Victims’ Code comes into force

Work with offenders looks at the detail of the new code of practice for victims

Today, April 1st, the new Victims’ Code comes into force across England and Wales. The Code sets out the minimum level of service victims can expect from criminal justice agencies such as the police and courts, whether they choose to report the crime or not.

The Code brings is structured into 12 overarching rights for victims and aims to be e straightforward, concise and easy to understand. For each right, the code outlines the minimum level of information and service victims can expect at every stage of the justice process. The headline rights include:

  • For the first time, eligible victims will be automatically referred to the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS) and offered a Victim Liaison Officer (VLO), who provides updates on offenders as they serve their sentence, including their potential release from prison. A VLO can also help victims apply for licence conditions to reduce the chance of them encountering an offender in the community and assist with requesting reviews of Parole Board decisions.
  • Victims of sexual violence or domestic abuse will be able to choose the gender of police officers that interview them. They will also be directed towards the support of independent advisors who provide emotional and practical help, regardless of whether the crime is reported to the police (this right is accompanied by a recent extra £27m government funding to boost the number of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors.
  • The ability for vulnerable victims to have their cross-examination pre-recorded away from the courtroom - reducing the stress of giving evidence in court, which many find intimidating.
  • Greater flexibility over when and how a Victim Personal Statement (VPS), which tells the court how the crime has affected the victim, can be made – recognising that for many the impact of the crime may not be immediately apparent. Victims will also be able to request a copy of their VPS for them to refer to in future.
  • The right to be informed the reasons why a suspect will not be prosecuted. If unhappy, victims will also be able to ask the police or Crown Prosecution Service to review this decision.
  • For the first time, the Code sets out the rights of victims of Foreign National Offenders to be updated on when an offender’s deportation may occur.

The implementation of the Code is accompanied by a wealth of media resources to try to ensure that victims of crime are aware of the service they should now receive. In addition to a formal 43-page Code of Practice, there is also a booklet and website detailing the support victims should receive as well as additional materials for young victims of crime and an easy read version for those with difficulties readings. There are also a range of posters like the one reproduced below.

Although the Code has been welcomed by a wide range of victims’ organisations as well as other commentators in the criminal justice system, there was widespread concern that the Code merely sets out the standards that victims of crime should receive and does not have any enforcement mechanism.

However, these concerns have been mainly allayed by the Government in recent months when it announced that it will be launching a consultation for a Victims’ Law later this year. The Law, if passed, would enshrine the rights of victims in law, underpinning their rights in legislation and therefore ensuring that all agencies in the criminal justice system are accountable for delivering them.