Victims’ Code of Conduct Review
In March 2019 London’s Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman published the first review of the Victims’ Code of Practice (the Victim’s Code). The Review was commissioned by the Mayor and Victims’ Commissioner in order to determine whether the code was being followed and consider the experiences of victims and whether their needs are currently being met.
What is the Victims’ Code?
The Victims’ Code came into force in 2006 and sets out the minimum level of service that victims of crime in England and Wales should expect from criminal justice agencies. It applied to all victims who have suffered physical, mental, emotional harm or economic loss as a direct consequence of a crime committed against them or who have experienced the bereavement of a close relative as a consequence of crime.
The minimum level of service set out by the code includes ensuring victims have access to a range of benefits including:
- Being informed about the progress of their case;
- Access to special measures at court for vulnerable, intimidated or young witnesses/victims e.g. screens, giving evidence by video link;
- Being informed when the offender will be released from prison (if sentenced to 12 months or more);
- Information on restorative justice;
- Information about compensation;
- The right to a review of a decision to prosecute; and
- Referrals to victim support services.
The Review of the Victims’ Code
The review was extremely comprehensive and included scoping interviews and a call for evidence from criminal justice agencies and victims groups along with an online survey of victims, telephone surveys, in-depth interviews and a number of focus groups with victims and frontline practitioners. It was a key focus of the review that victims were given the opportunity to provide their evidence of their experiences, both good and bad. Claire presented the research and her findings and recommendations in her report which she presented at a Victims’ Summit in March 2019.
The Results & Recommendations
Overall the review highlighted many examples of great service, however, sadly it also revealed examples of unacceptable service, poor practice and a lack of training which adds to the victims’ trauma and can delay their recovery. The report covers a number of areas from the start of the criminal process, the trial and after the trial.
Claire has recognised that the vast majority of people working in the justice service are committed to helping and want to do a good job, stating that, “It is the system not always the people that ultimately leads to victims being failed and re-traumatised……there is an overwhelming demand, lack of resources, deficient training and an impossible complex framework for victim care that has been developed piecemeal over decades and bolted on to a system that predates victims’ rights and entitlements. Victims suffer the consequences of these problems time and again.”
The Review’s findings and recommendations include:
- Less than a third of victims reported being told about the code and as such were not aware of their rights under the code. This is a key issue as there is no use in having the rights if victims are not made aware of them. Those that were aware of the code said that they found it helpful and empowering. As such it is recommended that more be done to inform the public about their entitlements: an online service is currently being developed as an element of the Integrated Victim and Witness Service and a witness card is being suggested with information on resources/agencies that are available to support victims.
- It was found that victim’s impact statements are used inconsistently and not always effectively. The victim impact statement is provided as part of the criminal investigation and is a victim’s opportunity to set out how the crime has affected them and the impact upon their life. This is often very important for the victims and as such the Review recommends that the template be updated and clear guidance be given on the role of the statement, when to use it and how it will be used.
- The code provides for special measures to be available for victims when giving evidence at Court. The Review highlighted a lack of awareness of the special measures available and it is therefore recommended that a clear explanation be provided and a clear application process. It is also suggested that additional measures be included such as voice distortion or being met at a different entrance to court or at a different time to avoid coming in to contact with the defendant at court – this would help make the process of giving evidence as easy as possible for victims.
- Many victims reported that being kept up to date is important to them. Victims reported inconsistencies in being informed of the outcome of their case and where the perpetrator would be. It is recommended that specialist units be set up to provide an expert trauma informed advice to victims and practitioners at each stage of the case and also be able to signpost victims to support.
- Under the Code victims have the right to complain if the procedure is not followed, however, victims were largely unaware of the complaints procedure and where complaints had been made, the process was complex and time consuming. It is recommended that all agencies ensure details of how to complain and give feedback included clearly in their communications with victims.
- Compensation – The process of recovering from crime can incur significant costs including therapy costs, medical treatment and/or loss of earnings. Compensation can make a huge difference to victims however the review found that they are often not advised of the opportunity to claim or advised not to claim whilst the criminal process is ongoing which can then result in the claim being made out of time. It is recommended that victims be clearly advised about the opportunity for compensation under the CICA scheme. In addition to the CICA scheme, victims may also have a civil claim against another defendant and I would suggest that victims be advised of this too.
- Lack of Funding – the Review identifies a clear lack of funding. It is often difficult for victims going through the criminal process, having been through a traumatic experience and navigating the criminal system. Support services play a vital role in supporting victims through the criminal process, and whilst the demand for these support services has increased, funding for services has been drastically cut. As such the Review clearly recommends that direct funding to policing and victim focused services be increased in order ensure that victims are not denied the services they require. The role of Independent Domestic Violence Advocates and Independent Sexual Violence Advisers was also noted to have made a positive contribution to both victim well being and the justice service more widely and also that peer support was seen as particularly beneficial for victims of sexual and domestic abuse.
- The key finding of the Review is the recommendation that a Victims’ Law should be introduced making the code legally enforceable to ensure that victims obtain access to the rights they are entitled too and hopefully ensure that the victims are fully supported throughout the criminal process.
This is just a summary of some of the findings and recommendations contained within the very comprehensive review and report.
Overall the report has found that victims’ needs are not being met and that agencies are struggling to deliver the Code. The Review recommends that a Victims’ Law be introduced making the code and the victims’ rights legally enforceable. It is hoped that by doing so there will be a culture change that is needed to ensure that the victims’ rights are properly looked after at every stage of the criminal process in addition to helping those who work with victims to ensure they clearly understand the key entitlements that need to be provided to victims.
I hope that the lessons are learnt from the findings and recommendations of the Review and that a Victims’ Law is introduced to ensure that Victims’ who will have already gone through a difficult and often traumatic time obtain access to the rights they are entitled to and are properly supported throughout the criminal process.
Jessica Standley is an associate solicitor in the Abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp. If you or a love one have a claim, contact Jessica free of charge and in confidence on 020 3973 4994 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Abuse team will contact you. Find out more about the Abuse team.