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Only a matter of months after Justice Secretary Chris Grayling outlined the government’s ‘bold new vision for the treatment of victims’ Labour is calling for a ‘cultural shift’ in the way victims of crime are cared for. 

According to BBC reports, a panel of criminal justice experts, set up by Labour, is calling for judges to have the power to control the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses. 

The report also advocates a statutory and mandatory duty on those working with children in regulated activities (e.g. social workers and teachers) to report suspected abuse.
In addition, the panel recommends that victims should have their case reviewed if charges are not brought. 

It also calls for victims to have greater access to information about the progress of their case and that the Victims’ Code should be legally enforceable. 

It’s difficult to see whether Labour’s campaign will gather significant momentum. After all, many of the recommendations are already being addressed by the current government. 

The current Conservative Justice Secretary Chris Grayling MP, has already accepted in a MoJ press statement that “we are the first to acknowledge that more can be done, and should, be done”. 

To that affect, 2015/16 will see several landmark changes in the way victims of crime are treated, as set out in the ‘Our Commitment to Victims’ paper in September last year:

  • Victims’ rights to inform the court of how their crime has affected them will be set out in statute. This will also put the key entitlements of the Victims’ Code into primary legislation, and ensures their voice is heard in court. 
  • Millions of pounds is to be invested in improving the court experience. This includes plans to require advocates to have specialist training ahead of sexual abuse or rape trials.
One of Grayling’s plans also outlined in September, is a new nationwide Victims’ Information Service. The intention is to bring together all the key information, contact points and advice for victims in one place. 

In fact, we’re eagerly awaiting the launch of phase 1 of the Victims’ Information Service that is expected to go live at the end of this month. 

The new service, which will see the eventual launch of a web portal, will be developed in three phases:

  • Phase 1 (by end March 2015) – victims will be given access to information on the criminal justice system and will be signposted to local support services. 
  • Phase 2 (by April 2016) – Full ‘one-stop-shop’ for victims where they can submit complaints and provide feedback. 
  • Phase 3 (by April 2018) – Implementation of a tool that will allow victims to track the progress of their case online across the entire criminal justice system 

As Labour has also pointed out, the Victims’ Commissioner’s Review published last week, shows ‘there is a gap between the handling of complaints as described by the criminal justice agencies and how victims feel they have been treated’. 

It’s our understanding that by the end of this month, the work completed in phase 1 will signpost those that want to make a complaint to the relevant part of the criminal justice system. 

We just hope that this involves more than a simple listing of the primary contact points at each agency. Victims of crime more often than not want to try and move forward with their lives after a crime. The victim needs to feel supported by the criminal justice system in making a complaint and that it’s not a convoluted process to do so. 

We suspect though, that the concerns raised in the Victims’ Commissioner’s report will not be fully addressed until Phase 2 in April 2016. 

One thing is for sure though – there’s definitely a marked shift in the way victims are treated by the criminal justice system and whilst we would like to see the support fully implemented now, there’s an awful lot of work to be done. 

We just hope that those working for the criminal justice system, are made fully aware of the new information available to victims and what their specific role is in ensuring they are supported. 

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