In Conversation with Dame Vera Baird

Published: Monday, July 13th, 2020

Why me?’s Director Lucy Jaffé spoke to the Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird about how victims have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can watch their 9 minute interview below:

Key Points

  • Vera says that the greatest impact of COVID-19 on victims of crime is on vulnerable victims trapped in at home in abusive situations. This includes victims of domestic violence and sexual violence especially. She believes that the Government not foreseeing this problem has had serious impacts on vulnerable people who are trapped at home with their abusers.
  • Vera and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner battled together for emergency funding to be given to charities supporting victims of domestic violence. This funding has now been granted. There has also been some good targeted support put into grocery stores and pharmacies: as these were the only places that victims of domestic abuse could feasibly go during the start of the pandemic.
  • To help vulnerable victims more in the next 12 months, Vera believes that we need to send the message that victims are not alone, and that police and victim services are working as normal,. As lockdown continues to relax, there could be increased reporting to the police and an increase in court cases as well.
  • There was a backlog of court work of almost 38,000 cases before the pandemic began, caused by a lack of adequate funding in Vera’s view. The pandemic has now exacerbated this further, which she thinks brings two key risks. The first is that vulnerable victims will have to wait for many months with the prospect of giving traumatising testimony looming over them, impacting on their mental health. The other concern is that there will be pressure on courts to take pleas from defendants which don’t reflect the justice of what was done to the victim, and without proper consultation with victims. Finding suitable premises which can facilitate social distancing should be a priority in Vera’s view, but she doesn’t see evidence that this is happening at the speed which is required to get the court system running faster again.
  • Vera is concerned that victims support services are being left out of the “process maps” which are being redrawn as the court system faces what is being looked at as a fresh start after lockdown. She has lobbied for victim support services to be properly included in these new plans, and is hopeful that we could see a new start which improves services for victims.
  • Vera sees a role for Restorative Justice, and is keen to see an improved understanding of how it works from many stakeholders. She sees some process-based challenges about how to make Restorative Justice victim-focused, without risking people being upset if the perpetrator doesn’t agree to take part, but feels that these can be addressed. Indeed, Vera has been doing a lot of reading about Restorative Justice at the moment and is becoming increasingly committed to its use.

We’d like to thank Vera very much for taking the time to speak with us, and for all of the hard work which she is doing on behalf of those affected by crime.

Vera has published her first annual report covering the period from April 2019 to March 2020. We are delighted that Lucy Jaffe features in it as a member of the Victims’ Commissioner’s Advisory Group. You can read the report here:

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