THE BLOG

A Step Change Is Needed on Victims' Rights

15/12/2015 11:17 GMT | Updated 14/12/2016 10:12 GMT

The significance of last week's report by the criminal justice inspectorates (CJI) - 'Meeting the Needs of victims in the criminal justice system' - should not be overlooked.

Unlike previous reports, which focus on just one agency, be it the police, the prosecution, probation or the courts, this was the first joint appraisal of the overall quality of services provided to victims. A snap-shot, if you like, of the victim's end-to-end experience in the criminal justice system.

The results were depressingly familiar. Despite some excellent individual examples of good practice across the different criminal justice agencies, there were "unacceptable inconsistencies in the service provided to victims - depending on the type of offence, where they lived or the degree to which local policies support and reinforce service provisions". Given that the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime provides a standard which should transcend these variables, there is, as the consolidated report observed "clearly more work to do".

It is envisaged that future consolidated reports will monitor progress and highlight good practice and "add to the pressure for improvement where progress is lacking". These steps should, of course, be supported, but until some home truths are confronted progress in improving services to victims in the criminal justice system will continue to be slow and tortuous.

The core deficiency is clear. While most public services are regulated, quality assured and monitored, victims' services are not.

There is simply no framework around the provision of these services: no overarching regulation, little quality assurance and only fragmentary monitoring. As a result, the services provided are disjointed, patchy and of varying quality.

A linked issue is the lack of quality standards and training in the provision of victims' services.

Training is usually voluntary and carried out without any national criteria. For example, there is no standard accreditation or training for those providing support, counselling and information about the court process, including Independent Domestic Violence Advisors ("IDVAs") and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors ("ISVAs"). IDVAs and ISVAs are real forces for good and the voluntary training is usually to a high standard, but our willingness to rely on an unregulated voluntary framework speaks volumes about our real commitment to victims.

A step change is needed. At the very least there should be a statutory duty imposed on an identified body to map victim needs in every police force area, assess the adequacy and effectiveness of the available victims' services and take action to fill the gaps.

Ultimately, though, we will only see the cultural shift we need on victim's rights when they are enshrined in a Victim's Law. This would be a powerful break with the current piecemeal approach and help tackle one of the most fundamental problems in our criminal justice system: a lack of faith among victims that they will be supported, listened to and treated fairly.

This was one of the key recommendations in Labour's Victim's Taskforce, which I helped chair before the Election, and it is at the heart of a Private Members Bill I have introduced to Parliament.

It is high-time the Government took up this agenda, and helped bring an end to the all too familiar failings highlighted in this week's report.

Keir Starmer is the Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras, and a former director of public prosecutions