Following a 2013 revision of the statutory Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Victims' Code), the Ministry of Justice has now entered into a public consultation in order to bring the revised Code in line with the new Victims' Directive due to be implemented by 16 November 2015. The deadline for responding to the consultation is 16 August 2015. This can be done online or via VictimsCodeConsultation@justice.gsi.gov.uk You can also submit your views at the bottom of this page or email them to contact@iars.org.uk We will make sure your voices are heard! 

The IARS International Institute is particularly pleased with these news having been at the forefront of campaigning for the Code's revision. Our response is based on a research project that we carried out with financial support from the European Commission. Our research sample consisted of 272 victims and offenders, 280 professionals and 27 pilots with 383 organisations. The IARS research was published and is available as Gavrielides, T. (2014), A victim-led criminal justice system: Addressing the paradox, London: IARS Publications. ISBN 978-1-907641-27-5. 

Dr. Theo Gavrielides, IARS’ Founder and Director said: "Since 2011, the IARS International Institute has worked hard to help draft, pass and implement a strong Victims' Directive across Europe including the UK. The revision of the UK Victims' code is welcomed and we are working with the Ministry of Justice to increase awareness of victims through a programme that they supported titled Victims' Voices. However, I must stress that the proposed revisions do not go as far as we should have expected. Our response is detailed enough to highlight the main concerns from victims, offenders and practitioners we spoke to".

BACKGROUND

In the hope of achieving consistency in victims’ rights protection across the EU, in 2001, the Commission passed a Framework Decision, but this did not go far and deep enough. As a result, we now have a Victims’ Directive which must be translated into domestic laws and policies by November 2015. It is hoped that this will provide a baseline for minimum guarantees for victims.

The needs of the victims as outlined in the Victims’ Directive:

  • Respectful treatment and recognition as victims both within the justice system and more widely by society;
  • Protection both from intimidationretaliation and further harm by the accused or suspected and from harm during criminal investigation and court proceedings.
  • Support including immediate assistance following a crime including  longer term physical, psychological and practical assistance
  • Access to justice to ensure that victims are fully aware of their rights
  • Compensation and restoration whether thought financial damages [paid by the State or through mediation or other form of restorative justice that allow victims to face the accused with a view to reaching a voluntary agreement between them on how to repair the harm to the victim.

Since passing the Directive, the EC invested resources in order to prepare member States for its implementation. After a competitive process, IARS’ ‘Restorative Justice in Europe’ project was successful in receiving an EU grant and I had the honour of coordinating its scientific and practical ambitions and outputs. Over twenty-four months, IARS worked closely with its four European partners Restorative Justice Nederland (Netherlands), the Institute of Conflict Resolution (Bulgaria), European Public Law Organization (Greece), and University of Applied Sciences (Germany). We were also supported by 12 Associate Partners who are experts in the area of victims and restorative justice.

We were adamant that our results were produced not just in English, but in all participating country languages i.e. Greek, German, Dutch and Bulgarian. After a thorough review of the extant literature and existing best practice, we produced over 20 reports sharing this information for free across Europe. Following this, we carried out fieldwork with over 272 victims and offenders and 280 professionals working with victims either by providing victim support, restorative justice or criminal justice services.

This gave us the evidence base to construct training material, manuals, best practice guidance and protocols. In total, many face-to-face pilots were carried out in the five participating countries reaching 1,131 individuals and 383 organisations. We also used this material to produce an online course for victims. A separate e-course was also created for professionals and like the face-to-face course it received CPD accreditation (Continuing Professional Development). At the same time, we organised conferences and seminars and made various presentations at national and international conferences while meeting with our national and local decision makers.

At the Annual IARS International Conference, the Minister responsible for victims, Mike Penning MP said: "The work that has carried out by IARS helps us to really understand how legislation can affect victims’ lives. It is so important victims' are heard throughout the justice system and placed at the forefront of reforms. "Recovering after a crime can be difficult but we have taken a number of steps to help victims cope with what they have been through, and to make sure they are a priority”.Ingrid Bellander-Todino (Deputy Head of European Commission Directorate General Justice) said “I welcome this opportunity to have heard different perspectives on how restorative justice and the Victims Directive will be implemented in various European countries and settings. This input helps the European Commission to get a bigger picture on victims’ rights in Europe”.

In November 2014, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Baroness Newlove, published her first major review looking at compliance with the Victims’ Code. The Commissioner was appointed in 2012 and her review reports on research with nearly 200 victims and selected statutory criminal justice agencies. The IARS International Institute welcomed the findings of the report, but expresses great concerns about its light touch and the lack of concrete and obligatory recommendations that would make a real difference to victims and their families. The report took an important step in identifying some of the harsh realities of victims and their families. Almost 75% of those consulted said they were unhappy with the response they received from statutory agencies, and more than 50% found the relevant agency's complaints process difficult to use. Launching the report, Baroness Newlove said there was an absence of compassion, patience and empathy in the system.

The IARS International Institute was surprised by the Commissioner’s ignorance of the most important development in the protection of victims’ rights. We refer to the Victims’ Directive which introduces minimum standards and safeguards for victims and their families which extend beyond the criminal justice system and victims’ status as European or British citizens. We remain hopeful that the announced Victims' Bill will rectify the ommissions of the Commissioner and the weaknesses of the Victims' Code.

IARS' CONCERNS

We remain concerned about a number of persistent failures in acknowledging fundamental international rights for victims of crime. A key concern relates to the revised Code's definition of who is a victim. Although it extends the services offered under the Code to victims of any criminal offense it violates key intentions of the Victims' Directive. In particular, the Directive makes it very clear that all the rights and minimum standards set out apply

to all victims of crime irrespective of their residence status. The rights set out in the Directive are not made conditional on the victim having legal residence status on European Union territory or on the victim’s citizenship or nationality. Thus, third-country nationals and stateless persons who have been victims of crime on EU territory should benefit from these rights without discrimination. Recital 9 of the Directive furthermore specifies that “victims of crime should be recognized and treated in a respectful, sensitive and professional manner without discrimination of any kind based on any ground such as race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief (…)”.

Unlike the Victims’ Code, which formed the basis of the Commissioner’s Review, the Victims’ Directive understands victims in a much broader term, capturing groups who have traditionally been excluded from protection including migrant, refugee and asylum seeking people, as well as victims whose crime has not been prosecuted or who simply do not wish to enter the criminal justice system. The Directive is particularly powerful for Black and minority ethnic communities, victims of gender based violence and victims of child abuse. Furthermore, unlike the Victims’ Code which has no statutory significance, the Victims’ Directive has higher law status and can protect victims in national and EU courts.

The approach of the current UK administration to migrant, refugee and asylum seeking groups may have clouded the good intentions of revising and strengthening the Code. We urge the Ministry to proceed with an open mind and ensure that all victims' guaranteed rights are indeed protected. 

A further concern is the lack of provisions that would empower victims directly to challenge services that fail to honour the rights protected in the Directive. The IARS International Institute has released free online training for victims and their families aiming to empower them directly to use the Directive. Accredited training has also been developed for professionals while extensive research with victims in the UK and EU was published in November 2015. It is worth noting that the current Victims' Commissioner was invited to the launch of these tools, but declined. The Victims’ Minister, who spoke at the launch, rejected legislation that would incorporate the Directive. However, he did say: “The work that has been carried out by IARS helps us to really understand how legislation can affect victims’ lives. It is so important victims are heard throughout the justice system and placed at the forefront of reforms. Recovering after a crime can be difficult but we have taken a number of steps to help victims cope with what they have been through, and to make sure they are a priority”.

Finally, a Victims' Code without a Victims' Act will remain weak and its implementation peacemeal. We were pleased to see that a Victims' Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech and remain hopeful that the government will approach us for sharing our evidence with victims and offenders.

Here it is also worth noting that the evidence that we have gathered suggest that contrary to what many criminal justice professionals believe, victims do want to talk and be included in the formation of practices and policies that impact on them. I have always said that a true democracy is one that not only offers its citizens the opportunity to participate, but also supports them in doing so. As we become more honest about our intentions and available resources for criminal justice reforms, we must become more accountable whenever we choose not to include victims directly in policy making. Therefore, an obligation is created for national and European governments to respond to this call. 

IARS' REQUESTS

In going forward, the IARS International Institute asks the UK government to:

  • Revise the Code's definition of "victim" bringing it in line with the Victims Directive and extending it to anyone irrespective of their citizenship status. Particular focus will need to be given to migrant, refugee and asylum seeking women who become victims of gender based violence and abuse. 
  • Make the free online training for victims widely available to anyone who wants to know their rights under the Directive
  • Revert to the discussions that took place prior to elections and which intended to pass a UK Victims Act. The announced Draft Victims' Bill will need to consider the IARS evidence and victims wishes as these have been published and peer reviewed in 2014.
  • Sign up to the International Victims' Pledge and encourage public service providers to do the same indicating true commitment to honouring and protecting victims rights as per the Victims' Directive.
  • Listen to victims' voices as well as the concerns of practitioners and provide infrastructure support to user led programmes and organisations.

Ends.

Contact: Dr. Theo Gavrielides, Founder & Director, Unit 14, Dock Offices, Surrey Quays Road, Canada Water, London SE16 2XU, UK. Office line: +44(0)20 706 44380, Office Mobile: 07833224442  www.iars.org.uk  |  @TGavrielides | Linkedin
 

Notes to Editors

The IARS International Institute www.iars.org.uk

Launch Press Release http://www.iars.org.uk/content/PRIARS14

Victims’ Training http://www.rj4all.info/content/victimscourse

Professionals Training http://www.rj4all.info/content/RJE-etraining

IARS Research Findings http://www.iars.org.uk/content/victim-led-criminal-justice-system-addressing-paradox-1

IARS 3rd Annual International Conference Proceedings - A Victim-led Criminal Justice System? http://www.iars.org.uk/content/victim-led-criminal-justice-system-iars-3rd-annual-conference-proceedings-2015

 

Victims' Directive CountDown

The pledge aims to ensure that minimum standards for victims as outlined in the Victims’ Directive 2012/29/EU are applied consistently across all victims' services in the UK and internationally. The Directive is  due to be implemented by all member states by 16th November 2015. IARS has launced a countdown to the implementation of the Directive that will also mark this year the celebrations for the International Restorative Justice Week 2015. Our aim is  to ensure that all services that are engaging with victims of crime are  "Directive ready" amd consistently promoting vicitms' rights as the are enshined in the Directive.  

 

 

Countdown Clock