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Earlier this week, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced a set of reforms intended to change the way and speed at which victims of crime access justice.
The Lord Chancellor’s ‘bold new vision for the treatment of victims’ will see rights previously enshrined in the Victims Code strengthened, with the media already lauding the new ‘victims’ law’.
Victims will be allowed to make a personal statement and ask for it to be read in court. Referrals to victims’ support organisations will become automatic, and victims will be provided better support before and at court. Publicly-funded advocates will be required to have undergone specialist victims training before getting involved in cases concerning serious sexual offences. A new Victims’ Information Service, including a helpline and a website, will advise victims on their rights.
According to Mr Grayling, the reforms “will create a system that puts the highest emphasis on victims’ needs and sets out their rights clearly in legislation ... Our criminal justice system can be daunting, and victims, especially the most vulnerable, can find it traumatic and difficult to know where to turn to for advice and support.”
Indeed, and as many have noted, the reforms will add to and build on victims’ rights, in at least one significant way: thanks to the reforms, victims could soon be paid compensation up front. According to the announcement, a fast track to compensation will follow a consultation and further development of plans to prevent some victims waiting for years.
This commitment to compensating deserving people more swiftly can and should be applauded. Victims should not be kept waiting for help and support.
Yet despite its merits, the announcement does little to compensate for the negative impact this government has had on the way victims of crime are treated. Only recently, compensation for the victims of crime was decimated by changing the eligibility criteria to exclude all but the most serious cases. These changes, which were narrowly pushed through parliament in 2012, cut or removed compensation for 90% of the victims of violent crime. As a result many victims of violent crime suffer financially as well as physically.
As the government basks in the light of positive coverage of the ‘victims’ law’, it should be noted that these changes were preceded by a massive erosion of the rights of genuine victims of violent crime which has barely been reported.
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