Draft Victims' Bill Briefing

  • By Rachel Buttrick
The Draft Victims’ Bill was published for pre legislative scrutiny on Wednesday 25th May. It was published alongside a response to the results of the “Delivering Justice for Victims” consultation that the Ministry of Justice ran in preparation for drafting the bill. Read London Councils’ response to the Ministry of Justice's consultation here
The Victims’ Code 
The bill would put the Victims’ Code, which currently exists as guidance to criminal justice agencies, on statutory footing. The bill would require the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice for criminal justice agencies regarding services provided to victims. The bill would specify the key underlying principles that the code must reflect:
  • 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
The Secretary of State will have flexibility to amend the Victims’ code, provided it reflects the above principles and any amendment does not reduce the rights given under the code. The Secretary of State will need to publish a draft version of the code for consultation.
The bill will also require criminal justice agencies to keep their compliance with the code under review, and collect and share data on their compliance. This will include local authority youth offending teams. Police and Crime Commissioner’s (PCCs) will become responsible for reviewing compliance of their local criminal justice bodies with the Victim’s Code. 
Criminal justice agencies and PCCs will have a duty to take into account victim’s experiences.
Making the Victim’s Code Statutory and enshrining victims’ rights in law is a positive and welcome step.
There are currently many concerns about victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. London Victims’ Commissioner Claire Waxman documented challenges faced by victims of rape, including long waiting times and intrusive requests for personal information. Many key challenges will not be addressed by the Bill. While the Victims’ Code is welcome, the lack of resource currently in the criminal justice system is likely to pose a challenge to compliance and improving victims’ experience. 
The underlying principles of the Victims’ Code enshrined in the bill does not include all of the provisions currently included in the code, and the final shape of the code will be determined by the Secretary of State, with further consultation to come. 
Duty to Collaborate in the Provision of Victim Support Services
The Victims’ Bill would introduce a joint statutory duty on PCCs, local authorities and health bodies (Integrated Care Boards, of which there are five in London) to collaborate when commissioning support for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and other serious violence, so services are more holistic and co-ordinated. This does not include safe accommodation support services that are covered under the
Domestic Abuse Act. 
In London, the relevant local authority will be the Greater London Authority, which will need to collaborate with the five Integrated Care Boards in London and the Police and Crime Commissioner (MOPAC). Under the current wording of the bill, London boroughs do not appear to be included in the duty. 
Relevant Authorities for a police area will need to prepare a joint strategy for commissioning victim support services, setting out the aims and approach to commissioning. Authorities will be required to seek views of providers and victim representatives in the development of these strategies. Relevant authorities must consider relevant needs assessments, including the particular needs of those with protected characteristics, and existing local and national provision. 
The government will set up a national oversight group to review strategies.
This does not create any new duties to commission services for victims. 
Outside of the Victims’ Bill, the government has committed to publishing a new Victims’ Funding Strategy. This strategy will propose a framework for funding and commissioning, and provide national standards and metrics for commissioning services.
The Ministry of Justice has committed to increasing funding for victim support to £185 million by 2024/25. At least £147 million per year of this funding is now guaranteed up to 2025. 
Collaboration across the system is vitally important to ensure that victims of crime, especially domestic abuse and sexual violence, receive the support they need. London in particular represents a complex commissioning landscape, with a patchwork of services receiving funding from different sources, which can make integrating services very challenging. 
The duty would not introduce any more funding for the commissioning of services, and would leave the gap between safe accommodation based services for survivors of domestic abuse, which receive statutory funding, and community based services for such victims, which do not. Pressures on services remain high, with higher demand than services available. 
Standardisation of IDVA and ISVA Roles
The Victims’ bill will create a definition of Independent Sexual Violence Advocates and Independent Domestic Abuse Advocates and will create a duty for the Secretary of State to issue guidance on ISVAs and IDVAs. This guidance should set out recommended minimum standards and best practice.
ISVAs, IDVAs, “and those that have a function relating to victims of criminal conduct, or any aspect of the criminal justice system”, will have a duty to have due regard to this guidance.
Improving Oversight and Insight
The bill will strengthen the position of the Victims’ Commissioner; the Victims’ Commissioner will be required to lay an annual report to parliament. Relevant criminal justice agencies and government departments will be required to respond to any recommendations made to them in the report. 
The bill will introduce the ability for relevant Ministers to direct joint thematic inspections by criminal justice inspectorates to assess the experiences and treatment of victims throughout the entire criminal justice process
Victims’ Complaints
The Victims’ bill will remove the need for a victim of crime to raise a complaint via an MP before it can be escalated to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO). The bill does not make any other provisions regarding complaints from victims. 
Migrant Victims
Many respondents to the consultation, including London councils, raised the challenges faced by migrant victims. The bill will not include any particular provision for migrant victims. The Home Office has committed to introducing an Immigration Enforcement Migrant Victim Protocol in late summer 2022. Under the protocol, migrant victims who report a crime will have relief from immigration enforcement action while criminal proceedings are underway and are supported to make an application to regularise their stay in the UK. However, this proposal will not provide protection for migrant victims if the criminal proceedings cease (as is often the case where there is sexual violence or domestic abuse) or once criminal proceedings have been completed. This means migrant victims will continue to be less likely to report crimes due to fear of immigration action. 
Rachel Buttrick, Principal Policy and Project Officer