Domestic abuse and rape victims are set to be given the right to challenge the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on the dropping of their case as part of a slew of new reforms announced by the Ministry of Justice.
The Victims and Prisoners Bill, which the government says will “cement victims’ voices at the heart of the justice system”, aims to transform victims’ experience of the criminal justice system.
Legislation will enshrine the principles of the Victims’ Code in law, give ministers powers to direct the inspection of justice agencies that are failing victims, and create better oversight of those agencies.
Where appropriate, victims will have a right to:
- Challenge decisions which directly impact them, for example getting the CPS or police to review why their case has been dropped in the most serious cases like rape and domestic abuse
- Receive information to help them understand the criminal justice process, such as on claiming compensation, how their case is progressing and its outcome
- Access vital support services such as Independent Sexual Violence and Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors
- Have the opportunity to make their views heard, for example being able to ask to read out their Victim Personal Statements in court
The parole system will also be overhauled allowing ministers to block the release of the most dangerous offenders. The Bill will also legislate for a new release test for the Parole Board making it clear that public safety is the only priority when making release decisions – to stop a balancing exercise taking into account prisoners’ rights.
The new legislation will also stop prisoners serving whole-life orders from marrying or forming a civil partnership in prison. This will deny these criminals the important life events they stole from their victims while ensuring their horrific crimes are treated with the seriousness they deserve.
The process for victims making formal complaints will also be simplified by removing the requirement for them to go through their local MP before speaking to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
The Bill also bolsters the role of the Victims’ Commissioner by requiring criminal justice agencies to publicly respond to their recommendations and set out the rationale for accepting or rejecting them
Children born as a result of rape will also be explicitly designated as victims in their own right, making clear that they are entitled to access support services and information on their case.
Justice Minister Edward Argar MP said:
“We want victims going through the justice system to feel listened to, supported, informed, and to be treated fairly, properly, and with dignity.
Taken together, these measures will mean victims always know the level of help they should receive and always have somewhere to turn.”