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Calls for new legislation

There have been many recent calls for reform to the law on victims’ rights and services in England and Wales. For example:

  • the Victims Commissioner has highlighted problems with complaints systems and inconsistency about allowing victims the right to make a Victim Personal Statement.
  • Victim Support has called for a new “clearly enforceable” Victims Law.

In the run up to the 2015 General Election, the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos all promised legislation on victims.

The Government’s 2015 Queen’s Speech Background Briefing Notes referred to “putting the key entitlements of the Victims Code in primary legislation”. In a PQ answered in February 2016, the Victims’ Minister acknowledged the commitment to increase victims’ rights, and said that further detail would be published in due course.  The 2016 Queen’s Speech did not mention victims.

The New Victims’ Code

Currently victims’ rights are set out in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime. This explains what victims should expect from various criminal justice agencies.

The Code started life in the 1990s as the Victim’s Charter, but was made statutory by the Labour Government in 2004. It has since been revised by the Coalition Government, and by the present Conservative Government. This latest revision, which came into force in November 2015, was partly to implement some of the requirements of an EU Directive on victims’ rights.  This had to be done by 16 November 2015.

Some argue that the “rights” in the code are not sufficiently enforceable. Although the Code is provided for in the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004, failure to comply with it does not of itself make a person liable to criminal or civil proceedings. Courts can take such failure into account in other proceedings however. 

Funding and commissioning

The Coalition Government gave responsibility for commissioning most victims services to Police and Crime Commissioners from April 2015. However, some services (such as support for victims of sexual and domestic violence) were still commissioned centrally up to April 2016. There was concern about what would happen after that date. The Government’s most recent strategy on Violence against Women and Girls announced £80 million to support refuges and other accommodation based services; rape support centres and national helplines.

Information for victims

Victim Support and the Ministry of Justice have set up a Victims Information Service website and Freephone Helpline (0808 168 9293) so that victims can get information on local services and their entitlements under the Victims’ Code.

This Briefing Paper mainly deals with the law in England and Wales. However, some brief information on the law in Scotland and Northern Ireland is provided in sections 9 and 10.

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