Examination of Witnesses

Victims and Prisoners Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at on 20 June 2023.

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Caroline Henry, Sophie Linden and DCC Emma Barnett gave evidence.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central 2:00, 20 June 2023

We are now sitting in public again, and proceedings are being broadcast. Before we start, I am happy for people to take off jackets, cardigans or whatever; it is very hot today, particularly in this room.

We will now hear oral evidence from Caroline Henry, Emma Barnett and Sophie Linden. I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record.

Caroline Henry:

Good afternoon. I am the police and crime commissioner for Nottinghamshire, and because of that I would just like to take a moment to mention the terrible events in Nottingham last week. I repeat again to the families and friends of those affected: you are in our thoughts.

This Bill proposes to introduce a requirement to collaborate. Partners are already working together to support victims in Nottingham, and in many other parts of the country.

Sophie Linden:

Good afternoon. I am deputy Mayor for policing and crime in London, but I am joint lead on victims for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.

DCC Barnett:

Good afternoon. I am the deputy chief constable of Staffordshire police, but I am the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for victims and witnesses under the criminal justice co-ordination committee.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

Thank you. I ask people to speak up, because the acoustics in this room are dreadful.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

Hello all. I going to speak loudly, because it is quite hard to hear. The Bill obviously creates quite a lot of new responsibilities for police and crime commissioners. I want a little bit from each of you about how you see that operating in practiceQ74 .

Caroline Henry:

We, as PCCs, absolutely welcome the duty requiring agencies to share data and to collaborate. PCCs take a big role in that. As police and crime commissioner for Nottinghamshire, I started a local criminal justice board, and I see those boards as an excellent forum where agencies can meet and collaborate.

Sophie Linden:

You might get on to some of the points that I wanted to raise. We obviously welcome the Bill, but how it will work in practice will depend on what else happens in terms of strengthening the Bill, what the data collection is, what duties there are on other criminal justice agencies to provide the data to police and crime commissioners, and what the mechanisms are for when that data is not provided or for non-compliance with the code. If those mechanisms are not strengthened, there will be no step change in practice and in how victims are supported.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

Q Specifically on data collection, the Bill outlines the new duty on PCCs to collect information. Do you believe it is worth outlining in the Bill the scope of such information to focus on reporting compliance with the victims code, for example, and making it easier to identify the data for the purpose of reporting?

Sophie Linden:

I do think that, but the Bill could also look at other things. For example, police forces have a duty to provide data to police and crime commissioners, but the other criminal justice agencies do not have that duty. You could look at something like that—each of the different agencies having that duty. Then there has to be the guidance that sits underneath it for the criminal justice agencies to provide that data. The Crown Prosecution Service, for example, will provide data nationally. It is very difficult to get it regionally. The courts do not provide data, so there has to be clear guidance and practice—not just in the Bill—on data being collated in a consistent way and in a way that is useful to the police and crime commissioners. It has to be at force level.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

Q Do you think that what is outlined in the Bill will allow the general public—the victims, in this instance—to get compliance with the victims code? Can you see that happening post Bill?

Sophie Linden:

There is quite a reliance on relationships and the convening power of police and crime commissioners. There needs to be more strength and robustness put into the Bill in terms of enforcement and data collection.

Caroline Henry:

You are spot on. What happens if we do not get the data? What do we do? It does not say what happens if we do not get it. That should be stronger.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

Q Yes—so currently would you have no powers if you didn’t get it?

Caroline Henry:

We can raise it with the Minister.

Sophie Linden:

I am sure he is always pleased to hear from us.

Caroline Henry:

There is a duty to collaborate, but there are no penalties if people do not.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

Q Specifically on the duty to collaborate, to what extent is funding a concern for you?

Caroline Henry:

Funding has been talked about, potentially to give us an analyst. I am really keen that there is flexibility on a local level around what we might need, because it depends on your relationships. Analysts are great, and it is very hard to get hold of good analysts; that is a real challenge. But we might also need somebody to support the local criminal justice board as a manager to make sure that everybody collaborates and works together. There should be some flexibility in the funding we can have to help us make sure that we can pull everything together.

Sophie Linden:

On the compliance issue, I think there needs to be something in the Bill, or that can flow through the Bill, that is akin to the way the Information Commissioner’s Office can work. If you have escalated it and nothing is happening, the Information Commissioner’s Office can ask for an action plan and impose fines. There has to be something like an end point by which if you have not got compliance and you are not getting the data, there is an escalation and enforcement route.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

Q You are local representatives in your area. We heard this morning from Dame Vera Baird that she felt that the lack of antisocial behaviour being included in the Bill was problematic. I wonder if anyone would like to comment on whether antisocial behaviour should be included in the code.

Sophie Linden:

I think it should be included in the code. The duty to collaborate is really important, but we have to make sure that what is in this Bill aligns with, and does not duplicate or cause complexities with, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. There is obviously a duty to collaborate on domestic abuse accommodation, and there is the serious violence duty. From my point of view, speaking as deputy Mayor of London, I would want to see that duty to collaborate made wider for all victims. You should not start with the offence; you should start with the needs of the victim. At the moment, there are three categories, but I think it should be wider for all victims.

Caroline Henry:

The definition of victims has been on my mind recently. It is a very tight definition in the Bill. The question is, how much wider do you need to make it? I would like to think about the included areas and get back to you in writing. ASB is one of the things that, as a police and crime commissioner, comes across my desk most. The victims mentioned in here, however, are on a different scale. It is so important that we get this right.

There is the word “victim” as well. I commission a lot of victim care. With what has happened in Nottingham, the word “victim” has put some people off getting help, because they are witnesses or have been traumatised by what they have seen—they are not immediate victims, but they have still been impacted by the terrible events of last week. The word “victim” is quite tricky to define.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

Q Finally to Emma—it seems like a long time since I have seen you—

DCC Barnett:

It is a long time.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

Part 3 of the Bill seeks to increase the number of board members with law enforcement backgrounds, to give a different perspective of offenders. Will that help to strengthen public confidence in the Parole Board?

DCC Barnett:

The first thing I would say is that the dealings of the Parole Board are not specifically in my portfolio, although I have a view. It is a very positive thing to include a breadth of perspective in the Parole Board setting and to give confidence on experience of risk management, risk assessment, decision making and so on, which can add value for the Parole Board.

Let me turn to a couple of other points you made at the outset. First, policing welcomes the victims Bill and its intentions. I guess we are in a unique position, because we are very used to the accountability mechanism that is proposed through local PCCs, recognising the independent nature of chief constables and the local accountability that exists through the elected bodies. If the Bill is to be a success, that will be around how that accountability spreads beyond policing across all the agencies, so that the victim’s experience can be understood from the point of reporting to the police right the way through to resolution and even beyond, into the parole setting. We welcome the understanding of where accountability may be strengthened through what is proposed to include the other criminal justice agencies that we work alongside.

We know that in the delivery of some of the rights, for example, our success in delivery is dependent on other agencies supplying us with the information we need to be able to pass on to victims. That is about how we work together and the local arrangements that are put in place. That is the strength of relationships. We welcome the opportunity of good visibility of data to understand compliance.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

Q In the case of domestic violence and sexual violence as it is in the Bill, will the duty to collaborate make that any different at the moment?

DCC Barnett:

I think this is a broader issue around how we collaborate as agencies with all victims. So much of that is based on how information flows, for example, so that we can keep victims updated about the experience of their case, their investigation, their court case and so on. We must have that good understanding of how we can work together to have the information to service the needs of victims.

We have been working closely with the Ministry of Justice on the suitability of metrics and—this is really important, because it is not only about the metrics of compliance with the code—on the victim’s experience: the qualitative information in the victim’s voice, the victim survey and the work of the Home Office to generate a victim satisfaction survey. Again, that is very much focused on policing, but I think it will start to give some good insights into the whole victim experience.

We are confident in a number of compliance measures going forward. We need to understand fully how we go about collating that information, and then passing it on in a transparent way to PCCs and criminal justice boards.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

The victims code is considered a positive thing—we all agree—but we heard from Dame Vera and Claire Waxman that, basically, 70% to 80% of victims who have been through the justice system did not even know that the victims code existed. I put it to you that that is an almighty collective failure of a lot of organisations. What do you think happened? Even if we managed to get our perfect Bill—if Jess and I and we all agreed, and we got our perfect Bill—nothing would change, unless things change on the ground. What has been happening that we are at the point that victims do not even know that a code existsQ ?

Caroline Henry:

I agree that not enough victims know that the code exists. That is why we need the Bill; we need to let people know that the code exists.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

Q But the victims are not going to read the Bill, so what needs to change? What has happened on the ground that means the code has not come in? Then tell me why the Bill will make a difference.

Caroline Henry:

We need to increase transparency around whether the victims code is being complied with. We all need to be talking about victims more, and keeping victims at the heart of this all the time.

Sophie Linden:

As with any Bill, it will come down to practice and how it is delivered. The underpinnings of the legislation, and getting compliance and enforcement right, will help with that. I monitor it from my position in the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime; we monitor policing compliance with the code. It is very low, but we have done some work with the Metropolitan police around trying to raise the awareness of officers, and making it much easier for police officers to let victims know what is in the code. For example, we have helped the Met to produce a victims care leaflet. Something as simple as that, which has information about the code in, has started to make a difference with victim satisfaction and with compliance.

There is, however, a long way to go. You need all the agencies to have that legislative framework, so that there is compliance, there is an escalation and then there is enforcement. Those two things together, and proper monitoring, which is going to be down to the police and crime commissioners, should help improve awareness of the victims code among victims, and, importantly, among professionals. It is the professionals who are there to support the victim, and it is their duty and responsibility to ensure that the victims know about that.

DCC Barnett:

I would not say anything different. It is key for all police forces. When we launched the revised code back in April 2021, chief constables had a responsibility for how that was delivered across their forces. We have training materials through the College of Policing and all forces will be monitoring their own compliance with the code, as well as the qualitative side through victim satisfaction.

Awareness of the code cannot just be around the agencies turning up to deal with the victim. That is a key part, but it is almost too late at that point. There should be a heightened awareness of the code anyway, so that if people are then unfortunate enough to be a victim there is an understanding of what the code is. It is also about being really clear on what aspects of the code are relevant to a victim at any given time. Obviously, that will change as they go through their experience of the criminal justice system.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

Q The revised victims code sets out a duty for the Crown Prosecution Service to offer a meeting ahead of trial to certain victims. Do you think that that change will help with victim attrition, particularly in rape cases?

DCC Barnett:

I think it is a really positive step forward. One of the real challenges with the delivery of victim rights is when we get to post charge. At that point, you start to bring in a number of different agencies. It goes back to the earlier point around how information flows and communications are delivered; if you are not careful, it can become a very confusing time for victims. I think it is our responsibility as agencies to streamline that process as much as possible and make the communications as effective as possible.

A victim should not have to worry about who, at a particular time, they are entitled to see or who should be supporting them. The notion of the CPS having those visits is really positive. I think they are a good engagement to have, but I think they need to be carefully operationalised around the other contacts and support that might be available to a victim, so that it does not become too confusing or an overload.

Caroline Henry:

It is really important that wherever we can we have an independent sexual violence adviser to support and help with CPS contacts—to hold people’s hand as they go through the system.

Sophie Linden:

Obviously I really welcome that, but I think it is just part of what needs to happen. At the moment, as I am sure you are all well aware, the victim has interaction with the police, the CPS and the courts. What you really need to look at is how that becomes a seamless service with one point of contact. In London—I am speaking on behalf of London now—we are exploring the victim care hub, which would bring all that together so that there is one point of contact and the victim is able to get updates and understand what is happening right across the piece.

Of course, the individual agencies have their specific roles to play, but the Bill could help that to happen. For it to happen, there has to be the relevant data sharing and there has to be the ability to track the victim through the system—not through policing, then the CPS and then the courts. At the moment you are tracking the crime, you are tracking the case and then you are tracking into court, and those things do not meet. You therefore have different points of contact for the victim, and you need to be able to either—at a minimum—interrogate the different databases or look at how you bring all that together. I think the Bill could make it easier for the agencies to share that data.

DCC Barnett:

I would really support that. We look at this—again, I think the Bill does this—as a process of separate agencies, each with its own touch points to a victim’s experience of the criminal justice process, as opposed to looking at it from a victim’s perspective. Where do they get the information that they need? Where do they get the support that they need, whether that is reporting the crime with no further action or whether it goes right the way through to waiting for their court dates, what it means to give evidence in court, the outcome, parole consideration and so on?

Caroline Henry:

I would just add that the victims who choose not to go down the criminal justice route or to report to the police still need support from all the agencies.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

TheQ original draft Victims Bill—the Justice Committee, of which I am a member, did some pre-legislative scrutiny of it—just had what is now part 1. There was no extra money involved; it was cost-neutral in that sense. We know now that there is at least another £80 million a year available, because that is what part 3 will cost. Do you think the balance is right, given that we are putting all the extra money into part 3 provisions—the parole provisions—or would the balance be better if some of that money were spent on assisting with implementing part 1?

Caroline Henry:

I would absolutely like some of it in part 1, but we do need to remember that if you stop people reoffending, you are actually stopping us getting more victims as well. Parole and preventing and managing reoffending are really important.

Sophie Linden:

I would always go for additional. But in terms of the duty to collaborate, at the moment it is a duty to collaborate literally on a strategy—there is no additional funding for the services and the gaps that might flow from that in the way that there was for the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and the duty to collaborate around safe accommodation. There was significant additional money provided for that, which was welcomed.

Also, in terms of code compliance and the analysts that are being talked about by the Ministry of Justice—we are having discussions with them—at the moment my understanding is that it is a one-size-fits-all of two analysts per force area. Now, forces are vastly different in size and—just speaking on behalf of London, West Midlands, Greater Manchester or any other force with more complex arrangements—there are different numbers of organisations that they are going to have to make sure are complying. So this is just not going to be right—you cannot have one size fits all.

Then we have to really look at whether this funding really adds up to what is needed. For example, in London we recently did a needs assessment on sexual violence services. That cost us £110,000. If you add that up for other forces, this is not going to meet what is needed in terms of additional burdens.

DCC Barnett:

I would support that in terms of looking again at part 1. With the duty to provide the data, we have a nervousness around the cost implications for forces. A lot of the measures are based on dip samples and having a really close assessment of what has been undertaken. There is no provision at the moment for additional resource to do that or to assist in taking forward the insight that that information gives us. This is an opportunity to work with PCCs to understand the roles that are accommodated and how the data is used.

The other point that I would make is about the demand for our witness care units and witness care officers, who have a lot of responsibility under the code to deliver the information to victims on what is happening with their case post charge and post first hearing. They are under a lot of pressure, given the time it takes for cases to come to court and the additional complexities and vulnerabilities of victims. Anything that helps us with managing those pressures and giving additional training and support, in terms of resourcing, would always be welcome.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

Q Do you think that the proposed changes to parole in part 3 will enhance victims’ rights, or are you concerned that they might raise expectations that will be dashed in practice?

Sophie Linden:

I think they could, but it will be dependent on proper support for victims. It is a difficult thing. There has to be a proper assessment of what victims’ needs are for them to be able to participate. There needs to be proper support for victims to do that, and then there will have to be funding to provide those support services.

DCC Barnett:

I would agree. I think it is a very well-intended notion, but there are some risks around the impact on victims as well as around raising expectations.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

Q Finally, you have been focusing on part 1, which is where a lot of the work you do is focused. If part 1 is enacted as drafted, will that improve victims’ experiences, or will it not make much difference? What is your assessment of the overall picture of part 1?

Sophie Linden:

I think it could improve, but it is not strong enough. My overarching view is that it needs strengthening, but we welcome the Bill. It needs significant strengthening in the way that I have talked about, in terms of compliance, enforcement, proper data sharing, duty to provide the data and then the ability to access other agencies’ databases, at a minimum. It would be better if we could track a victim through the system, rather than tracking them through policing, then the CPS, then the courts. I hope that there will be significant amendments to strengthen the Bill.

Caroline Henry:

It is great that work has been done together already. I would like to thank the Ministry of Justice and yourselves for letting the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners be involved with putting the Bill together. I do think that it will definitely improve things for victims, because it puts things on a statutory footing. That is what we need.

DCC Barnett:

If I speak on behalf of the policing role, I think it does put it on a statutory footing, and it is a real opportunity to continue the work we have been doing over recent years to strengthen our overall performance within forces around the service that we deliver to victims. The question mark for me relates to making sure we take the opportunity within the Bill, whether that is through a strengthening arrangement around compliance or the accountability piece, so that we can understand how the victim traverses the criminal justice system and their experience of it. It must not just be—as I think it is at the moment—front-loaded around the code and the policing activities. It has to be seen as a whole. That is an opportunity in the Bill, and if we take that, overall service should improve.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

I know that the PCC for Thames ValleyQ strongly supports compliance with the victims code sitting with PCCs. I think you have both indicated, Ms Linden and Ms Henry, that you do too. This morning, Dame Vera Baird spoke to us. She suggested that there should perhaps be a local version of victims’ commissioners in each PCC area; London effectively has that, I know. Ms Henry, what do you think about that as a proposal? Surely you are the victims’ champion. Would it not therefore cut across your responsibilities as a PCC?

Caroline Henry:

Personally, I feel that I have a directly elected mandate to be the champion for victims in Nottinghamshire and to make sure that they get the justice and support they need. That is what my office does, so I am happy that my office will continue to support victims. I do not think we need a separate victims’ champion; I think it could be confusing locally if that happened.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

Q Ms Linden, how do you make sure in London that it is not confusing, and that you as, effectively, the PCC are actually the victims’ champion?

Sophie Linden:

I know you had Claire Waxman in front of you this morning, and you are well aware of her role as an independent Victims’ Commissioner. It was an incredibly important development, when the Mayor was elected, that we appointed an independent Victims’ Commissioner. There is a very clear distinction between my role in holding the police to account and her role in bringing in the voice of the victim and advocating for victims. There has been no issue with the confusion of roles in London on that.

I am speaking for myself, not on behalf of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, because there is a difference of opinion, to be frank, but I think every force should have a victims’ advocate who is there purely as a victims’ advocate. The police and crime commissioner should use that voice coming into the commissioner’s office in order to be able to improve the services we commission.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

Q But aren’t the police, who are effectively accountable to you, more likely to take victims’ concerns seriously if it is you as the PCC who are their champion, rather than it being another voice in the mix?

Sophie Linden:

My experience is that the Metropolitan police take my voice seriously and take Claire Waxman’s voice seriously. I think it makes it more powerful that there is a very clear voice coming in that is absolutely grounded in the experience of victims that she brings with her office and the work she does—for example, the rape review and her own analysis of victims code compliance in London—and then I am there as deputy Mayor and as police and crime commissioner to hold the police to account, having taken her advice.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

DCC Barnett, do you have a view on that?

DCC Barnett:

I guess it is about being really clear about the lines of accountability. It is very clear that PCCs hold chief constables to account. That said, someone who brings the voice of the victim is absolutely going to help to shape service delivery. The two roles do not need to be the same. We can be very clear on a distinction around absolute accountability, but there is a wealth of information and experience that a victims’ commissioner can bring to a force area and all the criminal justice agencies.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

Q We know that one of the things that victims really want to see is speedy access to justice. The police frequently tell me that one cause of delay is the requirement to redact any personal details before they are sent to the CPS to make a charging decision—not at the stage when they are going to potential defendants, but at that very early stage. Is there any potential legislative change that the Bill could make to address that problem?

DCC Barnett:

I guess it may well be covered in other legislation. It is about recognising that there are a number of requirements on policing in order to further an investigation for consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service. I know that a lot of work is done around minimising those requirements, because we would all like to see speedier access to justice. We also recognise that there are good reasons why those requirements are in place. Whether those can be addressed through the Bill, I do not know; I would have to give that a little more thought.

Caroline Henry:

I know that the police officers and staff would much rather not be redacting all that information, but be getting on with their job. It would be a great vehicle if it could be included in the Bill. Going back to the independent victims’ champion, one of the ways I listen to victims is through the local criminal justice board; we have a victims sub-group, which feeds into the board. I also go out to speak to people all the time.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

Q A suggestion made this morning was that in order to ensure that the police and potentially prosecutors comply with the victims code, any failure to do so should be sanctioned, perhaps by docking their pay. That struck me as somewhat excessive; looking at your facial reactions, I pick up the same from you. I wonder, so that we have them on the record, what your views are of the proposal to dock police officers’ pay if they are not in some way compliant with the victims code.

Caroline Henry:

Our police work really hard. That wouldn’t be the first thing you’d want to do, would it?

Sophie Linden:

An important issue is whether you are enforcing against the institution or the individual. In the Bill, you should be looking at the institution.

DCC Barnett:

I absolutely do not support that suggestion. It is not about individuals; this is about the organisation’s ability to deliver. I will say that we have a robust complaints process, so if someone wishes to make a complaint about the police aspect, the code delivery or the service that people have had, they can make a complaint. That will then be assessed—it might be service recovery or quick resolution, or there might be a performance issue with an individual or a conduct issue if it is very extreme—and that works very well in policing. I would not advocate anything like what you suggest.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

It is not my suggestion. Thank you all very much.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

We have eight minutes and two Members left.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East

Earlier this morning, Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner, said that where children are victims or have been exploited, their experience with the police often makes them feel like criminals, so they often do not come forward. She was suggesting that in the victims code there should be an amendment to address children as victims specifically. Do you share her view? May we have your general feedback on that, pleaseQ ?

Caroline Henry:

I would like to give some written evidence on that, if that is okay, because I have a lot to say.

Sophie Linden:

On the face of it, that sounds extremely interesting. I would be in favour of looking at how the Bill focuses on children. We know that trust and confidence—coming forward to the police—can be a real issue for young people and children. I would be interested in looking at the Bill to see what it means for children, where that compliance fits in—with the youth offending teams, which is partly there—and how the duty is enforced and monitored.

DCC Barnett:

Again, the code defines victims, and that includes children and young people. Whether that is something specifically around how you might define a child when you first deal with them, I do not know. I would have to give that a little more consideration. I will put it in some written evidence. I am not totally sure that I understand exactly where Rachel de Souza is coming from, but perhaps I can understand that a bit more first.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash

My question is mainly for Caroline, but I am happy for the other two witnesses to give their thoughts as well. This follows on from something you said earlier, Caroline, about last week’s incident in Nottingham and how some victims—a lot of people—do not know that they are victims. I raised this in the Chamber; that incident had an impact in my constituency, it being so close. You hesitated earlier about how we would cope with that. Do you think that the Bill is adequate for those hidden victims? How do we ensure that they are aware that there is a victims code? What more can be done, and should we do it through this legislation or other mechanismsQ ?

Caroline Henry:

The definition of victim here would not include indirect victims who were not a direct witness of, or directly impacted by, the crimes that happened in Nottinghamshire last week, but they so need support too. As a commissioner, I have commissioned Notts Victim Care to be there to pick up the calls from people who are grieving and are traumatised, even though they were not directly impacted. It is having such an impact and such a ripple across our city, and not just our city: people have gone home from university and are all over the country. They might not think of themselves as victims, but what happened last week has made them so.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash

Q Should we do it through legislation? Or are there other mechanisms?

Caroline Henry:

It would be nice if there could be something in this Bill, but I am keen for it to get through. There are so many things I want to add on.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash

Q Sophie, London has lots of different incidents.

Sophie Linden:

Indeed. There are two things here. The role of an independent public advocate is an important one and we would support it. We should probably get back to you with more detail in terms of looking at the Bill and what we might or might not want for that independent public advocate. It is important because of what Caroline says about when those tragic events happen with a lot of witnesses, and that can be a problem.

In London, the way we have commissioned the London Victim and Witness Service has enabled us to stand up that response for events, but that does not mean—I will put it the other way: we do support an independent public advocate because I think there is a role for them.

DCC Barnett:

Again, the Bill describes that role of an independent advocate, which I think is supported. In times of major incidents, as part of the overall response you will get support from family liaison officers, for example, but they also work closely with victim support services to identify those who would benefit from support. As for whether there needs to be more within the Bill itself, I think we would have to give that further consideration.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I am sorry that I was late; I had today’s ten-minute rule Bill.Q

One of the things we have heard from earlier witnesses is that a larger group of people should be covered by the term “victims”. For example, it could cover people involved in anti-social behaviour cases, and somebody suggested that people who are migrants and worried about their status should be dealt with in the Bill in a special way. Of course, the duty to collaborate and the services covered by that duty are quite specific, and there are a limited number of advisers who have been trained in independent domestic violence and sexual violence work. We have heard that there is quite a need to develop those roles—to have some core skills that are understood and so on. Is there a danger that we expand the definition of victim to the point where the services that are available just cannot cope?

Caroline Henry:

The independent domestic violence adviser and the independent sexual violence adviser work is very niche and absolutely essential. I would welcome more funding for more. I know we have quadrupled funding for it, but we still have a waiting list, especially because of the court delays.

Sophie Linden:

I support the expansion to include victims of anti-social behaviour, because I think it should be the victim, not the offence, that is given the support. The danger is not funding it enough. In order to mitigate that risk, there should be funding; it should not be that you are ringfencing only a certain type or a certain offence. That is where I would come from, because we should be led by the victim’s needs, by their vulnerability and by revictimisation. So I support antisocial behaviour being part of the definition of victims.

From my point of view as deputy Mayor of London, one of the things we are pushing quite strongly and have been lobbying for is that, for migrant victims, we are keen to see in the Bill the ability to keep a firewall for victims who have insecure immigration status. We know that it is putting people off and victims are suffering.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

Order. I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted for questions. I thank the witnesses on the Committee’s behalf for their evidence.