Dominic Raab is Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary.
When I first met Emily Hunt, she told me her heart-rending experience of how she had been let down as a victim. In 2015, she suspected that she had been drugged and raped.
Police officers told her to give up her clothes as evidence, despite having nothing else to wear. She was asked to surrender her mobile phone, without knowing when she would get it back. She was offered scant support, and had no idea of what she could reasonably expect from the different criminal justice agencies.
No victim should be made to feel like that. We appointed Emily as an independent adviser to the Government as a mark of how serious we are about doing better for victims – and I recognise that we have a long way to go.
At present, as many as three in five victims do not even report crimes they suffer, and a third withdraw from a prosecution before justice is done. This is morally wrong. But, when victims drop out of the system, it also has a debilitating effect on our ability to bring criminals to justice. So, today, I am setting out plans for a Victims’ Law – so their voice is heard, and they see justice done. Our aim is to make sure victims feel that their interests are at the heart of the criminal justice system, rather than peripheral to some remote and alienating process.
At the Budget, I agreed with the Chancellor to increase support for victim and witness services from £134.5 million last year to £185 million per year by the end of this Parliament.
Earlier this year, we passed the Domestic Abuse Act to put more protection into law for the two million people who suffer violence and abuse in their homes each year.
And we have rolled out pre-recorded cross-examination and re-examination for vulnerable witnesses – known as Section 28 – to make the experience of giving evidence to the courts less daunting.
Now, we must go further. So, under our plans, we will roll out Section 28 nationwide as soon as possible for the victims of rape and other serious sexual offences, to give more victims the option to testify outside the intimidating glare of the courtroom.
Next, we’re increasing transparency by introducing criminal justice scorecards. The national and adult rape scorecards, which I am publishing today for the first time, give us a more detailed picture of how the different criminal justice agencies are performing. In the New Year, we’ll follow up with local scorecards so you, the public, can see the performance in each area of the country.
Scorecards will shine a light on the things that really matter to victims, like how long it takes for cases to be investigated, charged, and make it to court. It will help identify failings – across the system, and in different areas – that enable us to spread best practice across the country.
Data will help, but ultimately vulnerable victims need to know what support they’ll receive, and how to hold the system to account. So, with that extra transparency the scorecards will bring, we will enshrine in law what victims can expect, and improve accountability – so that when something does go wrong, victims know it will be fixed.
For example, it is reasonable to expect prosecutors to meet directly with victims in serious cases before they decide whether to charge a suspect, and then again before the case goes to trial. I also want to strengthen the role of victims in the Parole Board’s decision-making in relation to their assailant.
Next, we want the collective voice of victims to be heard more consistently through community impact statements. When crimes like anti-social behaviour, which can blight whole neighbourhoods, are considered by a court, the views of the local community should be properly taken into account.
Many victims have said that the Victims’ Code is just not taken seriously by the various criminal justice agencies. So, we will look at how to strengthen redress, including through disciplinary action, complaints procedures and inspection regimes – and reinforce the role of Police and Crime Commissioners, to help tackle problems in their local area.
As well as punishing criminals robustly, I want them to do more to recognise the suffering they inflict on victims. So, we will raise the victim surcharge that offenders pay as part of their sentence. We will invest the proceeds in services that directly support victims – including the independent sexual and domestic violence advisers, who support victims and help them stay engaged in the criminal justice process.
Our proposals will make sure that the voice of victims is heard, they get the support they need, and the criminal justice system takes greater responsibility for instilling in victims the confidence to support the aims we all share in bringing criminals to justice. It will deliver for some of the most vulnerable in our society, as we build back a safer, stronger and fairer country after the pandemic.