South Swindon MP and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland has announced a new Victims’ Code.
Victims of crime will get better support from the police, courts and other criminal justice agencies as the new Victims’ Code comes into force today (Thursday 1 April).
They will be told what to expect at every stage of the justice system including, for the first time, their automatic right to be told when a perpetrator is due to leave prison. Victims of sexual violence will be able to choose the gender of their police interviewer and there will be clearer advice on when they can have their evidence pre-recorded ahead of a trial – rather than face the stress of cross-examination in front of a packed courtroom. Where an offender is a foreign national offender, victims will for the first time have the right to know when they are deported.
Today’s milestone will pave the way for a new Victims’ Law, on which Ministers will consult this summer. It seeks to underpin victims’ rights in legislation and ensure justice agencies are held to account for delivering them.
The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, said:
“Having worked for over 25 years as a criminal barrister, I know how daunting the justice system can be for victims which is why the information and support they receive is so vital.
“Our new Code provides victims with a simplified and stronger set of rights – making clear their entitlements at every step of the way as they recover from crime.
“But we are not stopping here and will consult on strengthening these rights even further through a Victims’ Law as we continue to build back confidence in the justice system.”
The Code brings together 12 overarching rights that are straightforward, concise and easy to understand – outlining the minimum level of information and service victims can expect at every stage of the justice process. These include:
- For the first time, eligible victims will be automatically referred to the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS) and offered a Victim Liaison Officer (VLO), who provides vital updates on offenders as they serve their sentence, including their potential release from prison. A VLO can also help victims apply for licence conditions to reduce the chance of them encountering an offender in the community and assist with requesting reviews of Parole Board decisions.
- Victims of sexual violence or domestic abuse will be able to choose the gender of police officers that interview them. They will also be directed towards the support of independent advisors who provide emotional and practical help, regardless of whether the crime is reported to the police – following a £27m investment to boost their numbers.
- The ability for vulnerable victims to have their cross-examination pre-recorded away from the courtroom - reducing the stress of giving evidence in court, which many find intimidating.
- Greater flexibility over when and how a Victim Personal Statement (VPS), which tells the court how the crime has affected the victim, can be made – recognising that for many the impact of the crime may not be immediately apparent. Victims will also be able to request a copy of their VPS for them to refer to in future.
- The right to be informed the reasons why a suspect will not be prosecuted. If unhappy, victims will also be able to ask the police or Crown Prosecution Service to review this decision.
- For the first time, the Code sets out the rights of victims of Foreign National Offenders to be updated on when an offender’s deportation may occur
The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, says:
“We all want a system which delivers justice and the launch of the new Victims’ Code is to be welcomed as an important step in the right direction.
“Under the Victims’ Code, everyone has a right to support following a crime. The Victims’ Code sets out the services and information victims of crime are entitled to from criminal justice agencies — like the police, CPS, and the courts — from the moment they report a crime to the end of the trial. This new, simplified Victims’ Code represents a positive step forward for victims. These 12 rights are well set out and should provide some much-needed clarity for victims and victims’ services.
“I also welcome the government’s commitment to consult on victims’ legislation in the summer. A victims’ law would ensure that victims’ rights, such as to information, making a personal statement and accessing independent support services, are legally enforceable. With a Victims Law, we have the opportunity to truly transform the victims’ experience of the justice system. I look forward to engaging with the government in the coming months to make this law a reality.”
Andreana De Vecchis works as an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor at the independent charity Victim Support and helps ensure victims get access to the support outlined in the Code. She said:
“Working with victims of rape I know the prospect of reporting a crime to the police and attending court can put a huge emotional strain on people.
“It is my job to take survivors through every step of the process, explaining the rights they have under the Victims’ Code and making sure they receive them.
“At every step my priority is the victim and empowering them to get the support they need from the justice system – whether they choose to report crimes or not.”
The new Code is part of recent action across government to build back confidence in the justice system. This includes a £100m investment into services tackling violence against women and girls, a landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to better protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice, and 20,000 extra police and new legislation to cut crime and boost public protection. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions is being spent to deliver speedier justice for victims and reduce delays in courts caused by the pandemic.
Notes to editors
- The Victims’ Code sets out the minimum level of service victims can expect from criminal justice agencies such as the police and courts, whether they choose to report the crime or not.
- The new Code is structured so that it focuses on 12 overarching rights:
- To be able to understand and to be understood.
- To have the details of the crime recorded without unjustified delay
- To be provided with information when reporting the crime
- To be referred to victim support services and have services and support tailored to your needs
- To be provided with information about compensation
- To be provided with information about the investigation and prosecution
- To make a Victim Personal Statement
- To be given information about the trial, trial process and your role as a witness
- To be given information about the outcome of the case and any appeals
- To be paid expenses and have property returned
- To be given information about the offender following a conviction
- To make a complaint about rights not being met
- Victims or a bereaved family relatives where the offender was convicted of a violent of sexual offence and sentenced to 12 months or more in prison will be automatically referred to the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS) and be assigned a Victim Liaison Officer if they choose to enter the (VCS).
- A Victim Liaison Officer will tell you:
- what the sentence of the court means in terms of their detention in prison or hospital, if there are any changes to their sentence, and when they’ll be
- transferred to open conditions or considered for release or conditional discharge;
- how to make a Victim Personal Statement (VPS) if an offender’s case is due a Parole Board review;
- how to apply to read your VPS to the Parole Board, in those case where the Parole Board holds an oral hearing;
- how to apply for licence/discharge conditions to reduce the chances of you encountering the offender in the community, or from them contacting you;
- about any licence/discharge conditions that relate to you and the date they will end; and
- how to ask for a summary of the Parole Board’s decision and how to seek to challenge the decision if the Parole Board decides the offender is safe to release.
- Depending on your needs and the nature of your case, you may be offered specialist support, for example from an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor or an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor. Your advisor will normally act as your single point of contact throughout the case and communicate with the police, Witness Care Unit and the Crown Prosecution Service on your behalf.
- Pre-recording of cross-examination exists for victims and witnesses deemed to be vulnerable due to age, mental disorders or a physical impairment across all Crown Court in England and Wales. A similar process is being piloted for victims of sexual and modern slavery offences at Crown Courts in Liverpool, Leeds, and Kingston-Upon-Thames.
- We are determined to do more to protect victims and in February we announced an additional £40m for specialist rape and domestic support services, on top of an extra £125m for local authorities to help provide safe accommodation for victims and their children. On March 15 the government announced a further £11m in funding to recruit more Independent Domestic Violence Advisors and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors.