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Victims (Criminal Justice System)

Volume 570: debated on Tuesday 12 November 2013

This Government are committed to putting victims first and we will give them a voice at every stage of the criminal justice system. The new victims code published on 29 October will provide extra support for victims and witnesses by offering them greater protection throughout the criminal justice process, a louder voice, and better redress. Victims will now be able to say whether they would like to read out their victim personal statement in court to explain how the crime has affected them.

The Justice Secretary has been to Hanley Swan post office and met my constituents, Alan and Ros Davies, whose lives were devastated by a cruel attack from a prisoner on early release. Can he assure them, and other victims, that their voices and support needs will always be considered ahead of those of violent criminals?

I am aware of the terrible consequences of what was a very serious crime. It is precisely for such victims of crime that we are now providing a voice in court. If they so wish, they can read a personal statement to the offender, looking the offender in the eye, and many victims have said that that would have made a very big difference to them in the past.

I was pleased to hear that the new victims code will automatically inform victims of their right to make a statement in court. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that services for victims of crime are not only commissioned locally but that we maintain our existing courts structure? As a justice of the peace, I specifically include magistrates courts, which help to safeguard a local perspective.

I agree that it is important for victims to be able to inform the court directly, through the personal statement, about how a crime has affected them. I also agree about the great importance of magistrates for local justice; indeed, that is precisely why I am leading work to broaden and strengthen their role in delivering justice.

Given that the Minister has broken up the funding for victim support and devolved it down to police and crime commissioners, and refused to make it mandatory in the Crime and Courts Act 2013, what guarantees can he give that some new scheme in future will provide uniform victim support services across the United Kingdom?

Some services will continue to be provided nationally, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware. The bulk of the funding is indeed being devolved to police and crime commissioners, who are all enthusiastic, across party boundaries, to maintain and improve victim services. Those who are closer to the specific problems of a local area are likely to be more sensitive to the needs of that area than the old top-down, centralist system that the right hon. Gentleman still clearly hankers after.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post and regret that his first question attacks the Victims’ Commissioner, who is doing an extremely good job. She is helping us with the victims code, and she has made a significant difference. She has reviewed the operation of the probation service’s victim contact scheme. She will, I think, show that the terrible experience she has had herself will contribute to her role as Victims’ Commissioner. I hope that across the Floor of this House we can get behind the Victims’ Commissioner.