‘Out-of-date’ references to barristers in a code of practice for crime victims should be amended, the Law Society has said in response to a Ministry of Justice consultation.
The ministry is proposing to make changes to the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Victims’ Code) as part of its commitment to implement an EU Victims’ Directive by 16 November. The directive establishes minimum standards of rights, support and protection for crime victims across the EU.
However the Society said the draft code used the word ‘barrister’ on several occasions – when it should refer to ‘advocates’.
The code, it noted, contained references to the removal of wigs and gowns by ‘judges, defence and CPS barristers’; and the phrases ‘defence barrister’ and ‘prosecution barrister’ were used.
‘This reference is out of date,’ the Society said. ‘The [Crown Prosecution Service] regularly deploy solicitor-advocates in the Crown court, and solicitor-advocates regularly appear there for the defence.’
It called for the definition of ‘barrister’ to be removed from the glossary ‘and replaced by a definition of the word ”advocate”’.
Justice minister Mike Penning, announcing the consultation in a written ministerial statement last month, said it was ‘crucial that the needs of victims of crime are put first and the proposed changes will entitle more victims to receive services from a bigger number of organisations’.
The Society agreed with the government’s proposal to broaden the definition of ‘victim’. Victims of summary traffic offences, such as careless driving and excess alcohol offences, should be entitled to victims’ services, it said.
The Society also supports a proposal to give victims who report a crime a written acknowledgment stating the basic elements of the criminal offence concerned.
But it had ‘some concern’ the proposal was ‘ambiguous in its reference to the basic elements of the criminal offence concerned’, which it said could be ‘misinterpreted as requiring the competent authority to set out technical elements of the offence, including the legal components that need to be proved in order to convict a person of the offence’.
‘The criminal law is complex,’ the Society said, ‘and without a basic understanding of Crown Prosecution Service charging guidelines, the law around defences and the burden of proof, and the admissibility of evidence, there is potential for misunderstanding and possibly the creation of unrealistic expectations on the part of victims as to what can be proved.’
Victims should receive details of the reported offence only, the Society suggested.