Supplementary written evidence submitted by Tom Pursglove MP, Minister for Crime and Policing, Ministry of Justice (VIC0064)
Thank you for inviting me to give evidence as part of the Justice Select Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Victims Bill on Tuesday 28 June 2022. During the session, we committed to responding to some questions in writing. Two are laid out below and a separate letter will address your questions on the Bill of Rights.
1. The use of the negative procedure for the Victims’ Code regulations
We are committed to ensuring that the measures in the draft Victims Bill are subject to proper scrutiny. The Bill restates and builds upon the existing legislative provisions for the Victims’ Code (‘the Code’), which sets out the services that should be provided to a victim of criminal conduct, alongside creating a power for the Secretary of State to make further provision by way of regulations about services to be provided under the Code (Clause 2(2)(b)).
We intend to use the regulations to set out the key entitlements that the Code must make provision for, which will include those found in the current Code. By doing so, we will provide a legislative framework for the Code and its contents. The Code itself will make further provision on the extent and application of those entitlements.
The negative procedure will provide an appropriate level of scrutiny because the regulations cannot amend or depart from the key principles which will be set out in primary legislation. To further enhance scrutiny, we have committed to publish a draft of the regulations and a draft of the proposed revisions to the Code during the Bill’s passage through Parliament.
Furthermore, any revisions made to the Code in the future cannot amend or depart from the key principles which will be set out in the Victims Bill, nor can the Secretary of State make changes that significantly reduce the quality or extent of the services provided under the Code (set out in Clause 3(9)).
In light of this, we are content that the regulations and the changes to the Code will receive sufficient scrutiny publicly, in your Committee and by our colleagues in Parliament, and that the negative procedure is appropriate.
2. Clarification of the intention of Clause 2(3) Clause 2(3) states:
The code may restrict the application of its provisions to—
(a) specified descriptions of victims;
(b) victims of specified offences or descriptions of conduct;
(c) specified persons or descriptions of persons appearing to the Secretary of State to have functions of the kind mentioned in subsection (1).
This clause does not include new legislative content, but instead re-states the original legislation which made provision for publishing a draft Code (the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 (Chapter 1, section 32(2))).
Its purpose then, as now, was to enable the Code to make different provision for different cohorts of victims. Different provision, as allowed for by this clause, is required because it would be impractical to apply the Code in exactly the same way to exactly the same cohorts because, in some cases, certain aspects of the Code may not be appropriate.
For example, certain victims have enhanced entitlements (such as being contacted sooner after key decisions and having access to special measures to help to relieve some of the stress associated with giving evidence), if they are considered vulnerable or intimidated, are a victim of the most serious crime or have been persistently targeted.
In other cases, some entitlements would not be relevant. For example, a victim who has not reported their case to the police would have certain entitlements (to be able to understand and be understood, to be referred to services that support victims, and to make a complaint about their rights not being met), but not others that are specific to the criminal justice process (such as to be provided with information about the investigation and prosecution).
Or a victim who has suffered harm as a direct result of witnessing a crime – something we discussed during the session – would be able to access services that support victims, but may not be entitled to receive information about attending court if they are not required to attend court as a witness.
I trust that this reply is helpful, and once again, thank you for your Committee’s hard work in scrutinising the draft Bill.