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Draft Victims Bill won’t achieve Government’s aims, says Justice Committee

30 September 2022

The Justice Committee today (30 September) publishes a report on its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Government’s draft Victims Bill, finding that it will have limited effect on police and other agencies’ delivery of victims’ rights. 

The cross-party Committee points to flaws in the way “victims” are defined, a lack of enforcement powers, and the need for additional resources for the Bill’s proposals to be effective, particularly around victim liaison and counselling. It also finds that the sharing of victims’ immigration status by the police with the Home Office acts as a barrier to justice and calls for the practice to end. 

Through the draft Bill the Government seeks to improve the police, CPS and Prison and Probation Service’s compliance with the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (the Victims’ Code). The Bill would place four ‘overarching principles’ of the Code into statute. The Committee finds that the principles are so “broad and permissive that it is unclear if they will serve any legal purpose” and would do little to improve agencies’ compliance with the Code. 

The draft Bill will also change the mechanisms for oversight of the delivery of the Code, enhancing the role of PCCs while diminishing that of the Victims’ Commissioner. While the Committee welcomes the introduction of local monitoring through the PCCs, it recommends that Victims’ Commissioner’s role should instead be strengthened. 

The report also welcomes the recognition given to Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) and Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs), but urges ministers to find additional funding to meet demand and allow the Victims Bill to live up to its ambitions. 

Chair's comment 

Justice Committee Chair Sir Bob Neill MP said: 

“The draft Bill’s aim to improve the criminal justice system’s  treatment of victims is laudable, but the Government must provide new funding to make it all possible. If not, the police, CPS and Probation Service will be forced to divert funds away from their core functions. 

“The definition of a victim must be explained in more detail, particularly where it includes witnesses without any mention of how badly said witness has been affected. It can’t be the Government’s intention that a witness to petty theft should have more rights under this legislation than a murder victim’s next of kin. 

“The draft Bill comes amid a backdrop of significant and growing court backlogs with victims of crime too often waiting years for their cases to come to court, and criminal legal aid barristers turning away from the profession. The Government is taking steps in tackling those deep-rooted problems but until they are resolved victims will continue to suffer harm for too long.” 

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