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New Rules to Support Victims of Crime

New Rules to Support Victims of Crime

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is to introduce new rules guaranteeing victims of crime the legal right to tell a court how their lives have been affected, enshrining in law a “victims’ code” which offers guidance for courts, police, and the probation service. Courts will be modernised to include separate waiting areas for victims and defendants, while the compensation process could be overhauled, so that victims will no longer have to wait years to receive payment.

Mr Grayling said “Our criminal justice system can be daunting, and victims, especially the most vulnerable, can find it traumatic and difficult to know where to turn to for advice and support. For the first time we will create a system that puts the highest emphasis on victims’ needs and sets out their rights clearly in legislation.

“We are also making it easier for them to find whatever it is they need by establishing one simple source of information and help – be it tracking the progress of their case, applying for compensation, knowing what to expect in court, or understanding the range of support available to them”. This one-stop information service will include a helpline, along with a website directing victims to the relevant support agencies.

Additionally, state-funded advocates will be required to undergo specialist training before working on serious sex offence cases, while greater efforts will be made to let vulnerable witnesses give evidence from outside the courtroom.

Specialist training for victims of sexual crimes is “essential”

Victim Support CEO Mark Castle welcomed the plan, stating that “It is essential that all lawyers involved in any sexual offence case have specialist training, especially if a trial involves the cross-examination of a child”. He added that “Children and other vulnerable victims and witnesses should not have to face the trauma of giving evidence in a court building, unless they choose to”.

It is hoped that a pilot scheme in three Crown Courts allowing children to be cross-examined before a trial commences, with the video later shown in court, will be extended, to avoid instances such as that of a victim cross-examined for 12 days by seven defence barristers, or the death of violinist Frances Andrade, who overdosed after testifying against sex offender Michael Brewer. She reportedly fell into despair after being cross examined by his defence lawyer during the trial.

Critical voices

Victims’ Commissioner Baroness Newlove has questioned the extent to which elements of the proposals differ from the existing code, commenting that the information service is unlikely to put an end to victims being “pushed from stranger to stranger to find out what is happening to them”. She also asked whether the plans would prevent a repeat of the “dismissive, ignorant and collusive behaviour” which saw the victims of the Rotherham child sexual abuse sidelined and treated with such prejudice by those who should have been protecting them.

She added that “I also want to see victims getting every penny of compensation they are owed from criminals. Not in drips and drabs but upfront. Many victims rely on this money to help them get their lives back together and support their families through the trauma of crime”.

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan said the proposed legislation “looks like it’s been cobbled together on the back of an envelope”, while levelling charges that the government is guilty of “letting down” victims by cutting payments to those who have suffered violent crime, reducing prison sentences in exchange for guilty pleas, and closing down rape centres.

However, David Tucker of the College of Policing, which last year introduced a Victims’ Code for police to sign, welcomed the plans, commenting that “The criminal justice system must be victim focused and we support these announcements. It is vital that victims receive care and support from the moment they report a crime to police”. He added that the College’s Code of Ethics “is clear that the particular needs of victims and witnesses have to be at the centre of police work”.

At IBB Solicitors we provide expert representation for both individuals and businesses facing the challenges of criminal prosecution. Thanks to years of experience, expertise and an in-depth understanding of criminal law, our solicitors make sure you receive the best possible advice from the moment of arrest, through to acquittal or appeals proceedings.

The Criminal Defence team can be contacted in confidence on 03456 381381 or contacted free via Whatsapp on 07899 953415 or Blackberry messenger: PIN 287DA137. It can also be reached on its 24-hour hotline for immediate representation at a police station by ringing 0330 999 4999. To email please the team please contact Joanne.Gibbons@ibblaw.co.uk