Victims' commissioner calls for new law for bereaved families

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Victims' Commissioner, Louise Casey, will today call for a new law which will put into statute rights for families bereaved by homicide.

The move follows a six-month review by Ms Casey, into the treatment of families who have suffered the ultimate loss at the hands of criminals, but who often don't get the support, care or consideration they deserve.

 

Ms Casey's report, which includes the largest ever survey of bereaved families, calls for a law which will set out rights that the criminal justice system should afford families as well as the practical help and support they should receive.

Read the 'Review into the Needs of Families Bereaved by Homicide' (PDF 0.27mb)

The Victims' Commissioner said:

'I have met many families who have had loved ones murdered and they talk about how the legal process was almost as traumatic as the crime itself. This can't be right. We ask people not to go out and take the law into their own hands. We ask that people come to court and give evidence so that nasty people can be locked up. In return, the criminal justice system needs to do better.

'Families deserve to bury the body of their child without defence lawyers asking for autopsy after autopsy. They deserve not to have to sit next to the defendant's family in court listening to them laughing, or being intimidated by them. They deserve to be told that their husband's killer is going to be released before they bump into him in a supermarket. They deserve to be treated with some humanity in the witness box.

'Bereaved families have few rights, no real route of complaint, they are often given little information and sometimes treated as an inconvenience in a legal game. Now is the time for something concrete to be set out in law — promises are no longer good enough. The system must be levelled up so victims and bereaved families are no longer seen as bystanders or an inconvenience as the wheels of justice turn.'

Rights within the new Victims' Law will include:

  • a Criminal Practice Direction to ensure families are treated with dignity and respect during court proceedings;
  • the right to information from the Crown Prosecution Service and to meet with the CPS lawyer at key stages of the legal process, including on convictions, acquittal or appeal;
  • the right to sentencing remarks from judges in writing and trial transcripts at a minimal cost to families;
  • the release of a body by the coroner back to a family for burial within 28 days unless exceptional circumstances apply; and
  • that families will be provided with an integrated package of help and support following the death and up until any trial and beyond.

The support package should include a dedicated homicide caseworker offering help and advice on issues like housing and child care proceedings.

There should be access to trauma and bereavement counselling from approved providers and a national network of peer support groups should be available to provide befriending and support for families.

Ms Casey has also called for a national protocol governing the police's review of cases which remain unresolved including how regularly they are reviewed and mandatory communication with the families concerned.

Recommendations in Ms Casey's report were informed by the largest survey of bereaved families ever undertaken. More than 400 families were contacted to inform her review and reveal the true toll of bereavement on families.

Ms Casey added:

'This new research shows that the impacts upon a family of homicide can be devastating and ongoing — not only the emotional trauma but the practical realities at a time of immense stress. Our survey shows that families get into debt, they suffer ill health and relationships can break down and they can't even get their children access to counselling. Then on top of this a criminal justice process kicks in that can end up re-traumatising these people when they are least able to cope. That just can't be right.

'It's often said that you judge a society on how civilised it is, by how it treats it's most vulnerable. Well I would say that families who have had loved ones killed are some of our most vulnerable people, and my judgement is that how we treat them is often not just uncivilised, but inhuman.'

Ms Casey's report will be presented to the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.

Read the 'Review into the Needs of Families Bereaved by Homicide' (PDF 0.27mb)

Notes to editors

  1. The Victims' Commissioner worked with the charity SAMM (Support after Murder and Manslaughter) in order to survey of those bereaved by homicide. Findings from the survey of 400 bereaved families included:
    • more than 80 per cent of families suffered trauma related symptoms;
    • around 60 per cent had difficulty managing their finances;
    • nearly 80 per cent of families waited longer than a month to bury their loved one;
    • a quarter gained sudden responsibility for children; and
    • a quarter stopped working permanently.
  2. A further survey found the average cost of the homicide to each family was £37,000, ranging from probate, to funerals to travel to court, to cleaning up the crime scene. The majority got no help with these costs and some were forced into debt.
  3. For interview opportunities with the Victims' Commissioner call Philip Skelton on 0207 035 3849 / 07771 852880 or 0207 035 3535.
  4. Families who took part in the survey from all regions in the UK are available for interview. For interview opportunities call 0207 035 3849.
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