A guide will be drafted for practitioners working in the criminal justice system to help them deliver their obligations to crime victims, the government said today, unveiling proposals for a simplified Victims' Code.
Under the code, all victims of crime, whether they report it or not, are entitled to a range of support and information. However, the Ministry of Justice says victims are missing out on these because of the code's complexity and inconsistencies. Practitioners have told the ministry that the code is difficult to navigate and that it lacks the operational guidance required to enable frontline staff to understand what they need to do for victims at each stage of the criminal justice process and who needs to do it.
The ministry proposes developing a 'less complex, more accessible' version of the code. It will also publish separate guidance for practitioners, which will include 'more practical and best practice guidance'.
After being told that victims are regularly dissatisfied with how frequently they are updated on cases, the ministry proposes to provide a single point of contact for those eligible for 'enhanced' entitlements under the code.
Practitioners told the ministry that victims rarely update their victim personal statements and that, where the offer to make one is not taken up initially, there are few opportunities to ensure it is included in the file if the defendant pleads guilty at the first hearing. Few victims are also aware of how their statements are used in court.
The ministry proposes to give criminal justice agencies more flexibility on when the statement is offered and provide the victim with a copy to help them decide if the statement needs to be updated. The ministry is also working with HM Courts & Tribunals Service to allow courts to record whether and how the statement is used during sentencing.
Justice minister Edward Argar said: 'The nature of crime is changing and the code must keep up. Being a victim of crime can be life-changing, and how people are subsequently treated within the justice system, can make a huge difference in helping them recover.
'By strengthening the code, we will give victims a louder voice in the process, ensure that they are better heard through their journey in the criminal justice system, and make sure they can access the support they need.'
The consultation closes on 11 September.