By LE Desk
London, April 1: The victims’ commissioner has hailed as “an excellent step” a new code that will ensure victims of crime are always alerted when an offender is due to leave prison.
The code is a charter of rights that dictate the minimum level of service victims can expect at every stage of the justice process, regardless of whether they choose to report the crime or not, the Guardian said.
Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, said the code should help refocus the criminal justice system to the needs of victims and pave the way for a victims’ law.
Baird, a former Labour solicitor general, said: “What we need to do is to change attitudes …. This sets down with real clarity how that attitude must change,” the Guardian reported.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The criminal justice agencies understandably are focused on investigating crime – prosecuting that person or defending that person, seeing he has a fair trial deciding guilty or not. They really see it not central to their job to take great care of victims … That attitude must change.”
The new code stipulates that victims of crimes have the right to be given information that is easy to understand, with extra support provided if necessary. This includes information about the trial process, their role as a witness if necessary and the outcome of the case.
Where appropriate, victims will be automatically referred to the victim contact scheme, which provides updates on the progress of a convicted offender and their eligibility for release or parole.
The new code also ensures vulnerable victims will have the ability to pre-record their cross-examination away from the courtroom, rather than give evidence in court.
Victims of sexual violence will be able to choose the gender of their police interviewer, while victims of foreign national offenders now have the right to know when the perpetrator is deported.
Baird stressed the importance of victims’ rights eventually being enshrined into law.
She said: “The government does seem to me to be determined. At the moment agencies are going to be told they must implement them but ultimately they will enforce them through a victims’ law.
“A victims’ law would ensure that victims’ rights, such as to information, making a personal statement and accessing independent support services, are legally enforceable. I look forward to engaging with the government in the coming months to make this law a reality.”
The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, said he would begin consultation on a victims’ law this summer.
He said: “Our new code provides victims with a simplified and stronger set of rights – making clear their entitlements at every step of the way as they recover from crime.
“But we are not stopping here and will consult on strengthening these rights even further through a victims’ law as we continue to build back confidence in the justice system.”