Amendment 124

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 13 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice) 6:15, 13 February 2024

My Lords, this group concerns the obtaining of the views of victims by the standing advocate and their being taken into account, or relayed to the Secretary of State so that they can be taken into account. The central point was that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. If victims of major incidents are to be given a voice and that voice is to be heard, they need, under this scheme, the standing advocate to be that voice—a voice that co-ordinates and articulates the victims’ response. It will often be a joint or combined voice and the stronger for that.

Under Amendment 124, the type of review or inquiry held would be the subject of the views that must be obtained and relayed. It is a matter on which the views of victims are strongly held. They are often views that are in conflict with the views of the Government. That is a central point about independence.

The next point under this amendment is their views on

“their treatment by public authorities in response to the major incident”.

Again, this is an area of not invariable but regular conflict between victims and government. The questions that arise are, “Was enough done to avoid the incident?”, “Was what was done done in time?”, and “Were sufficient resources devoted to relief and recovery after the incident?”. All those are crucial issues on which the voice of victims needs to be independently heard and taken into account.

Amendment 125 concerns the appointment of additional advocates and says the Secretary of State must seek victims’ views on whether to appoint additional advocates and whom to appoint. Again, that is a requirement that is plainly right, because the identity of the advocate and the appointment of additional advocates matter to victims, who are extremely concerned to know that the investigation and any inquiries are going to be properly carried out.

Finally, the views of the victims to be taken into account include the views that they express before the termination of an appointment of an advocate. Again, that is self-evidently right. We have in a later group an amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, removing the right of the Secretary of State to remove the standing advocate on such grounds as he thinks appropriate. I put my name to that. That is an important amendment that we will address when it comes, but it goes hand in hand with this amendment because the purpose of both reflects the reality that inquiries into major incidents may cast light on failings of government or organs of government that may cause the Government embarrassment.

One of the chief virtues of the independent public advocate system proposed in this Bill is precisely its independence of government. It is therefore essential that an advocate appointed to represent victims’ interests should be clear and free to carry out those functions fearlessly. If that involves criticism of government or individual Ministers, those criticisms should be made and investigated. The views of victims on the termination of an advocate’s appointment will therefore be central to that process. They should be central to any consideration of the termination of an advocate’s employment. That should not be left to the Secretary of State without regard to the views of victims.