We've read it so you don't have to.
The Victims and Prisoners Bill was originally sponsored by Dominic Raab 29 March 2023. It came in response to previous public consultations surrounding victim experiences and the parole system. The Bill will introduce procedures relating to victims of criminal conduct and victims of major incidents. Further, it will bring reforms to the parole system, and put restrictions on marriage for prisoners with life sentences.
Now in the Committee stage in the House of Lords, the Bill has faced large criticism from campaigner groups, such as VAWG, who are concerned the Bill “will not transform victims’ experiences without significant changes”. The inadequacies of the Bill are easy to find, but, in the context of GINA’s work, what is the Bill proposing to introduce to support individuals subjected to sexual abuse and violence?
Well, we read the current version of the Bill, so you don’t have too.
The Bill, now headed by Alex Chalk, currently comprises five parts, with a particular focus on part one, "Victims of Criminal Conduct," aligning closely with GINA's activities. This section builds upon the existing framework outlined in the Victims Code, introducing statutory principles to replace the previous code guidance relating to victim support services.
The Victims Code will mandate the provision of services reflecting key principles, ensuring that victims:
· should be provided with information to help them understand the criminal justice process;
· should be able to access services which support them (including, where appropriate, specialist services);
· should have the opportunity to make their views heard in the criminal justice process;
· should be able to challenge decisions which have a direct impact on them.
For a detailed understanding of the Victims Code contents, additional information is available here.
Upon the Bill's passage, the Secretary of State will be obligated to publish a draft code open for representations, subject to thorough scrutiny in Parliament. The code, following any necessary modifications, will then be enacted. Revisions are permissible, provided they do not compromise service quality or extent, with proposed changes undergoing scrutiny akin to the original draft.
It is important to note, non-compliance with the victims' code will not expose individuals to criminal or civil proceedings. Nevertheless, the code will be admissible in court, enabling consideration of a failure to adhere to its provisions.
The Bill will ensure that the Victims' Code undergoes promotion and review by criminal justice bodies, extending its reach to Chief Officers of Police, Chief Constables of the British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence Police. Elected local policing bodies will be tasked with overseeing compliance in the provision of services. The Secretary of State will be required to publish all compliance information to facilitate public assessment of code compliance. Additionally, to bolster compliance efforts, the Secretary of State must provide guidance on the promotion and review of the Victims' Code.
Local policing bodies, integrated care boards within the NHS, and local authorities will be required to foster collaborative partnerships in executing their functions related to essential victim support services. In the context of policing in England, the relevant authorities will be required to formulate and execute a comprehensive strategy for victim support services.
This strategy should actively seek input from victims within the area, engaging with relevant representations of support services such as GINA.
To assist, the Secretary of State will issue guidance for both the relevant authorities and independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisors. Additionally, the Secretary of State will hold the authority to initiate reviews specifically focused on domestic abuse-related deaths. These reviews will aim to glean insights and identify valuable lessons to be learned from each case.
The Bill will also empower the Secretary of State, the Lord Chancellor, and the Attorney General to demand joint inspection programs concerning victim experiences and treatment across His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Constabulary, Crown Prosecution Service and Probation for England and Wales.
Finally, authorised individuals will be able to make victim information requests pertaining to individuals identified as victims or at risk. The Secretary of State will furnish a statutory code of practice to facilitate compliance and understanding.
Well then, from this whistle-stop tour of the Bill, do you believe it will bring about substantial changes in the experiences of those subjected to sexual violence and abuse? Will victims support services be improved? Is this the right step forward?