Prosecutors will be told to meet crime victims before making charging decisions

Prosecutors will be required to have face-to-face meetings with victims of serious crimes before charging offenders under a proposed new law.

Dec 9, 2021
By Tony Thompson

Under plans set out in a consultation published today (December 9), victims’ views would be taken into better account at regular points during their case and agencies including the police, Crown Prosecution Service and the courts will be held to account for the service they provide.

Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, believes the legislation will give victims a bigger say in decisions about prosecuting offenders as well as motivating prosecutors to toughen up charges and speed up justice.

The consultation also outlines plans for community impact statements, which would provide an account for the collective impact of an offence, including in cases where there is no clear victim – such as attacks on public places or anti-social behaviour.

A similar system currently is used in Canada, where in 2018, a Community Impact Statement was produced for a case in which several people were on trial for viewing images of child sexual abuse.

Testimony was given by the victims who featured in the abusive material to explain the impact that this offence had on them, and that the act of watching these videos was not victimless. Their statement helped lead to tougher punishments for the offenders involved.

Mr Raab said: “No victim should feel unsupported. We have a moral duty to do better for victims, but as a practical matter that support will also help bring more criminals to justice and protect the public.

“Our plans will give victims a louder voice, a greater role in the criminal justice system, and make criminals pay more to help victims recover.”

The consultation also sets out plans to increase the Victim Surcharge – the penalty fee which offenders are made to pay when they are sentenced for crimes – which can be as low as £22 for a conditional discharge.

The plans suggest increasing the minimum to £100 so that offenders take greater responsibility for the cost of their crimes and pay back to society by contributing to services which support victims.

The consultation also seeks to establish clear routes of redress if victims do not receive the support they are entitled to, and whether better oversight across the system could improve performance through strengthening inspection regimes and increasing the role of police and crime commissioners.

As part of a greater drive for transparency and accountability, the government will also publish the first ever quarterly performance scorecards.

It is hoped the data will help identify and address concerns, including key information on the volumes of cases going through the system and the time taken for investigation, charging and completion at court. Local scorecards will be published next year setting out greater detail in each area of the country.

The scorecards also shine a light specifically on the response to rape and sexual violence and help to drive a major increase in the number of prosecutions reaching court.

Alongside news of the consultation the Government also confirmed that victims of sexual and modern slavery offences will be spared the trauma of giving evidence in court through the national roll-out of a scheme enabling pre-recorded evidence across all crown courts in England and Wales.

Known as section 28, it allows victims to have their cross-examination pre-recorded earlier in the process and outside the courtroom, and can help to reduce stress to ensure they give their best evidence.

The measure is already in place for vulnerable witnesses such as children and is currently being piloted for victims of sexual and modern slavery offences in seven Crown Courts. The Government said it now work in close partnership with the judiciary, police and Crown Prosecution Service to develop a plan which will see it available across the country as soon as possible.

Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, said: “The criminal justice system has a key role to play in helping victims recover and rebuild their lives. Yet all too often victims are treated as an afterthought, with their needs ignored and neglected.

“The Government’s Victims’ Law represents a once in a generation opportunity to drive real culture change, requiring agencies to see, hear and help victims – if necessary, with real consequences if this does not happen. I welcome the commitments outlined today and I look forward to working with government to make this a reality.

“We know that we must drastically improve how this country polices and prosecutes rape. The national roll-out of section 28 will mark a huge leap in the right direction, helping to reduce unnecessary stress and trauma for victims. This work has my full support.”

Emily Hunt, independent adviser to the Government on victims, said: “None of us set out to be a victim of a crime and we often don’t like to talk about it the impact it can have. But anyone of us – our parents, our children, our friends – could become a victim.

“At the moment, victims are not told what to expect and, if their rights are ignored, nothing happens. This legislation will set out clearly the ways in which victims of all crimes should be protected.

“It will make sure that they are supported and, when they chose to seek justice, ensure that the criminal justice system takes them seriously and treats them with dignity and respect that they deserve.”

Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the independent charity Victim Support, said: “The Victims’ Bill is a real opportunity to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. Our research has found time and time again that victims do not always receive their rights and entitlements, and so the government’s focus on strengthening victims’ rights is welcome.

“There needs to be a real shift in the way victims are treated by the criminal justice process. We will work to ensure that the Victims’ Law makes a meaningful difference to victims of crime, and we will encourage victims and survivors to make their voice heard during the consultation.”

The charity Centre for Women’s Justice said it welcomed efforts to improve accountability and the experience of victims who engage with the criminal justice process.

It added: “We are pleased to note the roll-out of a new approach to investigations that places greater emphasis on understanding a suspect’s behaviour rather than placing undue focus on a victim’s credibility and of section 28 allowing the pre-recording of evidence under section 28 in rape cases.

“However there appear to be important omissions that require addressing including tackling the criminalisation of victims of violence and sexual exploitation and the barriers that prevent accessing justice by disabled victims and victims from black, migrant and minoritised communities.
“If the Justice Secretary is indeed committing to making women safer, then these concerns cannot continue to be ignored.”

The Victims’ Law consultation will run for eight weeks until February 3, 2022. A response and legislation will be drawn up in due course following its conclusion.

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