For most people in this country, the criminal justice system may be something of a mystery. Many will never come into contact with it. For those who do, often it will be because they themselves have been the victim of a crime. All too often, they are left picking up the pieces after their ordeal – physically, emotionally, and financially.
Since being appointed to my role as Minister for Victims, I have made it a priority to get out and talk to those affected. Their message is clear: they want to be treated with dignity, humanity, and compassion; they want clear, timely, and accurate information about what is happening with their cases from day one; and they want the opportunity and support to make their voices heard throughout the process. Someone who is a victim of crime should not then become a victim of the process that follows.
This first-ever cross-government Victims Strategy reflects our clear commitment to victims. It is about supporting victims to speak up by giving them the certainty that they will be understood, protected, and supported throughout their journey, regardless of their circumstances or background. It will by no means be a quick fix. However, the measures contained within it will make a real difference for victims.
First, we want to strengthen the Victims’ Code and make it fit for the future. Current figures demonstrate that fewer than 20 per cent of victims are aware of the Code and those who are often find it too lengthy and too confusing, with too many agencies involved.
So, we are revising the Code, making it more user friendly, reducing contact points, strengthening entitlements in key areas such as the Victim Personal Statement, and giving support for victims of offenders whose mental illness contributed to their crime. Our intention is to test the proposed changes in a public consultation next year.
We have also reaffirmed our commitment to a Victims’ Law. We will consult on how best to enshrine victims’ entitlements in the law, the details of legislation, and explore how we can increase the power of the Victims’ Commissioner to better hold the system to account. The strategy also sets out extra funding for specialist support to meet the needs of victims of particularly pernicious crimes which are on the rise, such as violent assaults and sexual and domestic abuse.The reality is that the nature of crime is changing and we must ensure that the support which victims receive, including compensation, evolves to reflect this. We will be reviewing the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, with a particular focus on how we treat the victims of child sexual abuse and terrorism. We will also abolish the arbitrary and unfair ‘same roof rule’ so that victims can receive the compensation they are rightly due.
Recent history has seen too many failures to properly support those affected by disasters. That is why we have already launched a consultation on the establishment of an Independent Public Advocate for bereaved families, so that those failures cannot be repeated and we can properly support victims and their families from the beginning of a disaster throughout the nvestigatory process and beyond, to ensure that their voices are heard.We know that good communication is key to supporting people as their case makes its way through the justice system. We are listening to victims and will continue to do so, including explaining implications at each stage for them and for offenders, decisions not to prosecute, and the right to review police and Crown Prosecution Service decisions. We will also review and consider further extension of the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme so that a wider range of sentences can be challenged if victims or the public think the punishment does not match the severity of the crime.
And in the aftermath of a trial, timely communication that takes account of the sensitivities behind each crime and case is crucial. We recognise that that is especially true during the parole process. Alongside our review of parole, we will also allow more victims to deliver their Victim Personal Statements at parole hearings and are rolling out revised training for Victim Liaison Officers, so that they are better equipped and prepared to support victims during this time.
This is an ambitious strategy, but it is also a necessary strategy. It is the first time that we have looked in such detail and in such a joined-up way at how we support victims in the wake of crime. We are determined to build on the significant progress that has already been made in recent years in the support offered to victims of crime, and this strategy and the measures it contains reflects another significant step forward on that journey.