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Justice Select Committee agrees with the CJA that draft Victims Bill needs improving

The long-awaited Victims’ Bill aims to enshrine victims’ rights in law and improve their experiences of the criminal justice system. However, the Justice Select Committee have drawn on evidence from the CJA and others and agreed that the Bill in its current form falls short of what is required and won’t achieve these aims.   

The report was published on 30 September 2022, the same day that Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird KC’s term ended abruptly following her resignation, while stating that the draft Bill remains inadequate and in need of much improvement. 

The CJA worked with over 15 of our members to respond to the Justice Select Committee’s inquiry and previously set out what the Bill should include to improve victim’s lives. We welcome the Committee’s report and are pleased to see that many of our concerns and recommendations have been taken forward, including on strengthening victims’ rights; increasing victims’ awareness of and access to restorative justice and increasing funding and awareness of ‘by and for’ specialist victims support services. 

We also welcome the Committee’s focus on some of our members’ important work, such as JUSTICE, Remedi, Restorative Justice Council, Transform Justice and Victim Support.  

Strengthening victims’ rights by enshrining the Victims Code in legislation 

Although the government’s intention is for the Victims Bill to strengthen victims’ rights, the draft Bill only enshrines four vaguely worded overarching principles, rather than the full set of rights already set out in the Victims’ Code. We told the Committee that the four proposed principles do not go far enough and are too broad and unclear. We recommended the principles are expanded to better reflect the rights in the current Code and that more is done to strengthen criminal justice agencies compliance with delivering these rights. They agreed:

The principles are too weak as drafted… The Criminal Justice Alliance highlighted that key entitlements that are included in the full Code—such as a victims’ right to be informed about compensation, access to a complaints process, the right to have their case progressed without unjustified delay and to have their property returned —are not reflected in the four principles.

Paragraph 30 and 31

The Committee reported that the overarching principles are not strong enough, as they are so broad and permissive that it is unclear if they will serve any legal purpose or do any more to achieve the legal basis of victims’ rights than is already set out in existing legislation.

Increasing victims’ awareness of and access to restorative justice 

We told the Committee we are concerned that the Bill contains no mention of restorative justice, despite its well-evidenced potential to increase victims’ satisfaction, improve their wellbeing and reduce reoffending. We recommended that the Bill gives victims a statutory entitlement to be informed about and have access to restorative justice.  

They agreed and recommended that victims must be provided with information they need from criminal justice agencies, including information on restorative justice and that victims should have a legislative right to access restorative justice services.

A right to information about restorative justice and how to access local restorative justice services is already an entitlement in the Code but it is clear that it is not being delivered consistently. Our predecessor Committee’s 2016 report recommended that the Victims’ Law should include a provision for victims to have a legislative right to access restorative justice services. That is also our view and we recommend that that right be included in the Bill.

Paragraph 75

Making sure victims from minority groups have equal access to support services  

Victims from minority groups and with different protected characteristics can experience unequal access to support services. In January 2022, the CJA and Victims First Northumbria surveyed PCCs and victim services to understand how data on victim’s protected characteristics was collected and used. We found a need for more consistent and standardised data collection to improve the availability of and access to support services for these victims.  

In our written evidence to the Committee, we recommended that any data collected by PCCs be disaggregated by victims’ protected characteristics, to allow for any disparities in different groups’ access to support services to be identified. They agreed: 

Organisations we spoke to [including the CJA] stressed their concerns regarding the differential outcomes in the criminal justice system for people with protected characteristics […] A lack of data has been a key barrier to the effective monitoring of the implementation of the Code, particularly with respect to minority groups. [..] The duty should require the PCCs to publish that data, in a form that can be disaggregated by crime type and protected characteristic.

Paragraph 86, 90 and 91

Increasing funding and awareness of ‘by and for’ and specialist victims support services 

CJA members who provide specialised services to victims from minoritised communities told us there were several barriers to receiving funding. We recommended to the Committee that this could be improved by: 

  • More sustainable and accessible funding including ring-fenced budgets and grants for ‘by and for’ organisations. 
  • PCCs have a duty to collaborate and co-commission specialist victim services, including across regions to fill gaps in local services. 
  • More commissioners consider the needs of victims who may experience barriers to using generic support services due to their protected characteristics. 

They agreed and recommended that the Government put in place a national multi-year ringfenced fund to support specialist services and for it to be available in a simpler grant form. This fund should complement a responsibility on PCCs and other agencies to commission ‘by and for’ services, including through co-commissioning at a regional level. The Committee also recommended commissioners undertake needs assessments and be mindful of if there is a lack of specialist services in an area, this may lead to under-reporting the need of victims with protected characteristics who may require support services. 

National oversight of the Victims’ Code

The draft Bill weakens the Victims’ Commissioner’s oversight role by transferring their current responsibility of reviewing how the Victims Code operates to PCCs and omits it from the Victims’ Commissioners’ legislative remit. While we agreed that PCCs are best placed to monitor the day-to-day operation of the Code at a local level, we do not agree that this function should be omitted from the Victims Commissioner’s powers. Instead, we recommended the Victims’ Commissioner retained national oversight of the operation of the Victims’ Code.  

The Committee found that the draft Bill should strengthen the role of the Victims’ Commissioner. As CJA suggested, the Committee recommended that the Victims’ Commissioner retains a duty to oversee the operation of the Victims’ Code at a national level, and the clause omitting this is no longer included in the Bill. (Paragraph 132)  

Removing barriers for victims to raise complaints 

In our written evidence, we welcomed the removal of victims having to raise a complaint via a Member of Parliament (MP) before it can be investigated by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). However, we recommended the Bill needs to go further to make the complaints system more accessible to victims. CJA members told us that the current complaints processes are often too varied and confusing and do not provide sufficient redress. They agreed: 

Even without having to make a complaint through an MP, the Criminal Justice Alliance caution that the role of the PHSO in the complaints system is poorly understood by victims, with many unaware of how to navigate the procedure. […] Alongside the removal of the MP filter the Government and Ombudsman service should take steps to increase the visibility of the Ombudsman service to victims of crime.

Paragraph 147 and 148

Next steps

At a time when there are ongoing problems with victims accessing swift justice – the ongoing court backlog, low pay for criminal barristers causing strike action, cuts to legal aid funding, and no Victims’ Commissioner in-post – the CJA calls on the government to fully accept all the Committee’s recommendations and for the new Justice Secretary to urgently introduce an improved draft Bill to Parliament. 

The CJA and our members look forward to working with ministers, Government officials and parliamentarians to make sure this landmark Bill does deliver better justice for victims. 

For more information regarding CJA’s work on the Victims Bill, contact Hannah Pittaway, Senior Policy Officer at