Ahead of the Second Reading of the Victims and Prisoners Bill today, Victim Support is calling for four key updates.
Diana Fawcett, Chief Executive at the charity Victim Support said:
“Many of the measures in this long awaited Bill have the potential to make a significant and meaningful difference for victims of crime. But expanding it to include prisoners and parole dramatically shifts the focus away from the very people it is supposed to serve.
“Attention must remain on building and strengthening policies related to victims, and putting them into practice. In particular, work needs to be done to ensure that victims’ rights are enforceable and that entitlements that exist on paper are delivered in reality. We also want to see the Bill go further in guaranteeing that victims have access to high quality support services that are completely independent of the police, and improving support for victims of antisocial behaviour.
“We urge the government to grasp this opportunity and build on the positive progress made by removing the measures around parole, and instead strengthen victims’ rights in a ‘Victims Bill.’”
Victim Support is calling for the Victims and Prisoners Bill to address the following:
- The definition of a victim within the Bill must be expanded to include victims of persistent anti-social behaviour.
- The Bill as currently drafted excludes victims of non-criminal antisocial behaviour (ASB) in the definition of a victim. This, alongside the fact that these victims are also excluded from the Victims Code, means that they do not have access to the rights, support and information within them. This means that victims of antisocial behaviour do not have the same right to be referred to support services as other victims do.
- This is despite the often-devastating impact that ASB can have. Research has shown that ASB can impact victims’ sense of safety and security and can lead to victims’ having to change their behaviours, day-to-day lives and even where they live. Given the seriousness of ASB the definition of victim must be broadened to include victims of persistent antisocial behaviour.
- The enforcement of victims’ rights within the Bill must be strengthened.
- Currently, rights for victims are set out in a document called the Victims Code. However, it is not routinely monitored or enforced and most victims have never heard of it. The result is rights that exist on paper often do not exist in reality.
- The Bill contains positive measures which compel criminal justice agencies to collect data in order to keep their compliance with the code under review. However, the Bill can and must be stronger when it comes to enforcing these rights. Put simply, victims’ rights must be enforceable; as it stands, they are not. At present the Bill fails to adequately address the issue of agencies’ noncompliance with the Code — we are concerned by this given that it is one of the principal reasons for the Bill.
- Victims must have access to specialist support services that are independent of the police.
- We are seeing a worrying trend of victims’ services that have been delivered by independent victim organisations being axed, and replaced with in-house support services delivered by the police. We are seriously concerned that victims may refrain from seeking support, if this is not available from a trusted independent service.
- This is backed up by evidence from a YouGov poll, which found that 82% of adults in England and Wales who have been victims of crime in the last two years said it was important for victims of crime to receive help and support from a victim service that is separate and independent from the police, with 51% saying it was very important. The poll also showed that 43% of all adults in England and Wales said, if they were a victim of crime, they would not be likely to seek support from a victim service if they knew that it was provided by the police and not by an independent service.
- The Victims and Prisoners Bill must return to its original form as a Victims Bill, focusing on improving the treatment and experiences of victims and survivors.
- We are seriously concerned with Part 3 of the Bill, which has expanded the Victims Bill into a Victims and Prisoners Bill. The Bill was originally published in draft form and subject to pre-legislative scrutiny as a Victims’ Bill, the ‘prisoner’ aspect, tacked on only after this had finished, underwent no such scrutiny.
- Expectations have been set for victims and survivors that this will be a Victims’ Bill. Including parole reforms within the Bill will pull focus away from victims’ measures during the passage and implementation of this legislation. It also detracts from the government’s commitment to “put victims’ interests firmly at the heart of the justice system”, given that victims will not even be at the heart of this Bill.