London Victims’ Commissioner calls for legal rights for victims

21 March 2019

London’s Independent Victims’ Commissioner is calling for a new law to be put in place after finding victims of crime are being routinely failed by the justice system.

 

Claire Waxman is demanding full legal rights for victims of crime, following the publication of a hard-hitting review she commissioned into the Victims’ Code of Practice, which she believes is ‘not fit for purpose.’

 

The review is the most comprehensive and rigorous study of victims’ experiences with the Victims’ Code of Practice ever conducted, informed by more than 2,100 victims of crime, as well as insights from 14 victims’ focus groups, including representatives from the Met Police, the Witness Care Unit, and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.  

 

The existing Victims’ Code of Practice sets out the minimum level of service that victims can expect when going through the criminal justice system. However, the code is not legally enforceable and victims regularly do not get the treatment they should expect.

 

Claire’s review found that, in most cases, compliance with the code by practitioners was low, with less than a third of victims having been told about the Victims’ Code, or offered a referral to support services at any point during their case.

 

The review revealed that despite the police and service providers’ desire to do the best possible job for victims and witnesses, lack of resources and funding provided significant obstacles to following the code. Victims spoke of being aware of the challenges faced by the Met Police with fewer officers because of budget cuts, with some even saying they decided not to report a crime or pursue their case in order to spare resources. Professionals from across the voluntary and community support services also raised the issue of the lack of funding for the vital services they provide.

 

The Victims’ Commissioner is sharing her findings with the Government and urging Ministers urgently to fulfil their manifesto commitment for a Victims’ Law that will give people legally enforceable rights when they have been a victim of crime. 

 

She will reveal the review’s full findings at a major Victims’ Summit, hosted at City Hall today. The summit will bring together victims and survivors, with the Mayor Sadiq Khan, Met Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, and Edward Argar, the Victims’ Minister, to discuss where improvements can be made in supporting victims in the justice system.

 

To improve the service offered to victims, the review made key recommendations about the need for a clear set of rights within the law that can be followed by both the public and professionals. This would mean that if victims’ rights are not met, there would be a straightforward process for them to raise these issues and give providers the opportunity to remedy it. The Victims’ Commissioner is adamant that unless the Government make these rights legally enforceable, we will struggle to ensure victims get the service they deserve from the justice system and the necessary support to recover 

 

The London Victims’ Commissioner is also proposing a national network of local Victim Care Units to bring together all the services that work with victims throughout the justice system- to ensure their entitlements are being delivered. Other recommendations focus on training and support for front-line practitioners, to help ensure that the service provided to crime victims is trauma-informed, putting them first and recognising the impact of the crime and the subsequent justice process on them.

 

London Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman, said: “The consistent message I am hearing from victims is that they are not getting the level of support they need and that they are entitled to, at a time when they are most vulnerable. This was what the Victims’ Code of Practice was supposed to provide and that is why I commissioned the most thorough and in-depth review into its effectiveness.

 

“The review has found that compliance with the Code of Practice is the exception, not the rule. It is not fit for purpose. People who have been victims of crime need easy to access, trauma-informed support throughout their justice journey and recovery but the Code fails to guarantee this in practice.

 

“We need to introduce a Victims’ Law, to ensure victims have the confidence to report to the police, and that crimes are properly recognised and supported through the criminal justice system and beyond. Meanwhile the Government must step up investment into policing and victim support services to ensure that they can meet the demand.

 

Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Sophie Linden, said: “This review paints a distressing picture, with victims openly admitting their decision not to report a crime because they know how stretched our police and support services are. This is absolutely unacceptable and should be an urgent wake-up call for the Government to realise the real-life impact its cuts have on victims of crime in our city.  

 

“We should never overlook the value of victims in the justice system. If they are not confident that this service can support them and respond effectively, then they will not engage with it- leaving offenders unpunished and the public at risk.”  

 

Chris, a survivor of non-recent abuse, said: “I underestimated how traumatic going through the Criminal Justice System has been- it has impacted both my mental and physical wellbeing. Weekly specialist support has enabled me to keep functioning and working on a day to day basis. I think a law dedicated to victims’ rights in the UK would be a massive positive step forward.”

 

Chief Crown Prosecutor at CPS London South, Claire Lindley, said: “Victims are central to the work that we do and it is essential that all criminal justice agencies comply with the Victims’ Code of Practice. We welcome the recommendations in this report and will continue to work together with our partners to improve the service that we provide to victims and witnesses of crime.”

 

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said:Our casework shows that victims of crime are not always given the support they need or made aware of their rights. All criminal justice agencies need to improve how they handle complaints to make sure victims get the justice they deserve. This should include being able to take an unresolved complaint directly to the Ombudsman without the need for an MP referral, which only serves to increase bureaucracy.”

Notes to editors

  • The Victims’ Commissioner’s full review into compliance with the Victims’ Code of Practice can be found here: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/vcop_final_pages.pdf
  • Work on Claire Waxman’s review began in January 2018
  • The London Victims’ Commissioner was appointed by the Mayor of London as part of his Police and Crime Plan, which set out to put victims at the heart of everything we do.
  • The benefit of a more integrated approach to victim care has been discussed throughout the review and evidenced in a feasibility study carried out by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.
     
  • The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime – commonly known as the Victims’ Code – came into force in 2006. For the first time, this statutory code set out the minimum level of service that victims of crime in England and Wales should expect from criminal justice agencies.   
    The Code applies to those who:  
  • Have suffered physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss as a direct consequence of a crime committed against them; or  
  • Have experienced the bereavement of a close relative as a consequence of a crime.  
    Under the Code, a victim of crime has a range of entitlements, including:  
  • being kept informed about the progress of their case by the police;  
  • hearing when a suspect is arrested, charged, bailed or sentenced;  
  • applying for extra help when giving evidence in court (special measures) if they are vulnerable, intimidated, or a child or young person;  
  • applying for compensation;  
  • making a Victim Personal Statement to explain the impact the crime has had on them, and to have it read out in court, with the permission of the court;  
  • being told when an offender will be released, if that offender has been sentenced to a year or more in prison for a violent or sexual offence;  
  • information about taking part in restorative justice schemes;  
  • being referred to victims’ support services;  
  • seeking a review of a decision not to prosecute. 
     
     
    Victims’ Voices:  
  • 1044 responses were received via an online survey for victims;  
  • 1001 responses were received via a telephone survey with victims;  
  • 106 in-depth interviews with victims were conducted;  
  • 14 victims’ focus groups, looking at themes including domestic violence, human trafficking, terrorism, hate crime, children and young people.  
    Practitioners’ Insights:  
  • 14 focus groups with frontline practitioners from criminal justice agencies and service providers.  
  • Organisations and teams involved in these focus groups included: MPS Response officers, MPS Telephone and Digital Investigation Unit (TDIU) staff, MPS Traffic officers, MPS Safeguarding Officers, MPS Family Liaison Officers (FLOs), Witness Care Unit (WCU) officers, City of London Police Economic Crime Victim Care Unit (ECVCU) officers, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Citizens Advice Witness Service (CAWS) team leaders, Anti-social Behaviour Co-ordinators, Victim Support, Safer London, Redthread, Galop/LGBT Jigsaw, Stop Hate UK, the Community Security Trust, personal injury lawyers, Catch 22.   
  • Fieldwork and analysis were carried out by the independent Market Research agency ORS.