Written evidence from Professor Pamela Cox and Dr Ruth Lamont
Submitted 10 June 2022
Professor Pamela Cox is Professor of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Essex. She was principal investigator for an ESRC-funded project on Victims’ Access to Justice, and lead author of a 2020 report on the Constitutional Powers of the Victims’ Commissioner for the Office of the Victims’ Commissioner.
Dr Ruth Lamont is Reader in Law at the University of Manchester. She was a co-investigator on the above project and a co-author of the above report.
1. Purpose of submitting evidence
We are submitting this evidence to recommend six changes in the Victims’ Bill to secure the systemic embedding of routes of accountability and reporting of compliance in relation to victims’ services and the Victims’ Code across the criminal justice system.
The Victims Bill is a culmination of policy and legislative activity from the early 1990s aimed at encouraging participation and support for victims within the adversarial criminal justice system, where complainants normally report offences to state agencies to pursue prosecution on their behalf. Increasing accountability of agencies and support of victims through the criminal justice process has been the aim of several policy and statutory interventions, notably the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 which created the Victims’ Commissioner and a formal procedure for the creation of a Victims’ Code of Practice by the Secretary of State for Justice, setting out information and services victims are entitled to receive in England and Wales. Despite these and subsequent legal developments, our research findings show that many victims continue to struggle to engage with the criminal justice system and lack confidence in its performance.
2. Right of consultation on the Victims’ Code of Practice
We support the proposal within the Bill to embody the principles of the Victims’ Code into primary legislation and the specific regulations for its application. This will raise the status of the Code and provide a foundation for its application throughout the criminal justice system in primary law.
The draft of the Code would require consultation by the Secretary of State with the Attorney General (clause 3(3)). Under the proposed arrangements, the Victims’ Commissioner will not have direct input into the process of revising the Victims’ Code to reflect changing circumstances and need as Clause 11(2) removes the duty of the Victims’ Commissioner to keep the Code under review.
3. Powers of the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales
Compared to other key statutory Commissioners and Inspectorates, the Victims’ Commissioner of England and Wales lacks several key powers. This is addressed to an extent addressed by the Victims’ Bill through the requirement for the Victims’ Commissioner’s annual report to be laid before Parliament (Clause 11(2)) will improve awareness of issues raised by this reporting, and through Clause 11(3), requiring Ministers and other authorities to respond directly to Victim Commissioner’s recommendations is a notable improvement in accountability. In addition:
4. Effective implementation of the Victims Code via an effective Complaints process
Under the current arrangement, victims who wish to complain about their treatment have to direct their complaint to the specific agencies alleged to have failed in compliance with the existing Victims’ Code of Practice. Given that there are 28 separate agencies named in the Code as bearing some responsibility for victim-related provision, this arrangement is very difficult for victims to navigate.
There is no civil or criminal action for non-compliance with the Victims’ Code (Clause 4). This means that the primary method for ensuring compliance must be through an effective complaints process against the relevant authorities. The possibilities for legal action where the Code may be cited (Clause 4), is limited to actions in negligence for breaches of the positive obligations on the state to investigate and protect victims from harm (App.No. 23452/94 Osman v UK (2000) 29 EHRR 245).
5. Relevant background publications
Cox, P., Lamont, R., Sunkin, M. (2020), ‘Constitutional Powers of the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales’, Report Commissioned by the Office of the Victims’ Commissioner.
Impara, E., Cox, P. (2020). Aggregated Crime Survey for England and Wales, 1982-2017, with Access to Justice Focus. [data collection]. Office for National Statistics, [original data producer(s)]. Office for National Statistics. SN: 8716, DOI: 10.5255/UKDA-SN-8716-1. Available at UK Data Service
Cox, P. and Walklate, S. eds (2022 forthcoming), Victims’ Access to Justice: Historical and Comparative Perspectives. London: Routledge.