Victims of crime to have access to better support with new Victims Code

1 April 2021, 00:09

A view of the Royal Courts of Justice
A view of the Royal Courts of Justice. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Victims of crime will be able to access better support from the police and courts as a new Victims’ Code comes into force.

Victims of crime will be told what to expect at every stage of the justice system including an automatic right to be told when a perpetrator is due to leave prison.

Where an offender is a foreign national offender, victims will for the first time have the right to know when they are deported.

Anyone who is a victims of sexual violence will be able to choose the gender of their police interviewer.

And under the new rules, there will be clearer advice on when they can have their evidence pre-recorded ahead of a trial instead of having to face the stress of cross-examination in court.

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The Code brings together new rights that will outline the minimum level of information and service victims can expect at every stage of the justice process, including:

- 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

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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.”

Andreana De Vecchis, who works as an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor at the independent charity Victim Support, 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 Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said: “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.”