NORTH OXON MP INTERVENES IN VICTIMS STRATEGY DEBATE
On Monday 10 September, North Oxfordshire MP, Victoria Prentis, intervened on the Victims Strategy Debate, welcoming the Minister’s statement.
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Edward Argar):
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement. Today, the Secretary of State for Justice and I are launching the Government’s victims strategy, which sets out our vision for victims of crime in England and Wales. That vision is of a justice system that supports even more victims to speak up with the certainty that they will be understood, protected and supported, whether or not they report a crime and regardless of their circumstances or background.
However, no single Department, agency or emergency service alone can provide the services that victims rightly expect to receive, as shown by recent major incidents and tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire and terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. To truly deliver on our vision, we must all work together. That is why we have today published, for the first time, a cross-Government victims strategy, further delivering on this Government’s commitment to ensure that victims of crime get the support they need.
This strategy is the latest milestone in improving that support for victims and builds on important progress over the past few years under Governments of both parties, such as the establishment of the first code of practice for victims in 2006; the appointment of the first Victims’ Commissioner to champion the interests of victims and witnesses in 2010; and the publication of “Getting it right for victims and witnesses” in 2012, which set out the Government’s approach to ensuring that victims and witnesses get the support they need.
The victims strategy consolidates and builds on that progress but recognises that more still needs to be done. I thank and pay tribute to all the victims, victims’ groups and experts who have willingly shared their experiences and sat on the victims panel, and to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who initiated this work. I also pay tribute to my officials and to my opposite number in the Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), for their work on the strategy. To achieve what we wish to, we must work together.
The nature of crime is changing and we must adapt our response to meet that challenge. Although overall crime has fallen, incidents of some of the most serious crimes have risen. Serious violent crime has increased and the reporting of sexual offending has also risen. In the year ending March 2018, there was a 24% increase in reported sexual offences, compared with the previous year.
The message from victims is clear: they want to be treated with dignity, humanity and compassion; they want clear, timely and accurate information about what is happening with their cases from day one; and they want the opportunity and support to make their voices heard as justice is done. To help to achieve that, the strategy sets out a system-wide response to improving the support offered to all victims of crime, throughout the criminal justice process, and incorporates actions from all criminal justice agencies, including the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts. We must ensure that those who are victims of crime do not become victims of the process.
First, we want to strengthen the victims code and make it fit for the future. Our data tells us that fewer than 20% of victims are even aware of the code. Those who are often find it too lengthy and too confusing, with too many agencies involved. We will therefore revise the code, make it more user-friendly and reduce the number of contact points. We will also strengthen entitlements in key areas such as the victim personal statement and support for victims of mentally disordered offenders. We will test the proposed changes to the code in a public consultation in early 2019, and aim to have a revised code in place by the end of 2019.
We have reaffirmed our manifesto commitment to a victims law. The consultation will consider how best to enshrine victims’ entitlements in law and the detail of the necessary legislation, and it will include boosting the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner, who already plays a vital role in holding agencies to account. In that context, I pay particular tribute to Baroness Newlove for all her work over the past six years to promote and protect the interests of victims and witnesses.
The criminal injuries compensation scheme must reflect the changing nature of crime. We will therefore review the entire scheme, with a particular focus on how we treat the victims of child sexual abuse and terrorism. That will include examining eligibility criteria and abolishing the arbitrary and unfair “same roof” rule, so that victims can get the compensation that they are rightly due.
From Hillsborough to Grenfell, there have been too many failures properly to support those affected by disasters, so today, in this strategy, we have set out our plans for an independent public advocate, and in tandem we have published a consultation on the detail of that role—supporting bereaved families so that those failures cannot be repeated and so that we can properly support victims from the beginning of a disaster right through to the application of justice and beyond.
Building on the work we commenced earlier this year to improve the parole process, the strategy sets out how we will improve communication and support for victims during what can be for many a difficult time, when memories of crimes committed years ago are relived. We will simplify the victim contact scheme and improve the quality of communication. We will make it easier for victims to make victim personal statements at parole hearings, and we will roll out revised training for victim liaison officers so that they are better equipped and prepared to support victims through parole hearings. That can and should help to ensure that past failings can never be repeated.
The strategy highlights the extra funding that we are providing for victims, including by increasing spending to improve services and pathways for survivors and victims of sexual violence and abuse. That spending includes £8 million on interventions to ensure that support is available to children who witness domestic abuse. Other measures include improved training for the police, including guidance on supporting victims through the interview process and collecting evidence; the trialling of body-worn cameras for taking victim personal statements, so that victims have a choice in how their story is heard; and expanding support for families bereaved by gang violence. The recent spate of gang-related violence, particularly in London, has shone a spotlight on the devastation that gun and knife crime can cause to families. We will also bring in new funding for advocacy support for those affected by domestic homicide. New guidance on pre-trial therapy to reduce the perception that it will damage the prosecution case will also be brought forward.
In developing the strategy, we have engaged extensively with victims, victims’ groups and the Victims’ Commissioner. That has ensured that the strategy is informed by those who have had direct experience of being a victim, as well as by those with frontline expertise who have supported them.
This strategy is not a quick fix. It is about building on the work to date so that we can better support victims in the future. It is also about giving them the confidence that, no matter their background, their individual circumstances, or the crime that has been committed against them, the support they need will be there.
This is the first time that we have looked in such detail and in such a joined-up way at how we treat victims in the wake of crime. This strategy is a marker for the way we should see ourselves as a nation—one that offers dignity, empathy and compassion to people when they are at their most vulnerable. It is something on which there is broad consensus across this House. On this agenda, the Opposition have, in my experience, always been constructive and positive in their engagement with the Government and I hope that that constructive approach will continue as we deliver the strategy.
Delivery of the strategy will now commence in earnest, as we continue to progress towards a system that supports even more victims to speak up by giving them the certainty that they will be understood, supported and protected throughout their journey. I commend this statement to the House.
Victoria Prentis (Banbury):
I thank the Minister for his statement. This really is a great day for victims. There is much to be very pleased with in the statement and the document that joins it. Let me focus on the “same roof rule”—an issue on which I have been campaigning for many years. I was particularly pleased with the change to that rule in a world in which most sex offenders are known to their victims. This is very important. Will he give us greater detail as to when it is likely that the change will come into effect?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is quite right to highlight the importance of this change. She has campaigned very strongly on this issue, as has the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). Only recently, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) highlighted the very important campaigning of his constituent, Alissa Moore, on this issue and the huge impact that that has had on bringing about change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) asks about timescales. We will be responding to IICSA, the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, which plays into this agenda, but at this stage we anticipate that we will be looking to consult early in 2019.
The above account is taken from the official House of Commons Hansard for 10 September 2018.