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Essex report calls for the role of the Victims’ Commissioner to be strengthened

  • Date

    Thu 3 Dec 20

Professor Pamela Cox

The role of the Victims’ Commissioner – set up in 2004 to promote the interests of the victims of crime – needs to be strengthened if it is to be effective, according to a new report.

As it stands, the Victims’ Commissioner, currently Dame Vera Baird, lacks the necessary powers to carry out her statutory obligations to make sure the Victims’ Code, which sets out the standards victims can expect from the criminal justice system, is followed.

As lead author of the report, Professor Pam Cox, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex explained: “As the role is currently configured, the Victims’ Commissioner is established as an advocate for victims but not as an effective monitoring and scrutinising role. 

“The Commissioner has very few tools with which to work. At present, the Code is neither enforceable in law nor able to be kept under effective review.” 

The report, co-written by Professor Maurice Sunkin, from the School of Law at Essex, and Ruth Lamont from the University of Manchester, identifies significant gaps in the current powers of the Victims Commissioner compared to others such as the Children’s Commissioner for England and the Equality and Human Rights Commissioner (EHRC).

Dame Vera says it is her intention to make the Victims’ Code work properly for all victims. But she is currently unable to properly scrutinise victims’ rights and entitlements or to effectively hold criminal justice agencies to account. 

She said: “This report poses two key questions: if victims’ rights are important, why is it that they cannot be enforced? If agencies have duties, why is it that they cannot be compelled to perform these duties?”  Too often, she says, victims leave the criminal justice process feeling unhappy about their treatment.

In the year ending March 2019, more than half of victims said the police did not update them on the progress of their case, just one in 10 had been referred to support services and only one in seven said they had been given an opportunity to make a Victim Personal Statement.

The report outlines new proposed powers, which would compel criminal justice agencies to co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioner and take action where needed.

There is growing consensus across the political spectrum that victims’ rights need to be enshrined in law and that this law should be clearly enforceable and monitored. Last month, the Ministry of Justice published its new draft of the Victims Code, setting out 12 rights.

The Government has also pledged to introduce a ‘Victims’ Law’ which will, among other things, enshrine these rights in law.