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CJA sets out what Victims’ Bill should include to improve lives of victims

The CJA has called for the upcoming Victims’ Bill to enshrine all 12 rights of the Victims’ Code in legislation and increase access to restorative justice. In addition, we have called for the government to improve support for people in prison who have been the victims of a crime and increase access to specialist services for Black, Asian and minority ethnic victims.

The Ministry of Justice recently launched a consultation on its long-awaited Victims’ Bill. The CJA has set out a series of measures which should be included in the Bill to improve the lives of victims of crime, drawing on roundtables with members and surveys with victims’ hubs.

We are concerned that the consultation document assumes that justice for victims is solely delivered through the criminal justice system and that a criminal justice response is what most victims seek. Members reported that some people who access their services do not want a criminal justice outcome and it is only a minority of victims who are involved in a criminal trial. Some members reported that where people do want a criminal justice response, they often feel failed as the criminal justice system does not deliver a resolution or address the harm that has been caused. In fact, it can be re-traumatising for many.

Research shows that restorative justice — a voluntary process which brings together victims and the person who committed the crime to address harm — can improve victim satisfaction and wellbeing and reduce reoffending. However, many victims are not made aware of this potentially life-changing process, and we are disappointed that the consultation document makes no mention of restorative justice. We want to see the Victims’ Bill give victims a statutory entitlement to be made aware of restorative justice and a statutory right to be automatically referred to a service. We also call on the government to regularly produce a national action plan to increase access, awareness and capacity of restorative justice.

In our response, we raise concerns that people in prison who have been victims of crime are not able to access support until after they have served their sentences. CJA member Prison Reform Trust has reported that some people in prison who contact its advice and information service describe difficulties in both reporting crime to Police Liaison Officers and accessing victims’ services. What’s more, victims of violent crime who have certain unspent convictions cannot access compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. CJA member Unlock has found that people affected by this rule have included victims of sexual abuse and other serious crimes, whose own offending can be clearly linked to the crimes committed against them and the trauma they have experienced. We recommend that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons should take part in the thematic review on victims due to be carried out by other inspectorates later this year, and that issues around access to compensation are addressed.

We are not satisfied that the experiences and needs of different cohorts of victims — such as children, young adults, women, people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds (including Gypsy, Roma or Traveller communities) or those with insecure immigration status — have been sufficiently acknowledged and addressed. Victims can face discrimination and bias and a lack of cultural competence when dealing with the police and other criminal justice agencies, and specialist services can be best placed to support them. But members working with minoritised communities have said there is a need for greater and more sustainable investment and resources including core funding, rather than one-off short-term funded projects. There is also a need for more consistent collection of data on the protected characteristics of victims, which should be used to inform commissioning of victims’ services.

We also highlight member concerns that complaint processes for victims are too varied and hard to navigate due to each criminal justice agency having a separate complaints system. To improve victims’ experiences of complaints processes, our members would like to see one central complaints mechanism where victims of any crime can easily file a complaint in relation to any agency and any right under the Victims’ Code.

This bill provides a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to improve outcomes for victims and we look forward to continuing working with our members as this legislation is developed and goes through parliament.

Read the CJA’s response to the government consultation on improving victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system.

For more information about this consultation response, please contact Hannah Pittaway, Senior Policy Officer, on