Today, Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, has announced a package of measures about the treatment of victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system. Yet his own Victims Commissioner has doubts and Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, Vera Baird remains skeptical about his commitment to deliver.
Under Grayling’s proposals, he states victims will be kept informed about their case, courts will allow personal impact statements to be read out. Other measures announced include setting up a victims information service from March 2015 and allowing more child witnesses to film their evidence before a trial starts.
However, the Government’s Victims Commissioner, Baroness Newlove has questioned how his proposals would differ in practice from the existing victims’ code.
Baroness Newlove believes a new law cannot be used as a quick fix
Northumbria’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird QC, said “Let’s be absolutely clear, Chris Grayling is the Secretary of State who has cut compensation to victims to the bone, he has scrapped legal aid for victims of sexual and domestic abuse. It was Chris Grayling and his government who tried to stop part of the funding support that currently goes to the families of murder victims. So I am doubtful whether he means what he says, as victims have never been at the heart of this government.”
Putting victims first is a commitment Vera Baird has given in her Police & Crime Plan for residents of Northumbria. From April 2015, responsibility for some victims services falls to Police & Crime Commissioners. Vera Baird has consulted on an outline strategy, is mapping the need for services and, working with local authorities and other responsible authorities, will devise a final joint strategy that will ensure that local services for victims are the best that can be jointly provided. Victims will always be at the centre of the criminal justice system in our region.
Mrs Baird commented on the fact that victim impact statements will become law, saying that they have proved their worth without legislation Mrs Baird said “We saw the benefits of impact statements in the Rolf Harris case. These statements allow the courts to know how victims have been affected by a crime, and for the perpetrator to hear how their actions can ruin lives”.