To ask the Secretary of State for Justice pursuant to the answer of 9 July 2013, Official Report, column 220W
(1) on parole, how many people (a) were eligible to opt into and (b) did opt into the Probation Victim Contract Scheme in each of the last three years;
(2) on parole, what steps his Department takes to encourage eligible people to opt into the Probation Victim Contract Scheme;
(3) on prisoners' release, what steps he takes to inform victims of the scheme;
(4) on prisoners' release, how many people are eligible for the scheme; and how many people have contracted in to date.
Contact under the statutory probation victim contact scheme (VCS) is for victims of offenders who receive a sentence of imprisonment of 12 months or more or a hospital order for a violent or sexual offence. It provides victims with the opportunity to make representations about the offender's licence conditions on release, and also to receive information about key stages of the offender's sentence, such as if they are transferred to an open prison.
Eligible victims will be referred to probation trusts by joint police and Crown Prosecution Service witness care units after sentence, unless the victim does not want this. Probation trusts are required to contact eligible victims within eight weeks of sentence to offer access to the scheme. Victims who do not wish to opt in immediately are made aware that they can do so at any time during the offender's sentence.
The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has produced a leaflet on the VCS for witness care units to provide to eligible victims. NOMS has also worked with the CPS to update guidance to witness care units and remind their staff of the importance of identifying eligible victims and informing them about the VCS. Fresh guidance on the operation of the VCS is currently being produced and will be published in the autumn. Training opportunities for probation staff will also be increased.
Additionally, later this year the Government will publish a revised Victims' Code. This will clearly set out the support to which each victim is entitled throughout their involvement in the criminal justice system and where to go if they are not receiving this help. It will include information about the VCS, including how to opt in, and what information victims should receive about an offender's sentence. The Victims' Code aims to make victims the priority of the system, hold all those in the criminal justice system to account, and give victims a clearer means of redress if they are not given the support they need and deserve.
The Victims' Commissioner, Baroness Newlove, has also recently produced a report and recommendations on the VCS. The Government is considering these recommendations and will respond shortly.
It is important that NOMS ensures victims who are eligible are provided with all the information to help them make an informed choice. However, it would not be appropriate to encourage victims, who have suffered so much, to opt in, as it must be their choice. Some victims, understandably, do not wish to be provided with information about the offender.
Figures about the number of victims who are eligible to receive contact under the VCS or have opted in to it are held locally by individual probation trusts and to collect them would incur disproportionate costs.