The Ministry of Justice has today published its long-awaited draft Victims Bill. This legislation will finally put the Victims Code on a statutory footing, enshrining victims’ rights to:
Access specialist support services;
Be informed about how the criminal justice process works;
Have their voice heard, including through the right to meet the prosecutor where relevant; and
Challenge decisions made about cases that impact them.
The Victims Bill will require local police, justice agencies, local authorities and health bodies to work together to produce a strategy for victims in their policing area, including those with protected characteristics, through consultation of victims and services for victims, and work together to take into account victims’ experiences.
The draft legislation also defines Independent Domestic Abuse Advisers (IDVA) and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVASs) in law for the first time, and will introduce guidance setting out minimum standards and best practice for them. The draft currently only covers children where their parents are also domestic abuse victims and does not cover stalking victims at all.
Finally, another key change introduced by the legislation is to increase the powers of the Victims Commissioner, requiring them to report to Parliament annually and requiring relevant bodies and agencies, including Government Ministers, to respond to their recommendations.
Rebecca Goshawk, Head of Partnerships and Public Affairs, said,
“We are pleased that victims’ rights will finally be enshrined through this important legislation giving victims of male violence more prominence in the criminal justice system that too often sees them only as witnesses and frequently as unreliable ones.
“We also welcome the recognition of the role of advocates play in supporting women through the system and in the road to recovery. We are immensely proud of the professionalism and empathy of our advocates, and we recognise that victims deserve consistency in the support they receive.
“It is very disappointing however that only some types of advocates have been recognised by the Ministry of Justice when the services we and other specialist VAWG organisations provide are far wider than that. Victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence are supported in the community by an expanse of specialist advocates and caseworkers, all of which should be recognised in law, not least stalking advocates and those working with children and young people as the primary victims.
“Beyond that, we need to see this Bill to join up victims’ rights to support services and recognise the significant need for sufficient services and funding to meet the needs of all victims and survivors of male violence.
“The Bill should therefore go further and introduce a statutory duty on relevant agencies not only to have regard to assessments of victims’ needs but to carry out those assessments, and to then commission the services victims and survivors need, including services for those with protected characteristics through commissioning services run by and for those communities. This duty should be met through a commitment to multi-year sustainable funding with protected allocations for services run by and for Black and Minoritised women, Deaf and disabled women and LGBTQ+ survivors.
“Finally, until the Government guarantees migrant victims with insecure migration status can safely report abuse without risk of immigration control, they will be excluded from any of the provisions in this Bill. The Government must ratify the Istanbul Convention without the reservations it currently plans to use to exclude migrant victims and ensure that migrant victims are safe to report to the police.
“We urge Government to relook at the need for a duty to fund services for domestic abuse and sexual violence survivors in the community as part of this Bill and ensure that victims are able access the support they need to build safe and independent lives.”