MPs are considering package of laws meant to improve victim's rights this week after oral evidence sessions were held, but critics have already hit out that this new Victims Bill “isn't worth the paper it's written” on, due to diluting of its original aims by justice secretary Dominic Raab before his resignation.
The possibility of government dilution of laws that are there to support and empower victims is frightening and bleak. Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), points out the paramount importance of the Bill, and what it can do for survivors.
Almost two-thirds of young women have been sexually harassed at work.
“This Bill has the potential to improve victims and survivors’ experiences of the criminal justice system, at a time when women and girls’ confidence in justice agencies is at an all-time low and survivors are being routinely failed in the most appalling way," she said.
"There remains much to do to improve all victims and survivors’ experiences of justice and recovery, especially the most marginalised," she adds. "The government needs to keep victims’ rights at the heart of this Bill, instead of pursuing the Refugee Ban Bill and so-called Bill of Rights, which significantly undermine the spirit of a Victims Bill.” This Victims Bill should look to protect Black, minorities and migrant survivors, who are disproportionately victims of violence against women and girls, yet also experience poorer outcomes in access to justice and support, yet the Refugee Ban and Bill of Rights are actively othering and persecuting minorities.
Here's what we'd like to see on the new iteration of the bill, to help protect victims and survivors of crime.
Refuge is calling for the Victims and Prisoners Bill to ensure that domestic abuse services are properly funded and meet survivors’ needs. New research from the charity has found that 85% of frontline workers believe that their community-based service is being impacted by insufficient funding and that 95% of survivors supported by refuge, or 23,406 women, use these services. Refuge has urged the government to provide funding of £238 million per year in the new bill.
According to Alan Collins, Partner in the sex abuse team at Hugh James Solicitors, in order to give victims and survivors the best chance of making their case, they need to be able to give evidence easier, and methods of doing so need to be as accessible as possible, ranging from video methods to ensuring there are tools of interpretation and translation on hand if necessary.
We'd like to see the government commit to funding services for victims across all areas, ensuring that those who need the help most don't slip through the cracks.
Linda Yaccarino sure does have her work cut out.
“Recovery is an essential part of justice, and we need to ensure every survivor who needs help can access specialist support that is tailored to their needs," Simon says. "We are a long way from that being a reality and need to see the government commit to sustainable funding of specialist services in the community – particularly those led by and for Black and minoritised women.”
Victims of sexual crimes go through enough as it is when accusing their abuser, and EVAW believes that independent legal advice should be offered as standard by the new Victims Bill.
“If this Bill is truly going to centre victims and their needs, it must provide independent legal advice for rape survivors and safeguards to protect them from excessive police requests for their medical history, therapy notes and other personal data,” Simon explains.
However, the charity are wary of the role being too heavily defined, so as not to risk decommissioning of other support offered in line with help from advocates. They've suggested that the government need to work alongside domestic violence charities to ensure this.
We can (and must) do better.
Research by Women's Aid found that “not a single survivor was aware of the existence of the Victims’ Code, which sets out their fundamental rights as victims and the standard of support they should receive.” The Victims' Code provides the foundation principles of the new bill, according to the commons library “The code sets out the minimum level of service victims can expect from criminal justice agencies. The Bill would also place duties on criminal justice bodies to raise awareness of the code and to collect and review information on their compliance with it.”
If survivors are unaware of their rights, they are much less likely to be able to get justice for the crimes committed agains them.
After Dame Vera Baird stepped down as victims' commissioner in September 2022, no replacement was made. The absence of a commissioner to scrutinise the Victims Bill as it is drafted has arguably contributed to delays and victims being left more vulnerable without a high-level official of this kind to advocate for them.
So we hope to see a new commissioner in place to ensure the new Victims Bill supports all who need them.