Written evidence from Local Government Association
1.1. The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically led, cross-party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales.
1.2. Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.
2.1. The Government’s commitment to improve the service and support victims receive - from the moment a crime is committed right the way through to their experience in the courtroom - is a positive step in the right direction. We hope the draft Victims Bill and wider non-legislative measures will help to improve victims’ confidence to report crimes and seek justice, and to support victims to rebuild their lives.
2.2. While action to improve victim support is essential and much needed, it is important that the legislation is accompanied by wider action to reduce crime and prevent people from becoming victims in the first place. This must be underpinned by investment in vital early intervention and prevention services and supported by a cross-Government approach.
2.3. Further clarity is needed on the proposed enhanced role of the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to review compliance with the Victims’ Code. In particular, clarity is needed on the proposal for the PCC to have responsibility to oversee youth offending teams and their compliance with the Code, and how that will work in practice.
2.4. The draft Victims’ Bill focuses on particular victim support services (domestic abuse, serious violence and sexual violence). It is important that victims of all crimes are supported effectively, but in relation to these specific crimes it is crucial that the Government ensures its various recent and forthcoming strategies, guidance, and legislation in this space work cohesively with the draft Victims’ Bill.
2.5. This should include the Part 4 statutory duty to deliver domestic abuse accommodation-based services outlined in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021; the forthcoming serious violence duty outlined in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, and the forthcoming Community Safety Partnership Review led by the Home Office. The Modern Slavery Bill, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech and aims to clarify in domestic law the support that victims of modern slavery are entitled to, should also be closely aligned with this Bill.
2.6. The draft Bill proposes that PCCs, health bodies and local authorities will be required to work together when commissioning support services for victims, with the intention of delivering a more joined-up support offer. Introducing new legislative duties will not automatically improve collaboration or partnership-working. Moreover, if this duty is not adequately funded, it will not be effective in practice. We believe that a locally-led approach, which provides areas with the flexibility and resources to identify local priorities and take action, is one of the most effective ways to improve collaboration and deliver on the priorities of the draft Bill.
2.7. The impact assessment for the Bill identifies funding for the duty to collaborate, however it does not consider the funding that will be needed to sustain and expand victim support services. For the Bill to achieve its ambitions, there needs to be long-term, streamlined Government funding for victim services and interventions.
2.8. Furthermore, the Bill focuses on the provision of community-based crisis support, which is aimed at victims who are already engaged with the criminal justice system. We need to ensure the experiences of all victims, not just those engaged with the criminal justice system, and the support services required to help them, are provided at an earlier point. Wider engagement with the full range of community-based support services, backed up by adequate investment in early-intervention and prevention services is needed.
2.9. We are concerned that in areas such as domestic abuse, there is a mismatch between the statutory responsibilities which are placed on councils and the fact that funding to support domestic abuse victim support services is typically routed through Police and Crime Commissioners. The introduction of Violence Reduction Units in some areas has created an additional vehicle for commissioning services that can sometimes be wholly separate to the work of local Community Safety Partnerships. It would be helpful for Government to allow local partnerships to re-design the structures for delivering their range of duties at the local level, to encourage collaboration and avoid duplication of work or leaving gaps.
2.10. It will be important to understand how the new Victims Funding Strategy will align with the proposals in the draft Victims Bill. Whilst the commitment to multi-year funding is welcome, it will also be important to have an accurate sense of the total amount required to fund community-based services. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s mapping work of community-based support services, when published, will be an important contribution to this work. A commitment from Government to streamline funding, rather than providing multiple-pots with differing criteria, would be welcome.
3.1. Clause 1 creates a definition of a victim for the purposes of the draft Victims’ Bill. The Bill defines a victim, as a person who has suffered harm as a direct result of (being subjected to; or witnessing) criminal conduct (conduct constituting an offence). Harm includes physical, mental or emotional harm, and economic loss.
3.2. It is helpful to have a Victim’s Code which sets out the services and a minimum standard for these services that must be provided to victims of crime by organisations.
3.3. It is important to acknowledge that many victims of crime will have suffered violence or abuse for a prolonged period of time before they seek help. On average high-risk victims live with domestic abuse for 2.3 years and domestic abuse victims will experience approximately 50 incidents of abuse before getting effective help. Many victims of domestic abuse or sexual offences, will feel unable to report the crime and may not have the confidence in agencies to help them. It is therefore important that that action to support victims after they come forward to access help, is matched with adequate early-interventions and preventative services to help victims escape their situation and give them the confidence to come forward.
3.4. There will also be victims of anti-social behaviour, who feel like their case is treated as “low-level” or less important than serious violent crime or wider criminal offences. It is important to state that all victims should be treated with respect, dignity, sensitivity, compassion and courtesy. Again, this reinforces the need to invest in early intervention and community-based support, which seeks to prevent the crime from occurring or escalating in the first place.
4.1. Clauses 2 to 4 of the draft Bill contain measures requiring the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice (Victims’ Code) on the standards of services that must be provided to victims of crime and set out the procedure for doing so.
4.2. It is certainly right that more is done to amplify victims’ voices in the criminal justice process and ensure victims are supported to rebuild their lives through accessible and professional services. It is our hope that efforts to strengthen the response to victims through the criminal justice system, will help to increase confidence in victims to report offences and seek justice.
4.3. Whilst these are integral principles, our ultimate ambition should be to prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place. So, it is important, that the introduction of a Victims’ Law is also accompanied by a wider commitment to prevent crime and invest in early intervention and prevention services. This must be a cross-Government approach, rather than a solely criminal justice-led issue.
4.4. It should be recognised that councils also bring prosecutions for criminal offences, predominantly under trading standards legislation. The Government took the decision not to include councils within the scope of the Code during an earlier consultation on it. We are seeking reassurance that the proposals here do not apply to council prosecutions and that councils will be able to continue to respond in a proportionate way to cases where the numbers of victims can be considerable.
5.1. The Government’s consultation response highlighted “the onus to ensure delivery of the Code’s entitlements should not be placed on victims who may not feel confident in challenging their treatment. Instead, the Code should place more clear requirements on listed agencies to ensure that victims are aware of and understand their entitlements”.
5.2. As we proposed in our consultation response, enhanced training and the dissemination of best practice could help to publicise the Victims’ Code with both frontline professionals and the public, to raise awareness of it.
5.3. Therefore, we support the Government’s commitment to develop a communications plan to ensure all criminal justice practitioners and all victims understand the level of service victims should receive at every step of their criminal justice journey. In particular, we welcome the Government’s commitment to take into account how to raise awareness among particular categories of victim, for example child victims.
6.1. Clauses 11 – 13 within the draft Bill contain further measures to enhance oversight of the services victims receive.
6.2. The draft Bill outlines three proposed changes to the Victims’ Commissioners role:
6.2.1. The Government will require the Victims’ Commissioner to lay their annual reports before Parliament.
6.2.2. The Government will require criminal justice agencies, as well as government departments, to respond to the Victims’ Commissioner’s annual report recommendations.
6.2.3. The Government will transfer the function of reviewing the operation of the Code from the Victims’ Commissioner to PCCs, to free up the Commissioners time and resources.
6.3. The Victims’ Commissioner role provides important leadership on issues affecting victims of crime. As outlined in the Victims’ Commissioner’s 2021 – 2022 strategy, the Commissioner is committed to ensuring victims are supported in coping and recovering from the impact of crime and they are empowered to play a full part in the criminal justice system of England and Wales.
6.4. We are supportive of the first two changes to the Victims’ Commissioner’s role outlined in the draft Bill. As we set out in our consultation response, we support the Victims’ Commissioner recommendation for their Annual Report to be submitted to Parliament. Greater Parliamentary time should also be allocated to consider the progress and implementation of the victims’ code and support the Commissioner in submitting an Annual Report. It could be beneficial for the Victims’ Commissioner’s report to be considered by a select committee, to ensure it receives adequate parliamentary attention.
6.5. We await further clarity on the third proposed change to the Commissioner’s role, to transfer the function of reviewing the operation of the code from the Victims’ Commissioner to PCCs. It will be important to understand how this is expected to work in practice, and whether this will mean PCCs have a responsibility for reviewing councils’ role in the operation of the code, given the new duty on councils and youth offending teams.
6.6. It would be helpful to understand the evidence base for transferring this function to PCCs. While there may be an advantage of this function being carried out by a local body, it is important to assess whether this role should sit with one directly elected individual and whether this will deliver the best outcomes. Given the importance of the issue, if PCC’s do gain responsibility for reviewing the operation of the Victim’s Code within their area, then it is vital that there is a process for independent scrutiny of this role and a form of national oversight.
6.7. The Victims’ Commissioner has an important role to play in facilitating learning and the sharing of information across different agencies to help implement changes at a national level. Dame Vera Baird QC has outlined the importance of gaining first-hand knowledge and understanding of victims’ services, to identify and actively promote examples of good practice and excellence. The LGA supports this approach, and we will continue to work closely with the Victims’ Commissioner, to help share best practice across local government and with partners. This works particularly well because there is a supportive and collaborative relationship between councils and the Commissioner’s office.
6.8. The Victims’ Commissioner has also identified the importance of regular contact with victims and practitioners of victims’ services, to help articulate a view of the criminal justice system from the perspective of victims and contribute to, review and challenge decisions taken by policy makers and those responsible for developing practice. If we want to see effective change, it is important we listen to the people who have lived these experiences and learn from them about what more can be done to improve the response to victims. This is a critical function of the Commissioner’s role.
6.9. The Commissioner should be able to make independent and impartial assessments of policy and practice and offer a perspective independent of government. The first Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland OBE, highlighted the importance of Commissioners having independence from Government as a key measure of success in the role.
6.10. It is positive that the Victims’ Commissioner and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner have been working collaboratively. For example, by helping to address important issues throughout passage of the Domestic Abuse Act and wider forms of legislation and guidance, such as the Violence Against Women and Girls strategy and the Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan. Both Commissioners have provided invaluable contributions on behalf of victims of crime and have been careful not to duplicate but to enhance one another’s roles.
7.1. Clause 5 of the Bill places a duty on specified criminal justice bodies within a police area (police, CPS, courts, prisons, probation and Youth Offending Teams (YOTS)) to keep under review their own compliance with the Code and enhance the role of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) by placing them under an overarching duty to keep under review the bodies’ compliance with the Victims’ Code.
7.2. Further clarity is needed on the proposed enhanced role of the Police and Crime Commissioners to review compliance with the Victims’ Code. In particular, clarity is needed on the proposal for the PCC to have responsibility to oversee youth offending teams and their compliance with the Code, and how that will work in practice.
7.3. Any proposed new data collections need to be developed in consultation with YOTs and wider partners to ensure that these are proportionate and genuinely contribute to improving outcomes.
8.1. We would support the expansion of the criteria used by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to include the criminal exploitation of under 18s, who are highly vulnerable. Currently, where a child or young person has an adult co-defendant, their case is heard in the crown court, without the adaptations and protections of youth court. In cases such as county-lines, this can result in children coming back into contact with criminal gangs who exploited them. It can also result in unintentionally positioning children as an equal member of the gang rather than a victim. It is important that existing practice and custom are reformed to ensure all children are treated as children throughout the criminal justice process.
9.1. Clause 6 – 10 of the draft Bill place a duty on specified authorities (including local authorities, Police and Crime Commissioners and Integrated Care Boards) to collaborate with each other when commissioning victim support services in order to facilitate more holistic and better coordinated victim support services.
9.2. The draft Bill identifies domestic abuse, sexual violence and serious violence as the three main areas of focus for victim support services, but councils and their partners may commission services that work across all these crime types and more. For many councils, the most pertinent form of serious violence locally will be domestic abuse. So, it is difficult to categorise one support service as “serious violent crime”, as that definition will vary from area to area. There will need to be clarity in the statutory guidance on this.
9.3. In particular, it will be challenging for councils to meet what is expected in the draft Victims Bill, alongside their current statutory duty to deliver accommodation-based support and services under the Domestic Abuse Act. The definitions of serious violent crime will need to also work cohesively with wider legislation and duties, to prevent duplication or multiple partnership arrangements commissioning the same services.
9.4. We are also concerned that in areas such as domestic abuse, there is a mismatch between the statutory responsibilities which are placed on councils and the fact that funding to support domestic abuse victim support services is typically routed through Police and Crime Commissioners. The introduction of Violence Reduction Units in some areas has created an additional vehicle for commissioning services that can sometimes be wholly separate to the work of local Community Safety Partnerships. It would be helpful for Government to allow local partnerships to re-design the structures for delivering their range of duties at the local level, to encourage collaboration and avoid duplication of work or leaving gaps.
9.5. With regards to commissioning, it is vital that there is greater investment in community-based support, including early intervention and prevention services, as well as investment and research into perpetrator programmes. The Violence Reduction Unit model should also be expanded to all police forces areas, backed by long-term and sustainable funding.
9.6. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office has outlined that the scale and prevalence of domestic abuse, as well as the impact of the pandemic means that the demand for services still far outstrips provision. Particularly of the most tailored, holistic forms of support to victims and survivors. A failure to invest in these services can lead to further long-term costs for the Government. When finalised, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s mapping work of community-based support services, will help to provide a more accurate sense of the total amount required to fund these services.
9.7. It is important to state that adding a legislative duty doesn’t automatically improve collaboration or partnership working. If it is not adequately funded, it will not be effective.
9.8. We believe that a sector-led approach, which provides local areas with the flexibility and resources to identify local priorities and take action, is one of the best ways to improve collaboration. For example, we support the voluntary approach of Violence Reduction Units (VRUs), which bring together different organisations, including the police, local government, health, community leaders and other key partners to tackle violent crime by understanding its root causes. The most recent VRU evaluation concluded that the VRU model ‘continues to make progress in implementing, and delivering on the aims of, a whole-system approach to violence reduction,’ while driving particular improvements in multi-agency working and data sharing.
9.9. There is also a question of whether the legislative duty being proposed already effectively exists. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 requires the community safety partnership and PCC to collaborate and implement a strategy to reduce local crime and disorder. It also identifies the statutory duty placed on local authorities to provide domestic abuse accommodation-based support and services for domestic abuse victims and children, as outlined in Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.
9.10. Instead, what is needed is better resourcing from central Government and increased capacity in the relevant agencies to ensure the current duties are working as they should. There is a danger that by creating additional legislative duties which direct agencies to prioritise specific crime types, this could risk agencies taking a narrow and siloed approach rather than assessing the broad range of community safety and victim issues and identifying local needs and priorities.
10.1. Clauses 6 – 10 of the draft Bill define Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) and Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs), introduce guidance setting out recommended minimum standards and best practice for ISVAs and IDVAs. They also place a duty on ISVAs, IDVAs and other persons whose functions relate to victims of criminal conduct, or any aspect of the criminal justice system, to have due regard to this guidance, and how this relates to their role.
10.2. As part of the wider provision for domestic abuse victims, Independent Domestic Abuse Advisers (IDVAs) provide integral support services which are vitally needed. IDVAs have specialist accredited training and act as domestic abuse victims primary point of contact, and help them with all the support they need to become immediately safe and rebuild their life, working with different statutory agencies to provide wrap around support and help them to navigate the criminal justice process. They also represent victims’ voices at a Multi-agency Risk Assessment Conference (Marac).
10.3. We are calling on the Government to extend funding for Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVAs) and Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs) for at least three years.
10.4. Given the importance of the IDVA and ISVA role, we support the Victims’ Commissioner’s recommendation for new, clear and widely disseminated guidance about the role of advisors which is based upon a statutory recognition of the role of victim advisers. Any further action to ensure the IDVA and ISVA role is recognised in the criminal justice process is welcome.
10.5. We also support the Victims’ Commissioner’s recommendation, for a statutory entitlement for all victims of serious sexual or violent crime or victims who have been bereaved as a result of a crime to be allocated a victim advisor to support them through their criminal justice journey.
11.1. Further clarity is required to understand how the Government’s Victims’ Funding Strategy is expected to align with the new statutory duty to collaborate, outlined in Clause 6 of the proposed draft Bill.
11.2. The Bill’s impact assessment estimates the cost for local authorities to collaborate when commissioning support services for victims to be £0.29 million to £0.34 million per year, with a best estimate of £0.31 million. Additional costs are expected to arise from the from activities such as preparing and holding regular meetings, and co-producing a strategy to set out the approaches to commissioning. This will all take additional resource.
11.3. It is assumed, in the impact assessment, that PCCs with five or more local authorities would need to hold three meetings per quarter, one for each crime type. PCCs with fewer than five local authorities would hold one meeting per quarter, which would cover sexual violence, domestic abuse and serious violence combined.
11.4. The impact assessment highlights there is significant uncertainty surrounding the number of attendees from PCCs and LAs who would be required to attend each meeting.
11.5. The impact assessment focuses on delivering the collaboration between partners, but further clarity is needed on whether local authorities and the wider partners will be adequately funded to deliver the support services. In addition to guidance, partners will need Government to streamline funding for victims’ services and provide long-term funding.
12.1. The Government has outlined it is making progress on a number of issues and plans, which include targeted and improved support for victims of a range of different crime types and experiences – for example, through a new strategy for domestic abuse to build on the Domestic Abuse Act 2021; a new strategy for tackling hate crime; a new strategy for tackling modern slavery and consideration of ways to better tackle antisocial behaviour through Beating Crime Plan commitments.
12.2. We would stress the importance of ensuring the Government’s various strategies, guidance, and forthcoming legislation work cohesively with the forthcoming Victims’ Law Bill. Whilst this draft Bill focuses on particular victim support services (domestic abuse, serious violence and sexual violence) – it is important that victims of all crimes are supported effectively.
12.3. In this complex and sometimes crowded landscape, there is a need for clarity on how PCCs, CSPs and VRUs are expected to work together, given the overlapping, but diverse range of community safety issues they cover and the varied funding streams available to different partners. In addition to the Bill, there is a need for guidance to support better alignment by VRUs with existing statutory functions and partnerships. This was also highlighted in the Home Office’s recent evaluation of VRUs.
12.4. With current and forthcoming legislation expected to amend the role and remit of Community Safety Partnerships in the future, it will be important for PCCs and relevant partnerships to have clearly defined roles and ways of working. There should be an emphasis on strong partnership working and joint decision-making as the default position, including in relation to funding bids.
12.5. There should be an acknowledgement that many of these community safety reforms are taking place at different times, with different commencement schedules. The draft Victims Bill could be an opportunity to draw these different duties and guidance documents together, to ensure they work cohesively on the ground. If this legislation simply adds new duties to an already crowded landscape, then it will be incredibly challenging for partners to deliver on all pieces of legislation. Some consideration about how these reforms can tie in with existing and forthcoming duties and guidance documents would be welcome.
13.1. The concept of a ‘community impact statement’ is explored in the Government’s consultation. They provide the example of where a group of young people from Canada with personal experience of online sexual abuse produced a generic statement for courts to consider during sentencing. This seems helpful and should be explored further. The pressure individual children and young people are under to talk about some of the most difficult and traumatic events in their lives in a court room full of strangers may mean they are unable to sufficiently convey the enormity and impact of their experiences of abuse or exploitation in that moment. Therefore, it would be worth exploring such an option, where a generic statement for courts which effectively captures and articulates a range of victims’ experiences, produced by a group of individuals, is considered during sentencing.
13.2. The Victims’ Commissioner’s consultation response highlights the Victorian Law Reform Commission of Australia which determines that victims should be seen as ‘participants’ (but not parties) in the justice system. The Commissioner has highlighted that could be a helpful way to describe the role that victims find themselves in, and has suggested it could be a useful international case study to consider.