A new Bill is currently at the Report Stage within Parliament relating to the experience of victims and survivors of crime, within the criminal justice system. The first and second readings of this newly drafted bill have gained a lot of attention from criminal justice support services. Currently, the rights of victims and survivors are outlined within the Victims Code of Practice (VCOP). However, the new ‘Victims and Prisoners Bill’ aims to make these rights a statutory responsibility within criminal justice agencies.
Currently, the VCOP outlines twelve rights for victims and survivors, the full list of rights can be found here. It is ‘Right 4’ that includes the right to access your local Restorative Justice service: “to be referred to services that support victims and have services and support tailored to your needs.”
The argument for expanding on the existing rights framework, is that the current format is not legally enforceable, leaving victims and survivors with minimal protection. This creates a ‘postcode lottery’ where access to support depends directly on the ‘luck’ of who victims and survivors come into contact with, if they decide to engage in the traditional criminal justice system.
This Bill has been advertised to expand and cement the rights previously included in the VCOP; focusing on much of the same issues that are currently outlined. This includes access to support, being given correct and timely information and creating more opportunities for victims to be heard by criminal justice agencies when advocating for themselves. However, various victim and survivor support agencies have raised serious concerns about the impact of this Bill and have made their own recommendations.
Despite claims that the main aim of this Bill is to strengthen the enforceability of victims rights in law, in its current form, it fails too adequately do so. Although it has made recommendations to monitor the compliance of the criminal justice service with the rights set out in the victims and prisoners bill, it fails to go further than data collection. In order to protect the rights of victims in a meaningful and more substantial way, there must be a standardised process that includes practical consequences for failing to meet the guidelines set out in the Bill.
Specifically looking at victim and survivors’ access to Restorative Justice, this Bill falls short of its aims for a variety of reasons. It fails to provide pathways for victims and survivors to receive specialised support. Already many victims (and offenders) struggle to access timely and accurate information about Restorative Justice, if they are given any details at all. The right to receive information about Restorative Justice is not included in the current draft of this Bill, this will exacerbate what is already one of the fundamental challenges of RJ services.
The exclusion of Restorative Justice in this Bill could negatively impact who is being referred into local RJ services because they are not being informed about RJ in the first place. Similarly, if it is not a statutory requirement to inform victims about their right to access RJ, there may be a lack of motivation for criminal justice agencies to adequately train their staff to be able to make appropriate referrals.
It will only serve to minimise and supress the voices of victims who are attempting to advocate for themselves; without knowledge of specialised services, victims and survivors are losing their right to choose what they need to support their individual needs.
The national Restorative Justice organisation, ‘WhyMe?’, are currently working to increase awareness of the consequences of this Bill. They are advocating for the inclusion of the following addition: “the right to hear about Restorative Justice from a specialist service, rather than just the Police”. This will assist in the minimisation of ‘gatekeeping’, where other services decide, without thorough consideration, whether an individual can access Restorative Justice, leaving the decision to refer to the discretion of one person and removing the autonomy of the victim. We are hopeful that the extensive reports from specialist organisations such as WhyMe? and Victim Support will be heard during the Report Stage of The Victim and Prisoners Bill and that their collective knowledge will be utilised to inform policy that will have direct benefits for victims and survivors.
Prison Reform Trust:
Gov UK (VCOP):
Victim Support’s Response: