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The Victims and Prisoners Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 29 March 2023. The Bill’s second reading is scheduled for 15 May 2023.

What would the Bill do?

The Bill is split into key three areas.

Victims of crime

Part 1 of the Bill includes several proposals aimed at holding criminal justice agencies more strongly to account for the service they provide to victims and to improve the support victims receive.

This includes placing the key principles of the Victims’ Code in primary legislation. The code sets out the minimum level of service victims can expect from criminal justice agencies. The Bill would also place duties on criminal justice bodies to raise awareness of the code and to collect and review information on their compliance with it. Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) would also be given a corresponding duty to monitor compliance of criminal justice agencies within their police force area.

Representatives of victims of crime have generally welcomed the ambitions of the part 1 of the Bill and the “opportunity to improve victims’ experiences”. However, the Justice Committee raised concerns about whether the measures go far enough to strengthen the position of victims’ rights in legislation. Former Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird KC also questioned whether the proposals would be enough to drive a cultural change in criminal justice agencies in the way they perceive and treat victims.

Victims of major incidents

Part 2 of the Bill would provide the Justice Secretary with the power to appoint public advocates to support bereaved families and victims of major incidents. Advocates would be appointed if there is an incident rather than holding a permanent position.

An advocate would be able to provide support in the immediate aftermath of an incident as well as assist victims while any police or coroners’ investigations, inquests or public inquiries take place. They would have some data sharing powers to keep victims informed about information they may receive through these investigations. Advocates may also be required to report to the Justice Secretary on victims’ experiences after of major incidents.

The Government’s decision to legislate for a public advocate for victims of major incidents has been broadly welcomed. However several MPs have criticised the proposed model, with concern raised that the advocates would not be sufficiently independent from the Government and would lack sufficient legal powers to compel public authorities to disclose evidence regarding an incident.

Prisoners and parole

Part 3 of the Bill would make several reforms to the parole system and Parole Board proceedings. This includes proposals to provide the Justice Secretary with powers to veto a decision by the board to release certain individuals that fall into a ‘top-tier’ of serious cases. The Justice Secretary would then make the decision about release themselves.

The Bill would also give the Justice Secretary powers to mandate that the Parole Board include members with law enforcement experience and that they be involved in handling ‘top-tier’ cases. The Justice Secretary would also have a statutory power to remove the board’s Chair if deemed necessary for ensuring public confidence in the board.

Several legal commentators and criminal justice charities raised concern about the proposals for the parole system (when they were first suggested in the Government’s 2022 ‘Root and Branch’ Review of the Parole System). These concerns were primarily about the risk to the Parole Board’s independence by giving an elected official powers to override the board’s decision and the potential effect of this on fair and impartial decision-making.

Representatives of victims have also expressed concern that the decision to add in provisions on prisoners will detract from victims’ issues.

Documents to download

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