Surprising stuff at the IARS Victim conference last week as a UK Government Minister appeared to falter over victim led justice by suggesting that the EU Victim Directive 2012/29/EU ("The Victim Directive") required new domestic law and would need further consultation before implementation on the meaning of "victim". To see tweets go to #IARS2014.
MP Mike Penning, UK Justice Minister (Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims) spoke of his past as a fireman and without using the notes prepared by his advisors. He made it plain that he took the view that victims should be supported but refused to commit to implementing law or policy in accordance with the Victim Directive. In particular he suggested that there needed to be further consultation on the definition of a victim, asking "what is a victim"? The Victim Directive already has the answer to his question giving a wide definition of victim which can include defendants, prisoners and families. One can start to see why a Minister might be placing priority on politics rather than victims as the Victim Directive could lead to a wholesale change in the approach to justice. It has direct effect and is due to be implemented by November 2015. All EU member states will need to have demonstrated that they have modified their domestic laws to give effect to the Victim Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime by adopting various means, combining legislative, administrative and practical measures, and taking into account good practices in the field of assistance and protection for victims. For the purpose of the directive, a victim is defined as follows:
• a natural person who has suffered harm (including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss) directly caused by a criminal offence -- regardless of whether an offender is identified, apprehended, prosecuted or convicted and regardless of the familial relationship between them (see Recital 19).
• family members of the deceased victim, who have suffered harm because of person's the death directly caused by a criminal offence (paragraph 1(a)(ii)). The criterion 'harm' should be interpreted in the context of the individual emotional relationship and/or direct material inter-dependence between the deceased victim and the relative(s) concerned.
Perhaps the most moving speech at the IARS Annual Conference came from the sister of a man who died in custody as she detailed the difficulties she and her family had in the current processes and the hope she had that, under the Victim Directive, systems could be improved. The IARS Conference was titled "A victim-led criminal justice system?", and took place between 19-20th November at Middle Temple with speakers from across the world giving presentations on cutting edge research on wide ranging issues from mediating in the context of female genital mutilation to reducing women in prison and using circles type processes to rehabilitate offenders. Ingrid Bellander-Todino, Deputy Head of Unit, European Commission Directorate General Justice, Procedural and Criminal Law confirmed that the European Union (including the UK) has entered into a process of legislative and policy reforms with the aim of repositioning the victim in criminal proceedings. The Victim Directive establishes minimum standards for restorative justice across Europe, safeguarding victims and empowering professionals. Clearly a potential vote winner for any prospective Government to sensibly implement restorative justice & victim centred procedures and no doubt why the UK have signed up to the Directive. I suppose it is bound to make a Minister squirm if he might have to admit that a Directive from the EU is sensible so soon before an election, especially when he doesn't appear to have read the brief.