Labour has renewed its calls for a ‘victims’ law’ following reports that victims are often left ‘re-traumatised’ by their experiences with the criminal justice system. The shadow minister for victims and youth justice, Peter Kyle has introduced a new Bill in Parliament calling for a fresh law to be passed giving legally enforceable rights to victims of crimes.
Currently, victims already have rights under the Victim’s Code, which include the right to information and the right to make a victim impact statement, but, according to Crime Survey for England & Wales, only one in five victims had heard of it in 2017-18. A BBC report showed earlier this month that victims are losing faith in the justice system, with 22.6% of crimes being closed due to victims not supporting prosecution. The Labour MP agrees that confidence in the justice system is ‘at an all-time low for victims’.
The Labour MP has said, in his motion to bring in the Bill, that ‘only a minority of victims understand their rights and only a fraction will ever exert them’. He believes that, by putting these rights on to statutory footing, victims will be empowered with the necessary knowledge of their rights, as well as the tools to uphold them.
The Bill introduces, among other things, a requirement for victims to be read their rights as early as perpetrators, a Victim’s Commissioner independent of government, and career-limiting consequences to those in the justice system who fail to uphold victim’s rights, such as the creation of a register containing the names of such individuals.
The issue has a long history and back in 2015 Labour published recommendations on a victims’ law. Defence lawyers have expressed their concerns about the undermining of defendants’ rights and the ‘pendulum swing‘ towards the rights of victims. Conservative governments had already pledged to enshrine victims’ rights into law before. According to Kyle, there have been 1 million sexual offences and 350,000 rapes since the first promise of a Bill by the Conservative government and none of these victims could benefit from their promised statutory rights.