Victim support conferenceTuesday, 10 July 2012
Crispin Blunt speaks at the Victim support conference.
Check against delivery
I am grateful to Victim Support for inviting me to this conference to talk about the future of victims' services. There will be some time after my speech for you to ask questions, but I am afraid I have another engagement to go to and will not be able to stay for the rest of the day.
On 2 July we published the Government response to our consultation 'Getting it Right for victims and witnesses.' It sets out a far reaching package of reforms to deliver a more intelligent and coherent service for victims. Some or perhaps many of you will already have had a chance to read it, but you are all busy people so I will say a few words about the key elements of our strategy. I hope what I say will inform the discussions you have later today.
Proper protection and support for those who have suffered at the hands of criminals is a fundamental part of a civilised justice system. But, despite improvements over the last two decades, the system has continued to fall short - whether in relation to helping victims recover in the aftermath of a crime, supporting them through the inevitable stresses of investigation and trial, or providing the right services in the right place, funded as far as possible by offenders rather than the taxpayer.
Our reforms include:
- increasing spending on victims' services, with extra money coming from offenders themselves
- reforming the criminal injuries compensation scheme to put it on a sustainable financial footing and ensure that it is focused on seriously injured victims of violent crime
- strengthening victims' rights so that victims feel less like accessories to the system who are kept in the dark about their case, and more like a central concern of the system, treated with the dignity and respect they deserve
- pushing restorative justice and the Victim Personal Statement
- a new mixed local and national commissioning model.
The reforms we announced last week reflect careful consideration of more than 350 written responses, plus discussions with around 300 people from some 200 organisations at the consultation events we held earlier this year. We are committed to ensuring that victims get the support they need to deal with the immediate aftermath of a crime and, over time if need be, receive further help - which may include compensation - to put their lives back on track. I believe our reforms will achieve this.
The future of victims' services
The Government has a responsibility to ensure that practical and emotional support to help victims recover from the consequences of crime is provided when required. Yet, for one reason or another, services are not available all over the country, and standards are not consistently high. So we intend to proceed with plans to make improvements to the support available, greatly assisted by raising up to an additional £50 million from the perpetrators of crime. We have laid legislation before Parliament which will increase the Victim Surcharge payable by an adult on a fine and extend the Surcharge to conditional discharges, community sentences and custodial sentences including suspended sentences. Similar provision will be made in respect of juveniles. There will also be an increase to the value of penalty notices for disorder. The increased revenue we expect these reforms to realise will significantly increase the help we can give to victims and witnesses.
But there is little point in ensuring decent funding is available if we don't use it in the best way possible, and that underpins a second, related, reform. For too long most funding decisions about victims' services have been made in Whitehall. Past governments have tested to destruction the virtues of monopoly purchasing of services and I do not believe that Soviet-style central planning is in the interests of victims or of the taxpayer. So we intend to take a more intelligent approach.
Under our plans, the Ministry of Justice will retain responsibility only for commissioning services where there are either proven economies of scale or they are genuinely specialist in nature. In our judgement that means continued support from my Department for those bereaved through homicide, victims of trafficking, rape support centres and the witness service. We have also decided to nationally commission the witness service and some national helplines. Let me just pause there to note that the decisions to keep the witness service and rape support centres at national level are a direct response to the views put to us by respondents to the consultation. And we say in the government response that we will consider whether there are any other services for victims of domestic or sexual violence that should be commissioned nationally.
For everything else, however – the bulk of services – funding will be devolved to democratically elected and accountable Police and Crime Commissioners, or 'PCCs', and, in London, to the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime. It is a plain fact that the needs of victims vary locally and PCCs, much more than the centre, will be best placed to decide what their communities want.
When I put this proposal forward I did not expect it to be particularly controversial. Those of you who have had a chance to read the government response to the consultation may have spotted that the majority of respondents actually favoured local commissioning as part of a new local/ national model. Interestingly, despite this, the majority were sceptical about PCCs taking the local role - I suspect because of the novelty of PCCs, and their still being something of an unknown quantity.
But we are clear that we have got the policy right on this, and in the future we want to see victim support services being provided locally by those providers who can show that their services provide the best help for victims to cope and recover from the impact of crime.
Victims Code and the Victims Personal Statement
For many victims of crime, of course, their contact with the Criminal Justice System involves neither drawing on services to help them recover nor seeking compensation. Rather, their priority is that the system treats them decently during investigation and at any trial – to the success of which their contribution is fundamentally important. It is unacceptable that victims still frequently report being told too little, too late about the progress of their case, or are expected to sit next to the families of offenders. We want to stop the system rubbing salt into the wounds of those already badly harmed by crime.
So the Government will undertake a review of the Victims' Code and Witness Charter, to consider in detail how they can be made more effective and robust, and will consult on a draft new Code next year. We have already consulted on a set of principles that the Code should be based upon, and respondents largely agreed with those principles. As we take the work forward we will be involving criminal justice agencies and the voluntary sector in further discussions about what should be in the Code. The input we already have - from the formal consultation responses and from discussions at our several consultation events - is really helpful and the workshops this afternoon will I’m sure add to that.
We will also take a careful look at the operation of the Victim Personal Statement, which can be a valuable tool in giving a voice to victims, to ensure it is better understood and more widely used. Again, the consultation events and written responses were useful in identifying the key issues that we need to focus on.
Victim-led restorative justice can allow us to make inroads into the re-offending cycle – with the triple benefit of fewer new victims, the taxpayer not having to foot the bill for more crime, and a rehabilitated offender making a positive contribution to society. We are committed to making use of restorative justice in more areas, and in more circumstances across the criminal justice system.
Restorative Justice offers an opportunity not only to help rehabilitate offenders but to give victims a greater stake in the resolution of offences and in the criminal justice system as a whole.
The evidence for the effectiveness of restorative justice is promising. Analysis conducted by my department of a number of restorative justice pilots showed that 85% of victims who participated were satisfied with the experience and there was an estimated 14% reduction in re-offending. However, we need to be doing more to make sure that more victims are aware of restorative justice.
To increase victims' access to restorative justice and their understanding of it we will consider how the offer of a restorative approach can be incorporated in the new Victims’ Code and whether the Victim Personal Statement could be used as a way of a victim signalling their interest in restorative justice.
Crucially, increased use of restorative justice needs to be rooted in local needs and responsive to local crime and re-offending. It needs to be driven by how practitioners, victims and communities want to respond to crime in their area. This is part of a move towards localism where we accept different areas will have different approaches. To ensure restorative justice is delivered in the way most appropriate for each area, we are working with valued partners like the Restorative Justice Council to provide local areas with the tools to make greater use of restorative justice with confidence.
But let me conclude my remarks on restorative justice – of which I am a passionate supporter – by making very clear that no victim should ever be badgered or pressured into taking part. It is essential that victims participating in restorative justice only ever do so because they want to, having been properly supported and prepared in advance.
There was some criticism that the consultation document did not say more about witnesses, so let me take some time to talk about this area of policy.
We already have a Witness Charter which is more outcomes based than the Victims' Code. But it is out-of-date. We recognise the potential value of the Witness Charter and will work with criminal justice agencies to consider the most effective way to realise that potential.
I have already said that we will be nationally commissioning the witness service. This is because we recognise that witnesses - both for the prosecution and the defence - may need emotional and practical support to help them attend court and give evidence. But some witnesses need more support.
Vulnerable and Intimidated Witnesses
Special measures are helping to provide access to justice to some of the most vulnerable victims and witnesses. The Witness Intermediary Scheme, for example, has assisted in over 5,000 cases, many of which would not otherwise have gone to trial.
But we need to be on our guard to ensure that special measures are as effective as they can be and provide the best possible support. As you may know, last summer we made some amendments to the legislation to give young witnesses more choice about how they give evidence and also to ensure that they have an appropriate individual to support them in the live link room.
We are now focusing more on measures which will help witnesses during the run-up to the trial. It's a time that can be particularly stressful - especially for young witnesses. We are considering what more we can do to alleviate the impact it can have on their mental health and well-being. That is why we are currently grappling with the thorny issues relating to implementation of pre-trial cross-examination, known as 'Section 28'.
This particular special measure would allow witnesses to give evidence in court as early in the proceedings as possible and before the trial takes place. Implementing it presents some unique challenges. There are a number of procedural and technical difficulties to overcome if we are to make it work in practice. We have a team of experts looking at how this might best be achieved. And the Consultation responses on this issue will form part of their deliberations.
The Consultation also generated many other ideas for improving the experience of witnesses at court. All these will be considered as part of our wider programme of reform.
Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme
I mentioned, earlier, our reform of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. This is not a matter of great interest to this particular conference, I think, so I will not go into any detail.
Suffice to say that what we will do through the revised scheme – subject to parliamentary approval – is consistent with our wider victims and witnesses strategy in that we will focus support where it makes sense to do so. For victims with less serious injuries, paying small amounts of compensation is not the best use of taxpayers' money. What they may well need more is some sort of practical help, or maybe counselling, and our wider reforms are there to make sure they get it.
That's all I plan to say about the substance of our policies but, as I said earlier, I shall be delighted to answer your questions.
To sum up, I believe our reforms will ensure that victims' and witnesses' services are put on a more intelligent and sustainable footing and improve the support available for those who need it most, at their time of greatest need. I hope you will all contribute to the workshops later today and I look forward to receiving feedback from my officials on what was discussed. This is a really exciting – pivotal – moment and we need all to work hard together to ensure that we do indeed 'get it right for victims and witnesses'.