Written evidence from the Hundred families charity
Hundredfamilies.org is a national charity supporting families who have lost loved ones as a result of killings by people with serious mental illness. We also work with the NHS, Ministry of Justice, devolved governments, Victims’ Commissioners, and others to improve services and to prevent further tragedies (link).
There are around 100 – 120 such cases in the United Kingdom each year (link). Proportionally, the number of mental health related homicides has been increasing in recent years (link).
We have a number of comments and concerns about the draft Victims Bill and welcome the opportunity to submit written evidence to you.
A. The Bill’s definition of Victim
- We believe the Bill’s definition of victim is too narrow and should be widened.
In Clause 1 the draft Bill defines a victim as “a person who has suffered harm as a direct result of a) being subject to, or, b) witnessing, criminal conduct.” (link).
- By this definition someone, say, who had their bag snatched would be considered a victim of crime, whereas a parent whose child was murdered would not.
This definition fails to recognise the families of murder victims sufficiently clearly.
- The current Victims’ Code of Practice (2020) includes surviving family members in its definition of victims: “a close relative of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence.” (link);
as does the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime: “The term “victim” also includes, where appropriate, the immediate family or dependants of the direct victim.” (link);
as well as the Council of Europe’s European Convention on the Compensation of Victims of Violent Crimes includes: “the dependants of persons who have died as a result of such crime.” (link);
And the European Parliament’s Directive Establishing Minimum Standards On The Rights, Support And Protection Of Victims Of Crime includes in its definition: “family members of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence and who have suffered harm as a result of that person's death.” (link).
- We suggest that where someone has died the definition of ‘victim’ in the Bill should include surviving family members.
We have seen no evidence why victims should be defined more narrowly In England and Wales than they are in other jurisdictions.
B. Victims of mentally disordered offenders are not included in the Bill.
- Although the consultation paper discussed some limited improvements for victims of mentally disordered offenders, there is no provision for them in the current draft Bill.
- This is a matter of fairness. Victims of mentally disordered offenders who have committed very serious crimes do not enjoy the same rights and entitlements that victims of non-mentally disordered offenders do.
- If a non-mentally disordered offender commits a serious crime and is being considered for release, their victims have a right to make a victim personal statement to the Parole Board (link), they can apply to attend the hearing (link), receive the reasons for the decision (link), and have the opportunity to challenge the decision (link).
- If a mentally disordered offender commits a very serious crime and is being considered for release by the First Tier Tribunal (mental health), their victims can do none of those things.
- Although the killing will have had a profound and devastating effect on the victims’ families, they are not considered ‘interested parties’ by the Tribunal (link). Although they are allowed to participate in other jurisdictions (e.g. Scotland (link) and Queensland, Australia (link)).
- Following the Victim Commissioners’ report on victims of mentally disordered offenders (link) we have been working with her to secure equivalent rights for victims at First Tier Tribunals to those enjoyed by other victims at the Parole Board.
- However we have been told by the Ministry of Justice that such a change would necessitate a change in legislation (reference available).
- We suggest this Bill is the obvious place to make the necessary legislative change required to make a level playing field for victims of mentally disordered offenders at Tribunals that similar victims of serious offences enjoy at the Parole Board.
C. The duty of the NHS to provide services for victims.
- We suggest the Bill should clarify the role of the NHS in providing services to victims. There are two main reasons.
- Firstly – many victims of serious offences experience considerable difficulty in obtaining timely, effective, and appropriate trauma-informed care from the NHS to help them cope and recover. Often they do not receive any such assistance at all.
- We have had several cases where patients of mental health trusts have killed others (often their own family members) where the trust has effectively ignored the psychological needs of bereaved victims.
- Alternatively, if there has been contact, many families are just told to see their GP and go to the back of a queue for some generic cognitive behavioural therapy, many months in the future. Such an attitude we suggest, is not victim focussed and does not place bereaved families at the heart of the process.
- Secondly – NHS Trusts do not provide information to victims of mentally disordered offenders to help them cope and recover as required by the Victims Code of practice
- Mentally disordered offenders who commit serious crimes are typically detained in secure psychiatric hospitals run by NHS mental health trusts.
- Although the Victims’ code recognises the vital need for victims access to information, when an offender convicted of serious violence is detained in hospital this information is often withheld from victims - out of consideration of the offenders’ interests. Many families find this unfair and unjust.
- Our understanding is the law recognises the balance between patient confidentiality and the public’s right to know, and particularly whether appropriate decisions are being made about people who have in the past been extremely dangerous when unwell.
- There is a brief mention of NHS integrated care boards as a ‘relevant authority’ (Clause 7 (1) (b)) but their duties and responsibilities to victims are not made at all clear in the draft Bill.
D. Lack of effective measures to address non-compliance
- Clause 4 of the draft Bill describes the effect of non-compliance with the Victims code (link):
“If a person fails to perform a duty imposed on that person by a code issued under section 2, the failure does not of itself make that person liable to criminal or civil proceedings,” and
“But the code is admissible in evidence in criminal or civil proceedings and a court may take into account a failure to comply with the code in determining a question in the proceedings.”
- This implies that if any agency fails to deliver designated services, the only method for the victims to ensure compliance is by taking legal action. For many victims this will be impossible – as they won’t have the knowledge or funds to take on a case.
- Compliance with the requirements of the victims’ code should not depend on speculative legal action undertaken by bereaved and traumatised families.
- In our view the Bill should set out clear sanctions for non-compliance with the Victims’ Code, otherwise we fear some agencies will ignore it at will.
We say the Bill needs some teeth.
E. Need for national remit on compliance
- The Bill (Clause 5 (1)) suggests that elected local policing bodies keep under review agencies’ compliance with their duties under the Victims Code.
- From our experience with the NHS, where there are local investigations after serious incidents, evidence suggests there can be a lack of effective national oversight, review and knowledge, which can mean that best practice and learning is not shared sufficiently well nationally (link).
- This means avoidable errors keep re-occurring, sometimes with serious consequences.
- We suggest the Bill should establish national oversight of compliance with the Victims’ Code of Practice, and that the Victims’ Commissioner is best placed to fulfil this role.
F. Legal Aid for bereaved families at Inquests
- Many of our families struggle to obtain legal representation at Inquests, when all the state agencies appear to have unlimited access to extensive legal representation (paid for out of public funds) We know the Justice Committee has reported on this before (link).
- We suggest the Victims Bill should include public funding for legal representation for bereaved families at all Inquests where agencies of the state are legally represented.
- The draft Bill currently does not include this proposal. We suggest it would be enormously beneficial to victims if this was included in the legislation.
Registered Charity: 1161287