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The Government published a Draft Victims Bill on 25 May 2022. The Bill has undergone pre-legislative scrutiny with the Justice Committee which published its final report on the draft Bill (PDF) on 30 September 2022.

What would the Bill do?

The Bill seeks to improve the support victims receive by:

  • “enshrining” the Victims’ Code – a code of practice that sets out the minimum level of service victims can expect from criminal justice agencies – in law;
  • giving Police and Crime Commissioners and justice inspectorates greater responsibilities for assessing how criminal justice agencies deliver services to victims;
  • strengthening the Victims’ Commissioner role by requiring departments and agencies to respond to the Commissioner’s recommendations and enabling the Commissioner’s annual report to be laid before Parliament;
  • placing a duty on relevant local bodies to coordinate victim support services; and
  • placing Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and Independent Domestic Violence Advisors on statutory footing so agencies work better with them to meet the needs of victims.

Background to the draft Bill

There has been ongoing concern from representatives of victims’ rights about the treatment of victims in the criminal justice system. Former Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird KC, said that victims are treated as “an afterthought” in the criminal justice process.

The Victims’ Code, which is meant to secure a core set of entitlements for victims, has attracted criticism for not being enforceable. Baroness Newlove (Victims’ Commissioner from 2012 to 2019) accused the Victims’ Code of being merely “persuasive guidance”. For several years the charity Victim Support has been calling for victims’ rights to be “enshrined in law” and “clearly enforceable” (PDF). This call was supported by both Baroness Newlove and Dame Vera Baird when they held the Victims’ Commissioner post.

Th 2017 Conservative Party manifesto committed to “enshrine victims’ entitlements in law” (PDF) to make it “clear what level of service they should expect” from the criminal justice system. In 2018 the Government’s Victims Strategy committed to consulting on “the detail of victim focused legislation”. This pre-legislative consultation, Delivering justice for victims, ran from December 2021 to February 2022. The Government published its response to the consultation (PDF) in May 2022 alongside the draft Bill.

Reactions to the draft Bill

Many have welcomed the ambitions of the draft Bill. Victim Support said it presented “a true opportunity to improve victims’ experiences” and welcomed the intention to put the Victims’ Code into law. 

However, some have raised concerns about whether the Bill will in fact strengthen the position of victims’ rights or truly “enshrine” them in law. The Justice Committee said the draft Bill “does not appear” to do this any more than is already provided for in existing legislation (PDF). It concluded the draft Bill “falls short of what is required” and “will do little to improve agencies’ compliance with the Victims’ Code”.

The then Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird KC, also questioned whether the draft Bill goes far enough to drive a cultural change in the way criminal justice agencies perceive and treat victims. She said the draft Bill “hold[s] promise” but also concluded that “as it stands it is not sufficient and falls short in key areas.” Both the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the Local Government Association called for clarification on the new duties it proposes for local partners and raised concern about the resources that would be required to deliver the provision.

Documents to download

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