaigning for the protection of children and against their abuse, made a powerful case on that point.
In summary, I support the case for statutory rights. I suggest, as did the right reverend Prelate, that the case is unanswerable. The overriding question that I have for the Minister is why, in those circumstances, are the Government ducking it?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and congratulate her on introducing this Bill. It has been a long time coming, but it is useful and worthy. I was sorry to learn—I had no idea—about the abuse that the noble Baroness has suffered that she told House about today. We all condemn that abuse. It is dreadful. But of course social media has made that even worse. This abuse is so prevalent in life now and I condemn it all. I am sure that we have all seen the disgusting abuse suffered by many Members of the other place, and in particular women Members of the other place—threats to be killed, raped or assaulted. It is disgusting and totally unacceptable and the perpetrators should be brought to justice. We have seen the disgusting abuse suffered by Diane Abbott, Stella Creasy, Jess Phillips, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry, Luciana Berger and many other Members of the other place. It is completely disgraceful and out of order and firm action must be taken.
It is not only people in public life: it also affects people who are not in the public eye. They are not affected by this Bill, but the whole issue of how people feel needs to be dealt with by the Government. Clearly, the internet companies have failed to do this properly and the Government need to act to deal with this dreadful situation.
The Bill contains many excellent provisions, which, if they became law, would make a positive difference for the victims of crime. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, that the noble Baroness introduced the Bill very well and comprehensively and set out a compelling case that I hope the Government will listen to carefully.
However, it is disappointing that these measures are unlikely to make further progress in their passage through Parliament. It is tragic when we think that, as most noble Lords would agree, we have not been exactly busy in this House with legislation in recent times. It is tragic when there is a really good piece of legislation in front of us here and it will probably not go any further because there is no time. The new Prime Minister should take a long hard look and we must move on from the situation we find ourselves in when good legislation cannot move forward and we spend a lot of our time discussing Motions that this House notes. That is regrettable. We will have the new Prime Minister next week and there is talk of a Queen’s Speech and other matters and I hope that we can make some progress.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also outlined two cases that would have been protected had these measures been in place, and that is very important. I hope when we get the Queen’s Speech that measures such as this will be included. These are the things that Parliament needs to be doing urgently and we are not doing them at the present time. If we do not, but we get a criminal justice Bill, and the noble Baroness moves amendments on these measures and they are in scope, I can assure her of the support of the Labour Benches; we will get those things through the House.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and his diocese must be congratulated on the work they do with the white ribbon campaign. It is a great campaign to end male violence against women; I know one or two of the people involved.
On the whole issue of domestic violence, a couple of years ago I went down to Greenwich police station and met the domestic violence unit there. The stuff that goes on is horrific. I was completely shocked when I saw the cases they have to deal with there. It is really important that the Government act, because the stuff I have seen is really horrific.
As the right reverend Prelate said, the Bill is sensible and obvious and should be law. I very much agree with the contribution he made. In recent years, though, we have made progress on the impact and consequences of crime on its victims. We have done some things, but things are far from perfect. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and thank her for all the work she did as the Victims’ Commissioner. I welcome Dame Vera Baird and the work she will do as the new Victims’ Commissioner. Getting the definition of victims of crime is important, as is the change to the victims’ code of practice proposed in this Bill.
I like the sections of the Bill about economic support and compensation orders; they have considerable merit. Expanding the role of the Parliamentary Ombudsman is really important. The requirement to get those reports to both Houses enables Members here to be aware, raise those issues in the House and, as necessary, propose legislation. That is really good.
The area victims’ plan in all police areas is a good idea, and the Victims’ Commissioner assessing the adequacy of the plans and ensuring that they meet an acceptable standard is something we should all support. There is clearly an important role for police and crime commissioners as well.
I strongly support the measures in the Bill to place a duty to notify the police of possible victims of child sexual abuse. We have seen in recent years that this is a horrific, hidden crime, and we must do everything we can to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice and the victims protected. For too long we have seen too many failures in great institutions in our country that have clearly failed to protect vulnerable young children. That is shameful, disgraceful and disgusting. It is important to place a duty that people who suspect this abuse need to report it to the police so that it can be properly investigated and, where appropriate, the perpetrators brought to justice and the victims saved. Children have the right to protection, to be a child and to have a life free from abuse. We have to make sure that this duty is brought in; nothing less will do.
I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, that much more needs to be done to prevent these crimes in the first place. In all that we deal with, prevention is of course always much better than cure. I hope that when the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse reports, its recommendations will be taken up quickly by the Government.
In conclusion, I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for introducing the Bill, pay tribute to her for the work she does in this House for victims, and assure her that we will support her in what she does. Perhaps we will all be surprised when the new Prime Minister announces that he will quickly take up measures in both the Bills we have been involved with in this House today.
My Lords, I echo other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for her continued support to bring about improvements in the lives of victims of crime. Of course, the Government support the intention behind this Bill. I also thank her for sharing her personal experience of stalking and harassment and for the powerful case she made for change, including the other examples she gave. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marks, that while it may be technically true that a victim is only a witness, on a human level, it does not feel like being only a witness.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Newlove for all her work, and I welcome the new Victims’ Commissioner to her place and pay tribute to the many victims and their families who have campaigned so hard for the rights of victims, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, who I think I met at the meeting with Keir Starmer a few years ago which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.
While we support the intention of the Bill, it is right to recognise that much has happened since the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, introduced it into your Lordships’ House, so I will update the House on developments on our victims strategy and give our analysis of the main provisions of the Bill, including where they do and do not align to the Government’s approach to supporting victims.
We made a clear statement of our intention by publishing the Victims Strategy in September 2018. It aims to improve support at every stage of the justice process and consolidates the progress we have already made. Our commitments in the strategy include consulting on a revised victims’ code as well as on the detail of victim-focused legislation—a victims’ law. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, noted, earlier this week we launched a consultation on our initial proposals for revising the code aimed at addressing its complexity and accessibility and updating victims’ rights so that they reflect the changing nature of crime, which was very powerfully explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and the changing needs of victims.
We believe that the themes within the consultation share many points in common with those raised by both the outgoing and the new Victims’ Commissioner. The new Victims’ Commissioner has been consistent over many years in her work and campaigning for victims. Those themes were also raised by many noble Lords in the debate today and include the need to strengthen information and communication, raise awareness of victims’ rights and ensure that victims have a voice through the victim personal statement process, as well as to ensure greater accountability. We intend to hold a second consultation later this year, which will include a revised version of the code and detail specific rights. We believe it is right to focus on updating rights first and then to take forward our commitment to consult on a victims’ law which will include strengthening the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner and considering how government and other agencies can be better held to account, which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, eloquently highlighted as being vital.
While recognising the motivation for this Bill and what it seeks to achieve, we believe that some clauses are not needed in light of our updated plans. For instance, we believe that Clause 2 would unnecessarily narrow the definition of a victim as prescribed within the code by constraining agencies’ discretion to include guardians, carers, aunts and uncles as victims for the purpose of receiving services. Clause 5 is unnecessary because police and crime commissioners are already under a statutory duty to produce police and crime plans for their areas. While there is not a statutory duty to include victims of crime, we know that PCCs make a real difference by taking forward innovative work, as highlighted in the recent publication by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Putting Victims First in Focus, to ensure that crime is tackled and victims are properly supported. The work that we are undertaking will deliver significant improvements for victims and, we believe, covers much of what is included in the following clauses in the Bill.
Clause 3 seeks to make changes to the code. As mentioned, we are currently consulting on revising the code and strengthening rights. I encourage all your Lordships to contact the victims with whom they work, victims’ groups and other stakeholders to ask them to share their views with us as part of this consultation. We welcome the widest possible input.
Clause 4 raises the issue of victims having redress where they do not receive their rights under the code. We fully recognise the importance of service providers complying with their duties. That is why, as part of the strategy, we have introduced a framework which seeks to hold agencies to account for compliance at a local level through PCCs and criminal justice partnerships. As part of our ongoing work and taking into account the views of stakeholders, we will also consider strengthening the complaints process for victims—a matter raised by a number of noble Lords.
In respect of Clause 6, we do not believe that the role of the Victims’ Commissioner should be expanded as prescribed in the Bill at this time. That is because we do not want to pre-empt our victims’ law consultation, nor miss the opportunity to involve the current Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, in the process.
We are also unclear about how a number of clauses in the Bill would work in practice and about the potential wider implications that they might have for the independence of the police, CPS and the judiciary—in particular, Clause 7 on the right to review a decision not to prosecute. Victims are already entitled to ask for a review of a qualifying decision not to prosecute by the police or the CPS. Both already have schemes in place that are consistent with domestic case law and, as such, we do not believe that the changes suggested are warranted.
Clause 8 covers homicide reviews. Since 2017, the national standards of support, agreed between Justice After Acquittal, the police and the CPS—the tireless work of Ann Roberts and Carole Longe of Justice After Acquittal helped establish the standards—have given bereaved families in murder cases the opportunity to discuss issues arising from the trial process and any future investigation and/or prosecution of the case. Given the existence of these standards, we do not believe that legislation in this area is necessary.
Clause 9 covers training for those who work with or otherwise have contact with victims within the criminal justice system. This is a matter that we take very seriously, but effective training is only part of the issue, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, noted in relation to the importance of trauma-informed work and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, noted in his argument that legal rights lead culture change. Continued culture change in attitudes and behaviours towards victims is essential. We would rather strengthen the current framework of local accountability for the provision of training than provide for it in statute, which has potential implications for the organisations involved.
Ground rules hearings are already used routinely across courts to make directions for the fair treatment and participation of vulnerable defendants and vulnerable witnesses. Clause 10, as drafted, would require these hearings to be held in criminal cases where they might not be necessary and might therefore potentially have unwarranted resource implications for the organisations involved.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, focused on Clause 11, which deals with the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. She gave some deeply troubling examples and shared her difficult expertise, if I can phrase it like that, about issues of online sexual abuse. Obviously, online abuse goes a lot wider than children and, as she is aware, the Government aim to address some of these issues through the online harms White Paper.
In respect of Clause 11, the Government are fully committed to protecting children. While there is no specific statutory duty in England, statutory guidance is clear that those who work with children and families should immediately report instances where they think a child may have been, or is likely to be, abused or neglected. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, raised, the Government consulted on mandatory reporting during the passage of the Serious Crime Act 2015. A quarter of respondents favoured a duty to act, 12% favoured the introduction of mandatory reporting, and 63% felt that the Government should continue to implement the child protection reforms set out in Putting Children First in 2016 before considering further legislative change. I am happy to write to the noble Lord about the more detailed reasons—he talked about logic and intellect—behind that important decision. However, I stress that the decision not to introduce mandatory reporting in no way diminishes the Government’s commitment to address perhaps one of the most terrible of crimes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, raised the criminal injuries compensation scheme; she may be aware that the Government are planning to consult on reforms to the scheme this year. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, mentioned compliance with the EU victims directive. The Government’s position is that we have completely complied with the requirements of the directive, but his question perhaps highlights something fundamental to all legislation, including the Bill: there can be a gap between policy and practice on the ground. I am sure all noble Lords will share my desire to close that gap.
In closing, I have outlined the consultation we are currently undertaking on revising the code and our plans to hold a consultation on a victims’ law. I hope I have made clear that we are taking forward a range of initiatives to make sure that victims of crime receive the support they need to speak up with the certainty that they will be understood and protected and, above all, that this will happen regardless of their circumstances or background. They should be treated with the dignity and respect to which several noble Lords referred. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will accept that the measures being progressed, albeit slightly different in approach and possibly not at the pace she would desire, will achieve the important wider aims that she seeks through her Bill.
My Lords, I thank the Minister and all noble Lords who have spoken during this Second Reading debate. Time is not particularly on our side so I will be brief. I am very grateful for the various focuses on different parts of the Bill, in particular on Clause 12 and the child sexual abuse mandatory reporting issue. I am particularly grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his comments, which have been extremely helpful. Obviously, this Bill was published over two years ago, before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse really got under way. The issues of mandatory reporting and safeguarding going wider than the statutory agencies has become much more understood. Regarding the focus of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, we need to see what the independent inquiry recommends in due course. I believe the evidence coming before it, some of which I have been watching in detail, makes it clear that we must move forward to mandatory reporting, but clearly the details will need to be resolved at a later date.
More generally, I am grateful to the Minister for trying to steer the difficult course of having published a consultation two days ago that she knows does not meet the requirements of the Bill but once again offering me some low-hanging fruit just out of sight. I look forward to seeing speedier progress than we have had over the last three years on these issues.
The key point made by many speakers today is that every single day’s delay means that another victim is facing an uncertain future. The Minister is reluctant to mandate training. I will pick one very brief example. It is the case of a woman who was attacked by her former partner, who threw her child away. She hit a wall and was quite badly hurt, then he threw her on to a bed and raped her. The senior investigating officer insisted on her making three separate statements because three separate crimes had been committed. It is clear under current guidance that the most senior of those crimes is the one under which a statement is made and used to reflect the others. Without mandatory training, without responsibility for those in the criminal justice system, there is no guarantee that people will not go rogue. Unfortunately, in that particular case, agony was put on the woman beyond the outrageous behaviour that she had encountered.
That is why I look forward to the Bill moving on. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that the chances of that happening in the near future are probably quite slim but we have had support for this in your Lordships’ House before. I will at least be looking for a Bill to make amendments to in future. If this Bill falls because this Parliament comes to an end then I will look forward to laying it again, and I know I have support from colleagues in the other place as well. This Bill needs to become law.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 2.12 pm.