The government has announced plans to strengthen the law around the rights on offer to the victims of crime, in an effort to make the ‘daunting’ task of going to court more easily approachable. At the moment, the entitlements which a victim might expect are laid out in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime which was published in October 2013, but the plans to enshrine these entitlements in law, announced by the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, can be seen as an attempt to put the victim at the centre of the judicial process.
The existing victims’ code offers guidance to the police, the courts and the probation office on how a victim should be treated, the information they should be supplied with, and the rights they have to present information pertaining to the crime they have suffered, and under the proposed law, which is to be presented as a bill to the next parliament, several of these measures will be upgraded from advice and guidance to actual legislation.
One of the measures which is set to become law is the ‘impact statement’, via which a victim, in the event of a guilty verdict but prior to sentencing, can read out to the court, or have read out on their behalf, a statement detailing exactly how the crime has impacted on their life. The thinking behind this is two-fold; firstly, the sentence handed down should take into account the ways in which the victim has suffered, and secondly, many victims feel that confronting the perpetrator with an account of the effects of their crime gives voice to their experience and aids the process of psychological healing.
Another major part of the bill will be the creation of a fully integrated ‘one stop shop’ information service and helpline, to which victims can turn in order to remain apprised of the latest information regarding their case, and to be guided in the direction of bodies, such as government agencies and charitable organisations, offering support. Many victims currently feel excluded from the legal process thanks to the failure to provide basic information such as charges laid down, trial dates, bail applied for or granted etc. and the creation of a service which will allow a case to be tracked in much the same way that a parcel delivery can be tracked will, it is hoped, go a long way towards ending this sense of exclusion.
Other steps include simple practical measures such as modernising court buildings to offer separate waiting areas for victims and defendants, and extending a pilot scheme under which children have been allowed to give evidence away from the court, before the trial, with video footage of the evidence then being presented to the court. In the event of this extended pilot proving successful, it is hoped that the scheme will apply to all child witnesses by the end of 2017, before possibly being extended to cover vulnerable adults.
Speaking at the announcement of the plans, Justice Secretary Grayling said: "Victims, especially the most vulnerable, can find it traumatic and difficult to know where to turn to for advice and support. 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."
Although the plans have been welcomed by Victims' Commissioner Baroness Newlove, she did question precisely how much difference there would be, in practice, to the current victims’ code, stating “A new law cannot be used as a quick fix,” before questioning whether the planned information service would “put an end to victims being pushed from stranger to stranger to find out what is happening to them. That's why I want to see the government going further by introducing... a victim care manager".
Stokoe Partnership Solicitors:
The Stokoe Partnership, established in 1994 by Bambos Tsiattalou, is a criminal litigation practice specialising in defending very serious crime. The firm has expertise in serious fraud, drug trafficking, bribery and corruption cases.