What is happening with the Victims Bill?
This is a blog by our Campaigns and Communications Manager Meka Beresford.
Following the publication of the draft Victims Bill in May, the Justice Select Committee undertook pre-legislative scrutiny to consider any changes that need to be made to the Victims Bill before it is introduced to parliament.
Now that parliament is on summer recess, the Justice Select Committee will likely publish its report on the Victims Bill in September, at which point the government will have 60 days to respond and implement any suggested changes. The Bill will then be introduced to parliament.
Following the initial public consultation on the Victims Bill, the government promised to ‘make information about restorative justice more consistently available for victims of crime’. In order to do this, the government said they will conduct a pilot to understand where there are gaps in provision and use the learning from this pilot to make access to restorative justice more consistent.
Last week, MP Ellie Reeves asked the government to provide more details about a proposed Restorative Justice Pilot. Secretary of State for Justice Tom Pursglove did not provide additional details on the pilot in his response but stated that he is ‘carefully considering’ the recommendation to refresh the national action plan alongside other APPG recommendations.
In order to make information about Restorative Justice more consistently available for victims of crime, three key changes can be made to the Victims Bill:
1. Include access to Restorative Justice in primary legislation and as a stand-alone right in the Victims’ Code of Practice (VCoP)
Making the offer of Restorative Justice a statutory entitlement under primary legislation would ensure that all victims are being offered RJ. This is supported by the Victims’ Commissioner.
Currently, the Victims Bill proposes to enshrine the VCoP, which includes the right to be provided information about Restorative Justice, in secondary legislation. Updating the VCoP so that the right to be referred to a Restorative Justice service is included as a standalone right (rather than a subsection of the right to information) in addition to including RJ in primary legislation would further improve victims’ access to RJ.
2. Ensure VCoP is not restricted in application.
Draft Bill subsection 2.3 states that ‘the code may restrict the application of its provisions to – specified descriptions of victims; victims of specified offences or descriptions of conduct; specified persons or descriptions of persons appearing to the Secretary of State to have functions of the kind mentioned in subsection’.
This subsection may serve as a potential loophole in solidifying RJ as a standalone right in VCoP. It may act as a reason for blanket bans on RJ in certain case types to persist. The Victims Bill offers an opportunity to challenge blanket bans and ensure that all victims are at the minimum made aware of RJ and given information about how to access an RJ service.
3. Ensure clear accountability and monitoring and evaluation guidelines for RJ are set out in the Victims Bill and VCoP.
The Bill will place a duty on relevant criminal justice bodies (the police, CPS, HMCTS, HMPPS, and YOTs) to collect data and keep their compliance with the Victims’ Code under review at a local level. The Bill will transfer the function of reviewing the operation of the Code from the Victims’ Commissioner to PCCs.
Clear guidance on data collection and sharing for cross agencies would greatly improve consistent access to RJ across England and Wales. This guidance should be produced in consultation with agencies and service users about how the measures in the Bill can be implemented and monitored.
These changes to the Victims Bill would ultimately be improved by the re-introduction of a National Action Plan on RJ and a dedicated Minister and civil servant tasked with overseeing the implementation of this action plan.