Justice Secretary Dominic Raab unveils proposals for a new "Victims' Law"

By Sia Xinyu


https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/12/09/prosecutors-could-meet-crime-victims-deciding-charge-suspects/


Introduction


With a decline in victim confidence in the English criminal justice system, many victims are starting to shy away from participating in judicial processes. Examples of such behaviour include withdrawing support for prosecution, refusing to testify in court, or expressing dissatisfaction with their treatment by law enforcement authorities. [1]


In order to rebuild confidence in the system and help victims cope with the impact of crime, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has recently unveiled proposals for a new “Victims’ Law” to improve their treatment meaningfully. He promised that these plans will “give victims a louder voice, a greater role in the criminal justice system, and make criminals pay more to help victims recover”. [2]


What is the Victims’ Law?


The “Victims’ Law” will introduce the creation of published quarterly scorecards to measure performances of criminal justice agencies. The scorecards will be published twice a year and will show regional variations in performance, including information on volumes of cases being acted on and the time taken for investigation, charging and completion at court. [3] Employees that fail to provide basic levels of victim support will be faced with fines, disciplinary action and criminal sanctions. [4]


The new law will mandate prosecutors to meet victims of certain crimes before making a charging decision in order for them to understand the actual impact of the crime on the victim, rather than basing severity on their own standards. Additionally, alleged victims of sexual and modern slavery offences will be given the right to pre-record cross-examination evidence outside the courtroom, so as not to exacerbate anxiety they might have speaking in front of their abusers. [5]


Currently, victims of antisocial behaviour, who are usually affected by the behaviour of other people in their community before any criminal offence has been committed, are not protected under the law. The level of victims’ involvement in current solutions is also insufficient due to issues such as requiring multiple incidents to be reported before assistance can be sought. Raab’s proposals aim to put victims of antisocial behaviour on par with victims of crime, so that they can have the same statutory entitlement to access victim support services. [6]


Problems with the Victims’ Law


However, barristers have voiced their concerns about the new law potentially straining the justice system even further. There is already a heavy court backlog that needs to be cleared as a result of the pandemic, with more than 60,000 Crown Court trials yet to be heard as of Oct 2021. [7] With the new requirements in the Victims’ Law, Jo Sidhu QC (chairman of the Criminal Bar Association) worries that measures such as “requiring personnel to meet with alleged victims pre-charge will likely drain much-needed human resources from the proper processing of evidence”. [8]





References:

[1] Victim’s Commisioner, Victims Law policy paper: The Victims’ Commissioner’s proposals for a Victims Law

[2] Jonathan Ames, Matt Dathan, ‘Dominic Raab promises crime victims a ‘louder voice’ The Times (London, 9 December 2021)

[3] Alison Hernandez, 'It’s about time we focused on the needs of the victim' Midweek Herald (Devon, 13 December 2021)

[4] Ibid [2]

[5] Ibid [2]

[6] Matt Dathan, ‘Dominic Raab to offer greater rights for victims of antisocial behaviour’ The Times (London, 4 December 2021)

[7] Dominic Casciani, ‘Justice Secretary Dominic Raab can't say when court backlog will be cleared’ BBC News (London, 14 October 2021)

[8] Ibid [2]