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Better legal rights for victims of crime needed, says review

RIGHTS: Claire Waxman calls for a new law to be created to support victims of crime

LONDON’S INDEPENDENT Victims’ Commissioner is calling for a new law to be put in place after finding victims of crime are being routinely failed by the justice system.

Claire Waxman is demanding full legal rights for victims of crime, following the publication of a hard-hitting review she commissioned into the Victims’ Code of Practice, which she believes is ‘not fit for purpose.’

The review is the most comprehensive and rigorous study of victims’ experiences with the Victims’ Code of Practice ever conducted, informed by more than 2,100 victims of crime, as well as insights from 14 victims’ focus groups, including representatives from the Met Police, the Witness Care Unit, and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.

The existing Victims’ Code of Practice sets out the minimum level of service that victims can expect when going through the criminal justice system. However, the code is not legally enforceable and victims regularly do not get the treatment they should expect.

Waxman’s review found that, in most cases, compliance with the code by practitioners was low, with less than a third of victims having been told about the Victims’ Code, or offered a referral to support services at any point during their case.

The review revealed that despite the police and service providers’ desire to do the best possible job for victims and witnesses, lack of resources and funding provided significant obstacles to following the code.

Victims spoke of being aware of the challenges faced by the Met Police with fewer officers because of budget cuts, with some even saying they decided not to report a crime or pursue their case in order to spare resources. Professionals from across the voluntary and community support services also raised the issue of the lack of funding for the vital services they provide.

The Victims’ Commissioner is sharing her findings with the Government and urging Ministers urgently to fulfil their manifesto commitment for a Victims’ Law that will give people legally enforceable rights when they have been a victim of crime.

“The consistent message I am hearing from victims is that they are not getting the level of support they need and that they are entitled to, at a time when they are most vulnerable,” said Waxman. “This was what the Victims’ Code of Practice was supposed to provide and that is why I commissioned the most thorough and in-depth review into its effectiveness.

“The review has found that compliance with the Code of Practice is the exception, not the rule. It is not fit for purpose. People who have been victims of crime need easy to access, trauma-informed support throughout their justice journey and recovery but the Code fails to guarantee this in practice.

“We need to introduce a Victims’ Law, to ensure victims have the confidence to report to the police, and that crimes are properly recognised and supported through the criminal justice system and beyond. Meanwhile the Government must step up investment into policing and victim support services to ensure that they can meet the demand.”

Waxman will reveal the review’s full findings at a major Victims’ Summit, hosted at City Hall today (Mar 21). The summit will bring together victims and survivors, with the Mayor Sadiq Khan, Met Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, and Edward Argar, the Victims’ Minister, to discuss where improvements can be made in supporting victims in the justice system.

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