Justice Committee Report backs RJC’s concerns about the Victims Bill
Today the Justice Select Committee has published its report on the draft Victims Bill which the Government published on 25 May 2022. The Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill was a very welcome move, but the Government needs to move quickly to give reassurance that it will present the long-delayed Victims Bill soon to Parliament and that it will take account of the Justice Committee’s comments.
Dame Vera Baird’s no-holds-barred letter of resignation as Victims Commissioner has undermined confidence about how serious the Government is about its previously expressed aspirations to end victims’ status as bystanders in the criminal justice system. High quality restorative justice plays a vital role in achieving that goal.
The status of the Victims Code, and the rights set out in it, are of crucial importance. On this point the Committee’s comments are critical of the current wording of the Bill saying:
“We find that the draft Bill does not appear to do any more to achieve this than is already provided for in existing legislation. The draft Bill includes overarching principles that are weaker than those consulted on and which, as currently drafted, will do little to improve agencies’ compliance with the Victims’ Code.”
The Committee recommends a rewording of the principles, which include a direct reference restorative justice. Paragraph 34 of the report recommends that:
“Criminal justice agencies must provide victims with the information they need throughout the entirety of their case, from reporting through to post-conviction in a language or format that they can understand; this should include information on restorative justice where appropriate.”
This is exactly the kind of explicit reference to restorative justice in the Bill that the RJC has been advocating, and the Committee’s support for its inclusion is significant.
The Committee refers to its 2016 Report which recommended that entitlements to restorative justice should be strengthened and notes the Crime Survey for England and Wales Victimisation Data shows that the proportion of victims who were offered restorative justice decreased from 7.5% in 2017–18 to 5.5% in 2019–20.
The RJC welcomes the recognition throughout the report that the Government’s aspirations have significant resource implications – they will not be achieved if these are not addressed. The recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Restorative Justice in their inquiry report, published last autumn, need to be implemented as part of the increased investment required.
There are many other aspects of this report that deserve recognition specifically recommendations about how to ensure that the system is held to account for compliance with the Code, and that data is both collected and published. Of special importance is the support for a continuing role for the Victims Commissioner. The Committee accepts and quotes directly the RJC’s point that key parts of the system are accountable at national not local level, and therefore the Victims Commissioner should not be side-lined in the way the draft Bill suggests. Scrutiny and accountability are needed at BOTH local and national level – it is not an either / or. It is especially welcome that the report calls for data collected about Code implementation to differentiate by crime type and protected characteristics, as defined by the Equality Act 2010. The report also makes important proposals about what role the CJS various inspectorates can potentially play, and how that can be maximised and supports the call for victims to have the same right to make a Victim Personal Statement at a Mental Health Tribunal, which they have in other types of court.
Overall, this, is a positive and welcome report. If the Government takes heed of it, the Bill will be considerably improved. It’s important for RJC members to be raising this report with their Police and Crime Commissioner. In the devolved context in which we are working, influencing at local level is just as important as the work being done nationally.