Recommendations on a victims’ law
It was a pretty illustrious trio who led the Victims’ Taskforce which reported earlier this week (24 February 2015): Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Peter Neyroud (previously Chief of the NPIA and Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police) and Sir Keir Starmer (former Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the CPS).
Prioritising victims has become as much a criminal justice political battleground over the last five years as the need to be seen to be toughest on crime with all the main political parties vying to be seen as the one which puts “victims at the centre of the justice system.” You can see the current government’s pledges summarised in this post.
The Victims’ Taskforce was commissioned by the Labour Party, reporting to Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan.
Written submissions to the Taskforce were received from “over 50” organisations, individual victims and their families. There were also a number of roundtable discussions with “interested, experienced and respected individuals and bodies with practical knowledge of victims’ issues” and separate interviews with key agencies and experts.
The task force set out to conduct an end-to-end review of the criminal justice process from a victim perspective and made the following conclusions:
- There needs to be a cultural shift in thinking on victims’ rights, which will only happen if they are enshrined in a Victims’ Law.
- The focus for a Victims’ Law should be on access to justice – increasing victims’ confidence in coming forward and supporting them when they do, rather than on giving victims more say on the length of their perpetrator’s sentence.
- The role of the Victims’ Commissioner needs to be strengthened with a more powerful oversight capability.
- Victims’ rights should not be developed at the expense of defendants’ rights.
- The criminal justice system should be transformed into a criminal justice service fit for all – including victims.
Some of the recommendations are rather dull and bureaucratic and relate to annual Area Victims’ Plans and a statutory requirement on the Victims’ Commissioner to publish all findings of breaches of the Victims’ Code.
However, others are stronger and would potentially bring about real change:
- A mandatory duty on those working with children within a “regulated activity” to report suspected child abuse – backed up by criminal sanctions for failure to do so.
- A legally entrenched victim’s right to have a review of any decision by police or prosecutors not to bring criminal charges.
- A statutory duty for judges to hold “ground rules” hearings before a trial starts to control the way vulnerable victims and witnesses are treated in court.
- Victims of personal and sexual violence to be allowed to report these crimes to places other than a police station, such as Sexual Assault Referral Centres and other more victim friendly places, designated on an area by area basis.
I am not clear how this last recommendation will be put into practice. However, I hope a way can be found because a recent joint statistical bulletin published by the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Office of National Statistics on “An overview of sexual offending in England and Wales” found that only 15 per cent of female victims said that they had reported the most recent sexual offence they had been victim of to the police.
If the Labour Party is in government this May, it will be interesting to see if they implement all the recommendations in this report.