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Victims of Crime

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 13 March 2012

15. What recent progress he has made on his proposed changes to support for victims of crime; and if he will make a statement. (99271)

On 30 January, in a statement to the House, the Justice Secretary launched a three-month consultation, “Getting it right for victims and witnesses”, on our far-reaching proposals to improve the support provided to victims and witnesses of crime.

In addition, as was enthusiastically pre-announced by my hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities when responding to the debate on international women’s day, I can now formally announce the next five new rape support centres to be developed by the Ministry of Justice and the voluntary sector. Over the next 12 months, the MOJ will provide nearly £600,000 in funding to develop new centres in mid-Wales, Northumbria, Leeds, Southend and Suffolk.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and I welcome the focus that the Government are putting on victims. Will he join me in paying tribute to the excellent charities that help victims of crime and their families, including Victim Support, the National Victims Association and Support After Murder and Manslaughter Abroad? Importantly, will he ensure that their representations on the victims strategy will be fully considered by his Department?

Government cuts have hit women and children harder than any other group. Fiona Weir, the chief executive of Gingerbread, has warned the Government that, as a result of their changes to legal aid:

“The majority of domestic violence victims will not be able to provide the evidence required to access legal aid.”

Will the Minister ensure that cuts to legal aid are not another cut that hurts vulnerable children and women more than other groups?

Far be it for me to suggest that the hon. Gentleman might be leading the House in the wrong direction, but all victims of domestic violence will remain entitled to legal aid in respect of the domestic violence.

Does the Minister accept that moving from a national system of provision for victims to one of local commissioning, as he is suggesting, will have a particular effect on vulnerable victims of crime, who often have to move home? What does he intend to do to protect them in the new system he is introducing?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, because she raises an issue of considerable importance to Victim Support, the principal organisation providing victims services at the moment. Of course it is the Government’s view that these services would be better commissioned locally by the new police and crime commissioners. We are consulting on our proposals, and I will take her views into account as we consider the responses to that consultation.

May we have a positive drive from the Ministry of Justice to ensure that, for as many victims as possible, both victim impact statements are completed and compensation orders are lodged with the court, so that victims can get the redress due to them?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He will know that we have strengthened the duty on those sentencing to consider a compensation order as the first point of departure when they come to sentence people. I have now forgotten the first point—

We want victims’ personal statements to be living documents that will play a full role, particularly in advising the courts on the sentence following the consequences of the crime.

Once police commissioners are in place, we could have 41 different standards of victim support across the country. The service that someone living, working and travelling across the midlands receives could depend on one of four or more areas, depending on where the crime is committed. Given the real concerns being raised by victims groups about the potential mess that could arise as a result of the Justice Secretary’s policies, will there be an individual—[Interruption.] Perhaps the Minister would care to listen to the question before deciding to heckle from the Front Bench. Given the real concerns being raised by victims groups about the potential mess, which he should be aware of, will an individual or an organisation be charged with enforcing a minimum standard that victims of crime can expect, regardless of geography—a newly appointed victims commissioner perhaps?

The hon. Gentleman has pointed out the problems that can come with enfranchising people at a local level, but the Government believe in localism and it is our view that police and crime commissioners will have the best appreciation of the victim services that are required in their local area. We look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to the consultation to see precisely what his view is. We have noticed that he is against a localist approach, but this Government are not.