The government’s draft Victims Bill falls short of government aims and will have limited impact on victims’ rights, the justice committee has said.
In a report scrutinising the draft proposal, the committee pulled up several flaws in the Bill including the government’s revised definition of “victim” which replaces the existing understanding.
They also said that the Bill showed a lack of enforcement powers, and emphasised the need for sufficient additional resources which would allow the proposals to be acted upon – particularly concerning victim liaison and counselling.
The committee also stressed a notable barrier to justice in the proposal regarding the sharing of victims’ immigration status by the police with the Home Office, and called for this practice to end.
Sir Bob Neill MP, justice committee chair, said: “The draft Bill’s aim to improve the criminal justice system’s treatment of victims is laudable, but the government must provide new funding to make it all possible. If not, the police, CPS and Probation Service will be forced to divert funds away from their core functions.”
Regarding the definition of a victim, Mr Neill suggested that it “be explained in more detail”.
The draft Bill overrides the current definition in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 and seeks to include witnesses to a crime while omitting close relatives of a person whose death was caused by criminal conduct, as currently set out in the Victims’ Code.
But the committee recommends that the definition “be expanded to include close relatives, or a nominated family spokesperson, of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence, as well as children born of rape and people repeatedly subject to anti-social behaviour”.
Mr Neill added: “It can’t be the government’s intention that a witness to petty theft should have more rights under this legislation than a murder victim’s next of kin.”
The committee also found the government’s intention to improve the police, CPS and Prison and Probation Service’s compliance with the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (the Victims’ Code) unsatisfactory.
They said that the four “overarching principles” of the Code that the Bill would place into statute are so “broad and permissive that it is unclear if they will serve any legal purpose” and would do little to improve agencies’ compliance with the Code.