I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the rights of victims of crime.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Main.
When I applied for this debate, little did I know how timely it would be. On Friday night, both our car and our garage were broken into. Nothing was stolen, but the damage to our property and knowing that we are vulnerable to criminals are concerns, and I redoubled my resolve to get better rights for the victims of crime.
Last week, in advance of this debate, I surveyed constituents on their experiences and two of the respondents spoke about the lack of support they had also experienced after being victims of theft from their cars. I also had much more concerning examples, where people were victims of serious incidents and there were serious gaps in provision. One constituent who had been at the Manchester Arena for the Ariana Grande concert when the tragic bombing occurred wrote to me, saying:
“Whilst I appreciate thousands were affected by this event, receiving mental health support since then has been hard work. It has taken 9 months for my daughter and I to receive any kind of support due to long waiting lists, lack of funding etc. I was never advised to contact victim support but was advised to contact survivors assistance network based in Warrington. I am in groups on Facebook and yammer where hundreds say the same thing. Those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder have been ignored unless they had physical injuries.”
The hon. Gentleman is now touching on the key point. Does he agree that very often victims of crime pay a double penalty—the penalty of the financial loss, from the effect of the crime itself; and then the emotional stress resulting from what has happened?
I do, and that is doubly so when there an event as serious as the Manchester bombing. After that incident, the Government committed to support the victims, but nearly a year later some families are still not receiving the support they need.
When I undertook the survey, a range of crimes were reported to me and often the victims did not feel that they had received sufficient support after crimes ranging from muggings to violent assault to rape. This debate is very much needed, to address the inconsistencies in the system, and I am sure that many hon. Members will also share the experiences of their constituents.
A group in society that is particularly vulnerable to crime is older people. I am grateful to Age UK for releasing a report last week on fraud relating to older people. The report found that more than two fifths—43%—of older people, which is almost 5 million people, believe they have been targeted by scammers. Only a minority of fraud victims report their experience. Among people aged 65-plus, nearly two thirds—64%—of those targeted by fraudsters did not report it to an official body such as Action Fraud, the police, a bank or a local authority. About a third of those targeted confided in friends or family, but more than a fifth admitted they did not tell anyone at all, because they felt too embarrassed. And for the minority of older people who do report fraud, support is inconsistent across the country.
Age UK has won funding from City Bridge Trust to pilot a new scam prevention and victim support service. Working in partnership with Action Fraud, a number of local Age UK groups in London will raise awareness of scams among older people and their friends and family; they will give one-to-one support to older people who are vulnerable and at risk of scams, empowering them to feel safer and more confident; and they will provide specialist one-to-one support sessions for older victims, helping them to address the financial, health and social impacts of fraud.
This is a great initiative. However, should not such support be available across the country for every older person who needs it, funded by the Government, and using proceeds of crime moneys if the Government cannot pay for it out of general taxation? Our criminal justice system must ensure that it has the rights of victims of crime at its heart.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this debate, which is very timely. He is talking about the changing nature of crime, so does he agree that the Minister should be considering reviewing the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, so that its guidelines reflect the changing nature of crime?
That is a very good point, well made, and I hope that the Minister will address it in his remarks.
As I was saying, our criminal justice system must ensure that it has the rights of victims of crime at its heart. When it fails to do so, it not only affects the direct victims themselves but risks undermining wider public trust in our justice system.
The most significant reform in this regard was arguably the introduction of the victims code by the last Labour Government, which came into force in 2006. The victims code sets out the rights and entitlements of victims, making it the single most important document for victims of crime in England and Wales. It outlines clearly and precisely the level of entitlement that victims can expect from each criminal justice agency they encounter, including the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. For example, the code specifies that victims are entitled to be kept informed of developments in their case within set time limits, and that victims must be informed of any sentence handed down to the offender and what it means.
Victim Support has found evidence to suggest that there is a routine failure to uphold the victims code. The lack of compliance could be due to the victims code not being legally enforceable, or the absence of a mechanism to hold agencies to account except in individual cases, or the lack of an independent body to monitor implementation. Current monitoring arrangements rely on statutory agencies self-assessing their compliance, based on criteria determined by the agencies themselves. Effectively, these agencies are self-regulating.
There are new setbacks for victims of crime on the horizon, with the announcement that the Government plan to sell off more than 100 courts for not much more than the average UK house price. That decision piles yet more pressure on the remaining courts and risks hearings being further delayed and rescheduled, which can have a distressing impact on victims and witnesses and creates a justice system that is less accessible for people.
The Victims’ Commissioner has within their remit a duty to
“keep under review the operation of the Code of Practice”.
The current Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove, has conducted a number of reviews of the code, looking at issues such as the victim personal statement, children’s entitlements and the complaints system. A number of other agencies have also looked at compliance with the victims code in some form, including the CPS, which undertook a victim and witness satisfaction survey in 2015 and plans to repeat the research, and the criminal justice inspectorates.
The hon. Gentleman has brought a very important issue to Westminster Hall this afternoon. I am particularly concerned about the effect of the problems in the disclosure system of the CPS and other agencies for victims. I have had considerable problems with child sexual exploitation in my constituency. Those victims are particularly vulnerable. Is that something that he is also worried about?
I am very glad that the hon. Lady has raised this issue. It is not something that I have personally had experience of, but I am sure that her points are really well made and I hope that the Minister addresses them in his remarks.
Finally, victims’ organisations such as Victim Support have also looked at compliance with the code by means of research that has examined different issues, including the timeliness of victim contact. However, all these reviews have been piecemeal, looking at certain aspects of the code but not at the code’s operation as a whole. There is a gap in the system, and an effective monitoring and enforcement mechanism would enable the Government to ensure that the victims code is implemented throughout the system, as well as identifying both good practice and areas for improvement.
Last year, Victim Support published research undertaken with almost 400 victims, which highlighted the failings inherent in the system. These failings include the fact that 52% of victims surveyed were not offered the chance to make a victim personal statement; that 46% of victims surveyed had not received a written acknowledgment of the crime from the police; and that 19% had not been referred to support services. So, nearly one in five of the people who responded were not even referred to support services. As things stand, too many people are being failed by the system, so things need to change.
What do victims of crime need from the Government? Victims must always feel that the justice system is on their side. When a member of the public comes forward to report a crime or to give evidence in court, they must be treated fairly and with compassion. When all is said and done, we must do our utmost to ensure that victims receive the justice they deserve.
What is needed is a victims’ law, which the 2015 Conservative party manifesto pledged to introduce; the Minister will find that pledge on page 59. In the 2015 Queen’s Speech, the Government announced:
“Measures will be brought forward to increase the rights of victims of crime.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 596, c. 31.]
In 2016, the EU victims’ directive forced the Government to enhance support for victims of crime by broadening the definition of “victim”. Previously, for example, victims of drink-driving did not receive support under the victims code, and not all victims of crime were entitled to a written acknowledgment from the police.
In 2017, the Conservative manifesto again contained a commitment to enshrine victims’ entitlements in law. However, aside from a recent and welcome announcement that there will be consultation on new legislation to support victims of domestic abuse, there appears to have been little action by the Government to bring forward their victims’ law commitment. I want to see victims’ support at the heart of the criminal justice system and historic wrongs put right.
A victims’ law would seek to guarantee victims a minimum standard of service, including placing victims’ right to review on a statutory footing, not only for the CPS but for the police, too. It must be made easier to hold justice organisations to account if we are to maintain confidence in the criminal justice system. I therefore ask the Minister to introduce proposals for a victim’s law that fulfils the historic commitment.
Thank you for calling me so early, Mrs Main. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
I congratulate Alex Sobel on securing this debate on such a major issue. I will explore how victims are heard and the penalties for offenders, and how they relate to the changing nature of crime and to people actually realising that they are victims, which is a particular issue for some of my constituents.
I have always been a fan of more restorative justice. St Martin’s church in Barton in my constituency was attacked by vandals who were just over the age of criminal responsibility. A restorative path was chosen, as it was felt that the two individuals coming to the church, meeting the vicar and hearing from the churchwarden about the effect of what they had done would have a far greater impact on them than a police officer bluntly giving them a caution, or their potentially going before a youth court. The church continues to engage with the two young men and their families, trying to make them see clearly that the church is part of the community and the impact on those who were damaged.
On a wider scale, the offender management team in Torbay tries to use more restorative justice, particularly for lower level offending that would not attract significant terms of imprisonment. Genuine restorative justice can be more effective than a blunt fine, which might disappear into a court or be added to a list of other fines being paid off via earnings or welfare benefits attachments; it can be something that might stick in someone’s memory.
It has been interesting talking to the local police in Torbay about an emerging trend, whereby people—mostly older men—with assets are targeted by ruthless individuals who look to exploit them by forming a relationship with them, even a sexual one, with the purpose of getting at their bank balance and draining their assets. When it is happening, many of these people do not realise they are victims; some might not even see it after the person unsurprisingly disappears, when the money starts to run out or when other members of the family start to get involved. How do we get people to understand the nature of being a victim today? Some people do not see it, and some fail to understand what their assets are worth—some who are starting to suffer dementia will not realise that the price of something 30 or 40 years ago is not its value today.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when the person involved has learning difficulties or mental health issues the crime needs to be designated as a hate crime and afforded the additional sentence for the perpetrator?
The courts should certainly consider it an aggravating factor if someone is vulnerable. However, it is a difficult line to draw for people who have not yet been diagnosed or been deemed to have lack of capacity—those who are still able to manage themselves and their finances in day-to-day life. They might have started to lose track of exactly what they are worth, or they might not have been as wealthy in their younger days but have now had a retirement golden handshake or have bought a house or another asset that is worth far more than they realise. I agree that the courts should certainly consider that as an aggravating factor, because this is almost the ultimate breach of trust: someone professing love and affection, targeting the fact that someone is vulnerable and lonely.
For me, this is also about victims coming forward. I am pleased to see some of the efforts being made regarding domestic abuse, including the Bill that is to be introduced. I will not give their name, because it is not appropriate, but someone I am very close to was a victim of domestic abuse for more than 30 years. For most of that period, they did not realise that they were a victim; they thought that that was what most marriages were like—husbands beat their wives. It was only when others started to guess what was going on that they realised that they were a victim of very serious offences. The offender has now passed away.
I am conscious that other colleagues would like to speak, so I will conclude by saying that I welcome this debate. It is important that victims are at the heart of the criminal justice system and are the ones who matter; they are not just a statement of evidence or part of a case. Justice has to be seen to be done, not just according to the law but according to the victims as well.
I am sure all Members will recognise the feeling I am about to describe, although perhaps with a different landmark in mind: when I travel home after a long week here, I see the Humber bridge and know that that means home—I am nearly there; it is not far to go. Home should be the place where we feel the safest, where we feel secure, but sadly, for many of my constituents and many others around the country, crime and antisocial behaviour are hitting them right in the heart of their lives—in their home. I will use my speech today to raise my constituents’ concerns about antisocial behaviour. Sometimes it is dismissed as not really a big deal, but in reality it affects the lives of many people.
My constituency is a wonderful place to live and grow up in, but sadly many areas are now blighted by antisocial behaviour. In the Hessle part of the constituency, I hear many reports of children creating lots of difficulties—for example, running in front of buses and making them do emergency stops with the passengers still on them, upsetting people in the street, throwing dog dirt through pub doors, damaging car park fences, standing on signs, climbing on to walls and generally making people feel unsafe and unhappy in what is a wonderful community and place to live. An elderly lady told me that as she was walking down the street, groups of young people passing on their bikes shouted abuse at her; she is now worried about what might happen when she goes out to do her shopping.
Sadly, that is not the only area of my constituency where there are problems. I have been contacted by residents of the Great Thornton Street flats, an inner-city tower block, who are being subjected to hate crime. Some of them are having their scarves pulled off their heads. They are witnessing drug abuse and violence and even finding human faeces in the corners outside their homes. The situation is no better in Bean Street, where there is much public drug taking and antisocial behaviour. I have been told that on more than one occasion a nearby park has attracted drinkers and drug users shooting up in broad daylight.
I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate, Mrs Main. My hon. Friend refers to hate crime and I wondered whether she was aware that some of us Muslim Members of Parliament have been victims of a hate crime on the parliamentary estate today and yesterday. I could not be here at 2.30 pm because I was dealing with the aftermath of a suspicious package intended for me, which was opened by one of my staff.
My hon. Friend talks about crime at home. Does she not agree that thousands of British people abroad who are victims of crime need a better support system? My constituent Susan Sutovic—
Yes, I would support that. I am so sorry to hear about the incident that my hon. Friend mentions and I sincerely hope that she and her staff are okay. It is sad to hear about the increasing amount of hate crime.
I am trying to arrange residents meetings with the police on the issues in Hessle, Bean Street and Great Thornton Street. Previously, we had success when there were problems with an awful lot of street drinkers in Spring Bank. We removed the bench where they were sitting and there have been 46 move-ons for people drinking when they should not be and creating antisocial behaviour problems. The police have been fantastic, but my fear is that all we are doing by going in with this intensive support from the police and the community is relocating the problem around the city. We never deal with the root cause of the problem or provide a long-term solution; we just move it to another place. Yes, the work on Spring Bank has been successful, but now we have a problem on Bean Street and Great Thornton Street.
Some people dismiss antisocial behaviour. While it may be a different category of crime from some of the others we are discussing, it has a massive effect on people’s lives. It is sad, because often those most in need of help are those least able to seek it. Crime and antisocial behaviour affect people of all incomes and backgrounds, but it seems that the poorest and most vulnerable are disproportionately affected. Sad to say, I do not see the situation changing; because of the cuts to the police service, dealing with the problem will only get much harder.
One of the easiest ways to help victims of crime is to stop crime and antisocial behaviour happening in the first place. A long-term solution needs investment in education, community support and youth provision. I was pleased to hear Kevin Foster talk about the use of restorative justice. Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, it looks at the individuals and the best method to stop them reoffending. More things like that should be happening, especially for younger people committing crimes. I hope that the whole House will therefore join me and my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle as we push to make youth provision statutory, which would force all councils to establish youth provision.
One parent of a child who has been involved in some of the antisocial behaviour contacted me, asking for my help. She said, “Where can my child go? What services are out there? What support can I have?” When family support services have been cut, when youth provision has been cut, and when those families are not getting the support they need when they need it, we cannot be surprised when we see an increase in antisocial behaviour. I am sorry to say that schools are facing the same cuts as well. Perhaps they cannot give as much support as they used to. From the inquiry we are doing in the Education Committee, Lucy Allan will know about the increased number of children going into alternative provision and being moved on. We need to look at the problem holistically.
Even with more action taken to prevent crime, we still need to protect and promote the rights of victims of crime and ensure that there are minimum standards a victim can expect once they report a crime or antisocial behaviour. Those standards should include a single point of contact and a single complaints system where someone can go if they want to make a complaint. One of my constituents’ main complaints is that they want the phone answered quickly when they ring 101. Too many people hang up because they are waiting 20 minutes to get through. They get so fed up that the crimes are never accurately recorded.
We need to ensure better communication with victims about the outcome of their cases. A lot of people say, “What happened? I reported this and nothing happened.” We look into it, and actually something did happen, but no one thought to tell the victims about it. We need a more powerful Victims’ Commissioner to ensure that victims can make their voices heard. For too long, victims of crime have been left without a voice. By listening to those proposals and acting proactively to prevent crime and promote victims’ rights, the Government have a chance to end the merry-go-round of constantly shifting crime hotspots.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I will do my best to be naturally short. [Laughter.] I congratulate Alex Sobel on securing this debate on an important subject.
I will start where Emma Hardy began, which is how victims are treated once a crime has been committed. Constituents in Chislehurst have suffered a spate of residential burglaries. The burglaries are professional, planned and committed with an extraordinary degree of chutzpah. In some cases, the burglars have returned to the same road on more than one occasion within a couple of weeks. The burglaries are of a serious kind: occupants of houses have been threatened—in some cases, they have been young children, and in others, they have been elderly people. The police have many pressures and it is not always possible to find much evidence at the scene. In the case of those professional burglaries, the people have escaped, but there are forensics to be done.
It is important that all police forces recognise that dealing with the victims of crime and investigating crime are not purely transactional processes. A proper duty of care for victims is important. A domestic burglary is peculiarly intrusive and a violation of people’s homes and lives. The hon. Lady fairly made a point about proper points of contact and proper updates and information, which are critical. It is important that a degree of urgency is applied to offences of this kind, even in a large police force such as the Met. There is resource within the budget. I know there are pressures, but priority should be given to dealing with those sorts of issues and keeping people informed.
I want to talk about the operation of the criminal justice system as it impacts victims. The Justice Select Committee, which I have the honour to Chair, has looked at that in a number of areas. I start with the point that was made by the hon. Member for Leeds North West about delays in the court process, which are a problem. My hon. Friend Victoria Prentis, who is a fellow member of the Select Committee, referred to that in the context of disclosure problems causing delays and adjournments, which puts great stress on victims who have come to court or readied themselves to give evidence. It is important that we work—I know the Government recognise this—with the judiciary at all levels, from the professional judiciary to the magistracy, and with the Crown Prosecution Service, because many delays arise from failure to meet the proper protocols on disclosure by prosecutors. We need to ensure that we take a whole-system approach so that such delays are reduced to a minimum.
The experience of victims giving evidence needs to be made as palatable as possible. Any witness has to expect to be properly cross-examined, and any defendant has the right to have the case against them tested, but there are parameters in which that must be done decently and without undue pressure. The Government have recognised that in the cross-examination of victims of domestic abuse. It is important that we build upon the work already done on the pre-recorded cross-examination of witnesses and the use of video links. We must ensure that the video links work, which sadly is not always the case in every court. We therefore have to ensure that the court estate and technology are up to speed. That is an important thing we need to do now.
I am glad to see the Minister in his place. I know he is very engaged with these matters, and I recently wrote to him about the position of training and mentoring for registered intermediaries. Court intermediaries provide communication support for vulnerable witnesses—many of them are victims, but there may be other vulnerable witnesses, too. There appears to have been a significant reduction in the period of training they undergo. Can the Minister offer some explanation, either now or subsequently, as to why that has happened? I accept there are pressures, but can he give us an assurance that he will ensure that the level of service provided to vulnerable people assisting in the court process to try to deliver justice is not diminished? I am sure he will be aware that the Victims’ Commissioner’s research indicates poor overall management in the governance of intermediaries and a lack of funding. They perform an important role, and I hope the issue can be taken much more seriously.
I will briefly move on to restorative justice and the victims’ law, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Leeds North West. One of the proposals that the Select Committee made was that any victims’ law should include a right not just to information about restorative justice, as is the case at the moment, but a right of access to it. Provision is extremely patchy across the country. Some police and crime commissioners—I am delighted to see Tony Lloyd in his place; he did a great deal as the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester—engage in that, but others do not. It is important that the Government perhaps do more to enforce a proper minimum standard. There is always scope for local variation to meet local needs, but a basic standard must be adhered to in all cases. If we are going to have a right, it is important that we have a means of enforcing it and some remedy if it is not actually delivered. That was reported on at some length in our Committee’s report of September 2016, which was debated in Westminster Hall in January 2017. The Government indicated that they were taking steps; we welcomed those, and urge them to do more, as more needs to be done. I hope that the Minister can confirm that work is continuing on this matter, and that the Government remain committed to a victims’ law. Can he give us some sense of when we are likely to see more proposals on that?
Finally, it is important and topical for us to consider the role of victims when Parole Board decisions are made. I will not say anything about any particular case that is sub judice, but we must examine this issue. The point about communication is hugely important. My hon. Friend Kevin Foster talked about restorative justice in that context. We have to have a whole-system approach. It is not just about when the person is sentenced and dealt with.
That is absolutely right. That is a most important matter. The chair of the Parole Board himself, Professor Nick Hardwick, to whom I pay tribute for his openness with us, recognises that the current rules are not as he would wish them to be. They sometimes make it hard for the Parole Board to be as transparent as it would like to be, for the benefit of either the victim or the general public. On the face of it, that is a difficult distinction to justify in some cases, so I hope that in due course the Government will look at that. It indicates to me a need for a much more holistic approach to how we look at victims throughout both the investigatory process and the criminal justice process.
It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate. I thank Alex Sobel for presenting the case, and for giving us all more time than there might have been to speak on the matter. I am also conscious that you have indicated the timescale to which we all have to try to adhere, Mrs Main.
The issue of victims is incredibly sensitive and needs to be handled with care. There are many victims of physical, emotional and sexual assault who have been re-traumatised—I have said this before, in questions to the Minister in the Chamber—through the handling of their case. Many victims will not come forward, as they feel as if they are on trial themselves, and are not supported. I recently read an article on abortion by a Baroness in Ireland. Although this is not the debate in which to bring up the abortion issue, I felt it was significant that she lost her baby as she was caught up in an IRA bombing. She describes herself and her child as victims, and remains traumatised to this day. Time has not healed that wound; she feels the pain of loss to this day, and will do so beyond. This is how we need to consider victims: not that something once happened to them, but that their life was irrevocably changed, and that that change has become part of their day-to-day life. They need care and help to go over that, and to deal with the aftermath.
We have a duty to victims to ensure that they are heard and supported. That was what was agreed when we passed the legislation, and voted to help to make victims feel secure and to create a system whereby crimes could be prosecuted, and victims could feel safe and able to feed into the process. Although the spirit of the current legislation agrees with that, there is no enforcement process. I ask the Minister how we move from guidelines and perceived support to enforcement.
It is little wonder that Baroness Newlove’s report in January 2015, “A Review of Complaints and Resolution for Victims of Crime”, found not very satisfactory results—that is how it was reported. It surveyed the experiences of some 200 victims and found that almost 75% were unhappy with the response they received. More than 50% found the relevant agency’s complaints process difficult to use. Have we moved on from that? Is the process easier? Is it more relevant?
A second review, “The Silenced Victim: A Review of the Victim Personal Statement”, was published in November 2015. It found inconsistencies in approach, with six out of 10 victims not recalling being offered the chance to make a victim personal statement. That also illustrates the things that we need to be addressing. I look to the Minister to see whether he can address those issues and give us the responses that we wish to hear.
To me, this says that what we set out to achieve through the legislation is not being achieved. We therefore need to make changes. First, we need to stop it being no more than a guideline or a suggestion, and ensure that it is enforceable and as much a duty in the prosecution of a case as any other aspect, such as evidence gathering.
The hon. Gentleman talked about there not always being an audit trail. Does he agree with me that when victims of crime are abroad, such as my constituent Susan Sutovic, whose son died in mysterious circumstances in 2004 in Serbia, there needs to be some sort of diplomatic and legal framework to help those victims?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention; I agree with her. It is important that we have a framework in place. Hopefully the Minister, who I know is taking notes on the debate, will give us some response on how he sees that changing.
The care of the victim must be paramount and be seen as part and parcel of the justice system. I agree with the options presented in the Victim Support manifesto. There should be a single complaints system for victims of crime, a more powerful Victims’ Commissioner, and better communication with victims about the outcomes of their case—how often that falls down. Court compensation should be paid immediately and not linger on for months or sometimes years. Trained intermediaries should be available for all child witnesses—I know a lot of Members in the Chamber feel as strongly as I do about that. No child should be obliged to enter a court building to give evidence. There should be pre-trial therapy for all victims of sexual crimes, and a national strategy for victims with mental health issues. Like others, I feel strongly on behalf of children about how their cases are handled. Again, I look to the Minister to see what help he can give us.
It is essential that these foundations, which are not currently in place, are in place for victims. The end goal is justice for the crime and for the victim. The crime has to have the right sentence, but the victim must also feel part of the process and feel that they are not being put upon by the court system. I hate to hear of crimes that could not be prosecuted as the key witness is frightened to come forward. Knowing that a system is in place to support victims is a key component in the prosecution of crimes. Again, I look to the Minister for a response on that.
I will conclude, as I am conscious of the time I agreed with you beforehand, Mrs Main. I again thank the hon. Member for Leeds North West for introducing the debate. I thank Baroness Newlove for her hard work in making a difference to the lives and experiences of victims. It is now in the hands of the Government—and perhaps the Minister in this case—to bring forward the promised changes. I for one will be eagerly awaiting the legislation that is to be introduced.
Thank you, Mrs Main, for allowing me to speak in this important debate. I am delighted that Alex Sobel has given us the opportunity to talk about the rights of victims and some of the difficulties that they have in getting their voices heard.
I particularly want to talk about the victims of child exploitation, following revelations in newspapers over the weekend in my constituency. These victims have more difficulties than most in getting heard, and in identifying that they are indeed victims, as my hon. Friend Kevin Foster identified. Child sexual exploitation is not just any crime. It affects whole communities up and down the country; it is not just Telford. It is a crime about fear, manipulation, coercion, shame, control, and sometimes blame. All too often, the victims are ignored. They are victims who do not have a voice, and for whom very few people will stand up and speak. I pay tribute to Sarah Champion for the amazing work that she has done in this field over so many years. She has given a voice to victims, and has set a precedent for us to follow in this House.
These young girls are too often white and working-class, and have multiple vulnerabilities. That is why the perpetrators are targeting them, and why they are so often miscast as bringing it on themselves, as indulging in risky behaviour, as being promiscuous and as somehow being to blame for what is happening to them. In their own minds, they often internalise the sense that they are somehow at fault.
When a 13 or 14-year-old girl is befriended by a 35-year-old man who gives her affection and cigarettes, tops up her phone, and tells her that she is beautiful and that he loves her, sometimes she feels affection for him. She does not realise that when he asks her to share a sexual image of herself, that will lead to something worse—something that she will not want to do. The coercion begins when he says, “If you don’t have sex with me”—or, “If you don’t have sex with my friend”—“I’m going to out you as promiscuous,” or as a “sket”, as they say in Telford. That is when it becomes a crime, but at that point, a 13 or 14-year-old does not know that what is happening is rape and child sexual exploitation. If she goes to the police, what does she say? She does not say, “I am a victim of statutory rape.” She says, “I’m being harassed by this person. He’s threatened to take a picture and put it on Facebook. He’s threatened to tell my mum that I’m a prostitute.”
Too often, victims of such terrible crimes do not articulate what is happening to them, so we have to be incredibly sensitive with them. Too often, they are not heard because of their vulnerabilities. I worry that a difficult family background or drugs and alcohol or mental health issues at home mean that victims are thought of as troublemakers and just a bit too difficult. Perhaps that is why these crimes were not identified for so long. Had the girls been from a different background and able to articulate more clearly what was happening to them, or able to identify that it was a crime, perhaps we would not have the cases that we see in Telford, Rotherham and Oxford.
I want to get on the record how incredible the hon. Lady has been for those women and girls. She is giving them a voice and empowering them to be heard. I am honoured to be here listening to her speech. I am sorry this is not an appropriate intervention, but it needed to be said.
I thank the hon. Lady for her encouragement and the inspiration that she provides to me and others in speaking out on this matter.
Interestingly, each child sexual exploitation case bears some resemblance to others. They all start in the same way and progress in the same way, from something that seems quite acceptable, tame or innocent into something horrific: trading young girls for sex for money. They are traded and handed around with the threat of violence to them or their families, or the threat of exposure and shame that I talked about earlier. The victims need to know that they have not done anything wrong. They need to know that they are victims and that a crime has been committed against them. That is why I am asking for an independent investigation into what has gone wrong in Telford. I first made the request in 2016, when there were revelations about what had happened. That request was turned down by the local authorities in Telford, who felt that there was no need at that time.
Further revelations have come to light. Nothing in the interim has changed my mind that an independent investigation will give victims a sense that they are being listened to. It will also give them answers as to why the situation went on for so long and why no action was taken. How did it happen? Why are our young girls being traded for sex in what has become a routine way? Whether it is from takeaways, taxis or betting shops, it is happening in our streets.
By not addressing what went wrong, victims are left feeling that in some sense they were at fault. It ignores what happened and perpetuates the silence. We have to break that silence and say it is okay to talk about this, and that it will not bring shame on Oxford, Telford or Rotherham or on their families. They are the victims and they need to be heard, listened to and given the protection that they need and deserve. Being questioned and questioned is an ordeal, and sometimes they feel they are not believed, but we must believe those young people and give them a sense that they will be listened to. There should not be opposition to finding out the facts and what went wrong.
There is a national inquiry into child sexual exploitation led by Professor Jay. That inquiry will not get to the bottom of why these things happened or give answers to my constituents in Telford. I urge the Minister, or anybody listening, to please put pressure on the authorities. It is for the good of our community and the victims and their families, because the families are victims too. They feel they failed their children and let them down. They suffer because their child has experienced terrible things. We must not allow these crimes to be minimised. They are not trivial. I am not talking about a girl with a 35-year-old boyfriend; I am talking about someone who is abused, exploited and sold for sex. We should not shy away from that and bury our heads in the sand.
I will draw to a close, but while the Minister is here I want to quickly mention the early release from prison of Mubarak Ali, a ringleader in Telford. He had been sentenced to 22 years—14 years in custody and eight years on licence—and he was released only five years after the trial. That caused a lot of shock, fear and anxiety among the people brave enough to come forward to give evidence, and the victim contact scheme let them down. More work must be done to ensure that victims are kept informed and can feed into the process and have the opportunity to be heard. We must listen and hear the voices of those children.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Alex Sobel for securing this really important debate. We have heard many important contributions. Like Lucy Allan, I have had to live through the aftermath of child sexual exploitation in my area. She is absolutely right in everything she says. We must never blame the victims. We must stand up and speak out for victims of criminal behaviour. I encourage her to continue to demand that there is proper insight. In the end, all local agencies must demonstrate that they have genuinely, not formulaically, learnt lessons. They must demonstrate a different way of working that makes it more likely that we ask questions when a 14-year-old has a 35-year-old boyfriend.
I will make a few brief points, Mrs Main, because I know you are anxious to bring in the Front-Bench speakers at—
I will not take long, in that case. The comments of my hon. Friend Emma Hardy are really important. Antisocial behaviour matters. Actually, it kills in the worst situations, and even if we are not talking about those extremes it certainly makes people’s lives miserable. It destroys the quality of people’s lives and we must take that seriously. She is right. Obviously, this can be a political point, but the Government must take it on board that it has become much more difficult now for our police to investigate things that fall off the radar, which they simply ought not. It is an important issue to raise.
Like the hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster), I am a big supporter of restorative justice. I regret that I was not in the House in 2016 to speak on the Select Committee report, but I was aware of its conclusions. Restorative justice fundamentally delivers to victims the sense that their needs are being taken seriously. That is as important in prosecutions as when there is a decision not to take a case forward, which can sometimes be appropriate.
I think of the case of a woman who was a very strong advocate. Other hon. Members might have heard her speak. Her house was burgled and a new camera was taken. Sadly, her daughter was killed in a car crash weeks later and the last remaining photographs of her daughter were lost with the camera. She never saw the photographs but she was prepared to work with the perpetrator, who went to prison. That was important for at least giving her a sense of easement, although you can never reconcile yourself to the loss of a child. It also meant that that long-term burglar effectively ceased his former habit, so it worked in more than one way, but—there is always a “but”—training is absolutely important. We cannot see the process as something to be delivered on the streets, with no training. There must be supervision to ensure that standards are maintained. Importantly, there must be victim volition. The process cannot be forced on a victim, or denied to a victim who is not aware that they could demand it. I support the call for a statutory framework, and of course my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West argued for that.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is back in the House after a brief gap. I hope he will take part in further debates. Given what he has said, does he agree on the importance of the point made in the Justice Committee report, that restorative justice must always be victim-led—the victim’s choice at all times—and that there must be proper professional support right the way through? It is important that victims be given full information about what is available in their area, and that something genuinely meaningful should be in place—not simply a leaflet.
Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman—let me say my hon. Friend for the sake of this debate—is right on both counts. The second point is fundamental in bringing about the first, because if victims do not have confidence in the process it withers. It is not just victims, in fact, because the community must have confidence, through the victims, that the decisions are not arbitrary, and will deliver something to victims and do something more generally to change behaviour. In the end, the process is about helping victims and changing perpetrators’ behaviour.
Perhaps I may now touch on the rather more aggressive side of what, sadly, happens to victims. Sometimes victims are treated horrendously within the processes. I know that the Minister is sympathetic to these points. Many years ago, I dealt with a grieving family whose son had been stabbed to death at a party. The charge was murder and the case took many months, as such cases do, to come to court. Eventually, on the day of the trial, the family were told that the murder charge could not be sustained, because the prosecuting barrister had said he could not deliver it on the available evidence. No other charge of manslaughter or lesser offences had been brought, and that meant that the two perpetrators went scot-free. The family were left devastated.
That was a long time ago and I would be happy if I could say that those were the bad old days and that things have moved on. However, they have not. Victims still sometimes find that the failure of the prosecution service to examine information in time, or the failure of the courts to process cases, means they face a long journey between becoming a victim and their case coming to court, only to find that when it gets to court they are left frustrated and dissatisfied.
The hon. Gentleman is highlighting important issues to do with the CPS and the rights of victims. Does he agree that one thing that undermines victims of crime is the Crown’s inability to appeal against sentences that are simply too lenient? That can happen only in a very few cases at the moment, and victims of crime feel powerless under the current system to ensure that the appropriate sentence is imposed on an offender.
I have a lot of sympathy with that point. The procedure could not be used in every case, but perhaps society should recognise the need to use it more widely than happens now. Sometimes the courts do get things wrong.
I do not want to go into too much detail about the next case I shall mention. A young woman was effectively kidnapped from a bar, and it was believed that she had been raped. She had certainly been sexually assaulted. She faced months of adjournments and new trial dates. In the end, the case came to court more than two and a half years from the original event. The perpetrator had been charged with rape and the prosecution counsel determined only at a late stage that it was not possible, on the evidence, to sustain that charge. Because no other charges had been laid—not kidnap or sexual assault, which are pretty serious charges—the perpetrator walked free, as in my other example. That is human incompetence, and for the victim it was outrageous. I have spoken to her, and had she known what would happen she would never have consented to the case’s going forward.
Those are cases of human error, but such human error is systemic within the present system. Prosecuting barristers often do not come to the cases until late in the process. We must do something about that. We must begin to put victims first in the criminal justice system, rather than treating them as an afterthought. We are not at that point yet.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Main. I congratulate Alex Sobel on securing the debate today and on setting out so well many of the issues within the justice system. It has been an excellent debate, with a huge degree of consensus across the Chamber about the need to improve victims’ rights on a number of fronts, for a number of reasons. I wholeheartedly agree with the concern that many colleagues have raised about the victim contact scheme. That problem needs to be addressed as a priority.
I want to mention the speech by Kevin Foster, who highlighted the case of a friend who was the victim of domestic abuse for many years without realising it. Sadly, that situation is repeated often, the length and breadth of the country, and I look forward to the Government’s bringing forward a domestic abuse Bill shortly. That will be discussed at the meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on the white ribbon campaign at 4.45, later this afternoon.
No one ever imagines that they will be a victim of crime, and if, sadly, it happens, many will be unsure of the process involved, beyond phoning the police, and unsure of what their rights are as a victim. It will obviously be a traumatic experience, and not only is it important that we have an effective set of rights for victims of crime, but it is vital that those rights be clearly and sensitively communicated in the aftermath of crime. As Sir Greg Knight, who is no longer in his place, said, too often victims are punished twice.
A recent Supreme Court ruling highlighted the way in which the system might fail victims. It stated that a police force breached the human rights of victims by failing to investigate complaints properly. That ruling has serious implications for the rights of victims. If police fail to investigate a serious violent crime effectively in the future, they could be sued under the Human Rights Act 1998.
High-profile recent cases have raised immediate concerns about victims’ rights. However, there has been concern for some time that victims may not be receiving the full breadth of support to which they should be entitled. As we have heard, in England and Wales the Victims’ Commissioner has highlighted problems with the complaints system, and inconsistency about allowing victims the right to make a victim personal statement. As the hon. Member for Leeds North West mentioned, Victim Support has also called for a new, clearly enforceable victims’ law, setting out eight proposals to strengthen the rights of victims. They include creating a single complaints system for victims, introducing a more powerful Victims’ Commissioner, providing greater protection and support to children who experience crime, and improving communication with victims about the outcomes of their case. I hope that, as the hon. Member for Leeds North West asked, the Minister will provide an update on the Government’s thinking on a victims’ law.
The rights of victims are currently set out in the code of practice for victims of crime and there is an explanation of what they should expect from the various bodies within the criminal justice system. Despite the fact that that charter is on the statute book, it seems that not all victims are being afforded those key entitlements. Failure to comply with the code of practice does not in itself make a person liable to criminal or civil proceedings. The Scottish Government take the protection and support of victims of crime seriously. The Scottish National party has long recognised the need to provide the right information and, crucially, the right support to those affected by crime. That plays a key part in a modern justice system that is fair, accessible, and efficient for everyone.
The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 introduced various measures to protect and enhance the rights of victims, and it focused on providing direct assistance and information to those who experience a crime. It included new rights for victims to access information about their case, and the publication of standards of services by justice organisations. The victims code for Scotland sets out the rights and entitlements that someone can expect. Those rights are statutory, and the code sets out the minimum standard of service that someone should expect, and explains how they will be treated by criminal justice organisations. The Scottish Government recently published “Guidance for the Delivery of Restorative Justice in Scotland”, which outlines the process that allows victims the opportunity to communicate the impact of crime on their lives, in the hope that they will regain some control.
We are debating the rights of victims but—with apologies, Mrs Main—there is one issue we have not mentioned: Brexit. Currently, the UK Government have signed up to the 2012 EU directive that deals with rights, support for and protection of victims of crime. The directive aims to ensure that a consistent level of legal and emotional support is offered to victims, helping them to be fully involved in criminal justice proceedings. Thus far, the Government have failed to provide assurances that those common standards of legal and practical support will continue post-Brexit, but the UK can act unilaterally and ensure that those rights continue. We do not want a diminution of standards in the protection offered to victims in England, Wales, or anywhere else in the UK. Will the Minister confirm whether the UK will continue to participate in the 2012 directive, or make arrangements to ensure that those rights continue?
Victims’ rights should be placed at the heart of any justice system that works for all, but we must do more to support them. The Government have a duty to ensure that victims are provided with the maximum level of support and help during that traumatic period. The various legal jurisdictions in the UK can be rightly proud of their judicial history—indeed, much of the legal world looks up to our systems. However, there are warning signs in England and Wales. A modern justice system relies on being fair and accessible to all, and that includes supporting victims, so that they can play their full part in the pursuit of justice. The UK Government must step up to the mark to ensure that they get it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Main, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Alex Sobel on securing this debate. We have heard the varying experiences of victims of crime discussed from many different angles, but if I had to single out one contribution, I would say that the remarkable speech by Lucy Allan should not go unnoted.
All the speakers focused on one point: too often, victims are still the forgotten voice in the criminal justice system. We are rightly proud of checks and balances in our legal system that prevent innocent people from being convicted, but for the victim it can often feel as if their rights are an afterthought compared with the rights of the perpetrator. No victim of serious crime should ever feel that they are battling to be believed, yet that is still the experience of far too many people who have the courage to come forward. Victims often talk about feeling like an afterthought; they are not kept informed of key decisions about the case, or they are not given a sufficient explanation for why a case is not being taken forward. If they manage to get their case to court, the distress does not stop; instead, victims can face a repeat of the original trauma. They may be forced to face the perpetrator in court, and in some instances they are even cross-examined by them, reliving every detail of the crime. Victims do not want their rights to be put above those of the accused; they simply want fairness. Despite progress, our system is still re-victimising the vulnerable, and deterring victims from coming forward and seeking justice.
Now for the politics. The 2015 Conservative manifesto adopted the recommendations of Labour’s victims’ taskforce, and promised victims that a Conservative Government would deliver
“a new Victims’
Law that will enshrine key rights for victims”
That was three years ago. In the 2015 Queen’s Speech, the Government again promised to introduce legislation,
“putting the key entitlements of the Victims’
Code in primary legislation.”
Victims waited, but no legislation came. Twelve months later, in the next Queen’s Speech, there was no mention of a victims’ law—apparently that was no longer a priority for Government. My right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer tabled an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill and sought to put the key elements of the victims code in law. Ministers blocked those amendments, promising instead to produce their own strategy for victims “within 12 months”. Well, it has now been 12 months, so last month I asked the Minister where the strategy was, and I was told that it would come “after Easter”. We now hear that it could be more like summer before any recommendations are published.
Victims have waited long enough. As other hon. Friends have asked, where is the victims’ law that was promised by the Conservative Government in 2015? Why has it taken three years? Victims who have been let down time and again by the system feel that they are being let down again by this delay.
In office, the Labour Government introduced the victims code, setting out for the first time the rights of victims within our criminal justice system. It is now time to provide that code with legal teeth. Labour is fully committed to introducing a stand-alone victims’ law that would put the key elements of the victims code into primary legislation. Will the Minister confirm the Government’s intentions? Are they still committed to introducing a stand-alone piece of legislation—a victims’ law? Without power to enforce the victims code in law, it is left to the police, prosecutors, courts, and parole boards to monitor how well they comply with the code.
The Government do not collect data on the experiences of victims in the criminal justice system, or on how the code is being implemented. Last month I asked the Minister how many breaches of the victims code there had been in the last four years, and I was told that that is not monitored. I asked how long it takes for victims to receive the compensation they have been awarded—Victim Support estimates that some £17.5 million in compensation was not paid within one year of a compensation order being made—and again I was told that the Government do not monitor that. I asked how many victims of domestic violence have been cross-examined in court by the perpetrator, and again the Minister responded that the Government do not hold such information. Ministers say that victims’ rights are a priority for them, but how can that be if the Government do not even know whether the victims code is being enforced?
Victim Support can provide some of the answers. It surveyed almost 400 victims and found that asking the criminal justice system to mark its own homework when upholding the victims code leads to victims being let down at each stage of the process. The research found that six in 10 victims surveyed did not receive their rights under the code. Does the Minister agree that it is time that that was effectively monitored and upheld? We cannot simply rely on victims being aware of their rights under the code. Does the Minister agree with the Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove, who recently said:
“Why should victims always have to be fighting their corner? That’s why we need a victims’
Time and time again victims speak of the importance of having their voice heard in the process, being able to address the court directly and to contribute to parole board decisions, but fewer than half of all eligible victims have opted in to the victim contact scheme that ensures that victims are kept up to date on their case and allows them to make statements before sentencing and parole. Presumably, many victims do not even know that such a scheme exists. More than half of victims surveyed by Victim Support were not offered the chance to make a victim personal statement.
The failure to inform the victims of John Worboys about the decision to release him on parole is the most recent and serious example of the way that victims’ views are neglected and ignored by our criminal justice system. It took a public outcry and the tenacity of the victims themselves to ensure that they were contacted for consultation on the terms of his release.
Thank you, Mrs Main, I will do that.
Another key pillar of the victims code is the right to review a decision by the police or Crown Prosecution Service, such as a decision not to prosecute. I asked the Government what proportion of qualifying victims go as far as requesting a review of a decision, and I was told it happens in less than 2% of cases. Either 98% of victims are happy with decisions taken by police and prosecutors, or they are simply unaware of or unable to access that right. Last year the Government blocked Labour attempts to enshrine the right to a review in law, and to make it legally enforceable and monitored. Will the Minister confirm whether the long-awaited victims strategy will seek finally to place that right in law?
This issue does not matter only for victims. The experience of reporting a crime and going through the court process is actively deterring many people from coming forward or pursuing their case, and that is particularly serious for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Victims of sexual or domestic violence still lack the confidence to report an attack. They fear the ordeal that they might face in the courtroom, including coming face to face with their abuser and being forced to relive every detail of the ordeal in front of the courts, often cross-examined as if they were the one on trial. We therefore welcome the recent announcement of a consultation on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill and the Government’s consideration of extending to victims of domestic abuse special provisions, such as separate entrances and exits, screens and video links, which are currently available to victims of sexual violence. It is critical, however, that that is not only for the criminal courts; they must also be available in the family courts.
Last year, we uncovered figures showing that, since the Government’s cuts to legal aid, the number of victims of domestic violence representing themselves against their abusers in the family courts has more than doubled. Victims are facing the prospect not only of having to represent themselves, but of being cross-examined by their abuser in court. Women’s Aid has found that more than half of the domestic abuse victims it surveyed had no access to special measures and more than a third were verbally or physically abused by their former partner in the family courts. Will the Minister confirm that the Government’s plans to extend special court provisions to victims of domestic abuse will extend to the family courts as well?
I will end with a quote from Claire Waxman, the new London Victims’ Commissioner appointed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan. She summed up her own experience of the criminal justice system, saying:
“I naively believed the system was there to help victims, instead it compounds their trauma. It placed the rights of my stalker above my rights to be protected”.
Such stories are all too familiar. It is time that the Government fulfilled their promise and gave us a victims’ law.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. It has been a pleasure to hear all the contributions this afternoon, especially that of my hon. Friend Lucy Allan. I hope I can go some way to answer all the questions, including the battery of questions that the shadow Minister just posed. If I do not answer the questions appropriately, hon. Members will get correspondence following the debate.
I thank Alex Sobel for securing this debate on the rights of victims of crime. It is particularly timely given the recent focus on such matters in a number of high-profile cases. I know through my own personal experience of meeting victims of crime, speaking with support organisations and meeting many of the hon. Members present, exactly how important such rights are in the lives of victims. I am therefore grateful for the opportunity to discuss them with you today.
Victims’ rights are now a fundamental part of our justice system, and ensuring that victims receive the rights they are entitled to is a priority for this Government. That is essential if we are to enable victims to cope with and recover from crime. We must also continue to drive improvement in the broader experience of victims, which involves ensuring that criminal justice agencies provide victims with a service appropriate to their needs and respectful of them as individuals. That also requires focus on the wider performance of agencies. Victims want cases to be well managed and dealt with swiftly. Beyond the criminal justice agencies, it is important that victim support services are in a position to offer victims the sorts of support they may need to aid their long-term recovery.
Turning to the current framework of victims’ rights, we look first to the statutory victims code, which does two fundamentally important things. First, it sets out for victims exactly what they are entitled to receive from the criminal justice system. Secondly, it makes clear to the criminal justice agencies the services that they are expected to provide.
The Government want to make sure that the entitlements in the code keep pace with the changing needs of victims. After publicly consulting on the proposed changes, we revised the victims code in 2015. The revised code transposes part of the EU victims directive, which lays down the minimum standards of support that member states must provide to victims of crime.
The 2015 revision of the code broadened the definition of a victim so that victims of all criminal offences are entitled to receive support and information under the code. It also required relevant agencies outside the core criminal justice system that provide services to victims of crime to apply the victims code. Most crimes are dealt with by the police and Crown Prosecution Service, but there are other organisations with powers to investigate and prosecute. Finally, the revision entitled all victims who report a crime to receive a written acknowledgment, stating the basic elements of the criminal offence concerned.
As important as the code is, it will only deliver for victims if criminal justice agencies give effect to it on the ground. Victims’ rights must be a practical reality within the justice system, rather than just words on a page. This Government are committed to ensuring that the rights of victims are delivered throughout the criminal justice process. We have done that by improving the practical support on offer for vulnerable and intimidated victims of crime, such as protective screens in court and a video link, to ensure they are able to give their best evidence and to reduce the anxiety caused. We want to help victims provide evidence in a way that will prevent retraumatisation.
We are also determined to make the process of attending court less daunting for victims. We have established model waiting rooms at five sites in England and Wales, and are using them, and the results of a detailed audit of facilities for victims in all criminal courts, to provide the template for nationwide improvements.
More widely, we have radically transformed the way support services are delivered to victims to ensure that they reflect the needs of victims in local areas. Following consultation, the Government empowered police and crime commissioners to deliver services tailored to the needs of victims in their areas. We are allocating about £68 million to police and crime commissioners this year to provide emotional and practical support services for victims of crime.
Our enduring commitment to victims has seen the wider victim support services budget increase significantly from around £50 million in 2012-13 to around £96 million in the current financial year. The direct benefit to victims of our support can be seen in the services now available for victims of sexual violence. Since 2010, central Government funding has enabled 15 new rape support centres to open. There are now 89 centres that the Government support directly. The centres provide counselling, support and advocacy to help victims—men and women, boys and girls—recover, as far as possible, from the effect of those terrible crimes. As part of the violence against women and girls 2020 strategy, we have made a commitment to maintain funding for rape support services at 2016-17 levels for the remainder of the spending review period.
We also know that when someone is the victim of, or bereaved by, the most traumatic crimes, they will need support from enhanced services. This year, we are providing just over £3 million to support families bereaved by murder or manslaughter. The Government have also provided specific funding to meet the needs of the victims of large-scale crimes, as we did following last year’s appalling attacks in Manchester and London.
Victims also have the right to apply for compensation under the criminal injuries compensation scheme if they are victims of violent crime. I sympathise deeply with anyone who has been caused injury by such a crime and we are determined to make sure that every victim gets the compensation to which they are entitled. To that end, in 2016-17, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, which administers the scheme independently of Government, paid out around £143 million in compensation to victims of violent crime.
Despite all that has been achieved in recent years, we must never stop endeavouring to deliver support to victims more effectively. The challenge is ongoing—the needs of victims change over time, and crime itself evolves. As well as considering the development of victims’ entitlements, we need to ensure that agencies deliver those entitlements that are already in place. That is why we are exploring ways to strengthen victims’ rights through the victims strategy, which we will publish by the summer of 2018. It will consider how compliance with the entitlements in the victims code might be improved and better monitored.
We are also examining how criminal justice agencies responsible for delivery of entitlements might be better held to account. We are currently considering the legislative and non-legislative routes to delivering effective compliance for victims, and we are engaging widely as we develop the strategy, to make certain that the needs of victims are properly considered. As part of that work, we are exploring how victim support services can better reflect the changing nature of crime. Although the crime survey of England and Wales shows considerable falls in overall estimated crime, police recorded crime for violence against the person offences has increased 20%. For sexual offences, it has increased by 23%. Those figures give a valuable insight into the changing caseload of the police. It is important that the services we provide reflect those changes, in order that the police are best able to help victims to cope and recover. We must keep the whole criminal justice process in mind, end to end. The issues raised in the Worboys case highlight that point. In the light of those issues, the Justice Secretary has ordered a review of parole processes, transparency and engagement with victims. A crucial part of that involves considering how we can better support and empower victims going through parole processes. We will bring forward proposals in that area shortly.
We are also looking to address the needs of victims who have to engage with other parts of the justice system. We accept that the family and civil courts can learn valuable lessons from the progress that has been made in criminal justice. We are working closely with senior judges and relevant agencies to consider how best to improve support and protections in other parts of the system. As recently as November 2017, new court rules were introduced requiring family courts to consider whether someone involved in proceedings is vulnerable, and if so, take steps to enable them to participate or give evidence.
Just last week, on International Women’s Day, the Government launched a consultation on domestic abuse. We want to hear people’s experiences to ensure that the system reflects victims’ needs. We hope to hear from a wide range of stakeholders, including survivors of domestic abuse and the organisations that support them. The consultation will shape our response to this terrible crime, which affects some 2 million victims each year. In addition to introducing a domestic violence and abuse Bill, we want to ensure a comprehensive response that not only involves all parts of Government, but builds on charities’ expertise. That is one reason why we have committed to invest a further £20 million in frontline groups.
We heard from a number of colleagues this afternoon, including my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, Emma Hardy, my hon. Friend Robert Neill, Jim Shannon, my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd, and the Opposition spokespeople, the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero). There were also interventions from my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight, Sarah Champion, my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis and Dr Huq.
The hon. Member for Leeds North West mentioned the victims of terrorism. The unit sits with the Home Office, but the funding sits with us—the complexity of the Government is always somewhat beyond me. The Government are committed to ensuring that victims of recent terrorist attacks receive the help and support they need. This year, we are providing £3.1 million for the homicide service, which supports those bereaved by murder or manslaughter, including terrorist attacks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay mentioned restorative justice, in which I am a strong believer. One of the reasons I am going to Brighton on Thursday afternoon is to support the work of the Restorative Justice Council. He also mentioned domestic abuse. As I said, dealing with domestic abuse is a key priority for the Government. I am very pleased about that and am proud to be playing my small part in it, not least because I have had a number of patients in the past who suffered from that dreadful crime.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle talked about victims of antisocial behaviour. I suspect that that issue blights every single constituency in the country. She also mentioned some awful cases of hate crime. I share her abhorrence of such crimes.
I am flattered that the Chair of the Justice Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, has joined us. He always makes fantastic contributions based on his deep knowledge of the area. He mentioned a series of issues—in particular the registered intermediaries scheme, which actually sits with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer. It is a vital part of supporting vulnerable victims and witnesses when they give evidence. We are currently recruiting more intermediaries, improving the training available to them and working closely with the police and prosecutors to ensure that witnesses are matched to an intermediary as swiftly as possible.
My hon. Friend also spoke about courts. He is aware of section 28 and our pre-trial evidence measures for vulnerable victims who do not want to go through the court process. He also mentioned restorative justice and the need for a victims’ law. I hope I have assured him and others, including the hon. Member for Ashfield, about the victims’ law. There is no backtracking from our commitment. My understanding is that we will have some form of legislative underpinning of the victims code. The detail is yet to be fully worked through, but it will be in the strategy that will be published by the summer.
The hon. Member for Strangford spoke passionately—particularly about victims of terrorism. He always speaks well in such debates, sadly drawing on his recent experience of the troubles. He should be listened to carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Telford made a memorable speech. I think child sexual abuse is the worst of all crimes. Her sterling work and her obvious passion in that area is to be commended. In my nine-year tenure in university, one of my theses—I think it was in about 1992—was on the psychology of the child sex offender. I remember that in 1992 I was sceptical about the academic literature’s claims about the incidence of physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children in our society. Sadly, it turned out to be more accurate than I could ever have imagined. The independent inquiry on child sex abuse is now encountering the scale of the problem. The Government recognise that the inquiry is going to take a long time. If there are incidents where we can intervene to try to prevent sexual exploitation, we should. It is notable that two women made speeches on that issue, and the hon. Member for Rotherham made an intervention. Having strong women in this space is a good thing. We must empower women in the communities where sexual exploitation is taking place. If those women see strong women in action, they will step forward and offer the leadership that is desperately required.
The hon. Member for Rochdale is well-known to have deep experience of criminal justice, and I respect him for that. He mentioned restorative justice. I agree with him about the importance of high-quality training, which is why I am supporting the Restorative Justice Council’s work as much as possible. He mentioned the failure of prosecution, which sits outside my brief, but his comments were well made.
Finally—I have managed to get to the end in the required time—I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North West for organising the debate and all hon. Members for their outstanding contributions. I hope we can work across the House and beyond as we continue our efforts to support the victims of crime.
I thank all hon. Members who took part in the debate. There were many notable contributions. The hon. Members for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), and my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd all spoke about restorative justice. I thank the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst for asking for a statutory right to access restorative justice. That is hugely important, and I fully support that call. Jim Shannon supported my call for a new victims’ law. My hon. Friend Emma Hardy asked for statutory youth provision. My hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle supported that proposal and is leading the fight for it.
I pay particular tribute to Lucy Allan, who raised the issue of child sexual exploitation. She bravely raised publicly the particular issues in Telford. I support her call for an independent investigation inquiry into Telford. She is surely on the side of the righteous in taking that issue forward. The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Gloria De Piero, made some excellent points.
The need for a victims’ law is irrefutable. I was disappointed by the Minister’s response. He talked about physical measures, such as protective screens and video links, and £68 million of additional funding. They are welcome but not sufficient. We continually talk about a victims’ law but do not enact it, although it has been in two manifestos and the Queen’s Speech. Now is the time to move forward and set out the legislative underpinning we need for a victims’ law.
I was disappointed that the Minister did not seem to listen to the issues I raised about my constituent who, nine months since the Manchester bombing, still has not had support. The Minister suggested that that was perhaps partly due to the fact that the issue fell between the stools of two Departments. I hope those Departments get together to ensure that victims are supported.
I thank the Minister. I surely will write to him on behalf of my constituent.
Let us move forward. Let us work together to try to get a victims’ law on the statute book.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the rights of victims of crime.