Skip to main content

Victims of Crime

Volume 575: debated on Tuesday 4 February 2014

The Government are giving more support to victims, and giving them a louder voice in the criminal justice system. We have introduced a new victims code, which gives victims more help throughout the criminal justice process. We are also exploring ways of reducing the distress caused to victims of sexual violence by cross-examination in court, and we aim to provide up to £100 million—more money than ever before—to help victims to cope and recover from crime.

My right hon. Friend is aware of my long-standing support for victims of crime. He is also aware that my constituent Marie Heath lost her job because she had to take time off work to attend the trial of criminals who murdered her son in Frankfurt. Does he agree that employers should show sympathy to employees who are bereaved in such horrific cases?

The whole House will sympathise with my hon. Friend’s view, and, in particular, with her constituent Marie Heath. The Government fund a national homicide service which supports bereaved people by, for instance, giving them access to support and guidance, helping them to explain their position to their employers, and enabling them to gain access to legal advice.

The extent to which sexual attacks and exploitation affect the way in which victims give evidence in court is poorly understood, and the difficulties that such people experience when giving evidence are often used to undermine them and their credibility as witnesses. The wider use of registered intermediaries would help to ensure that the evidence of the best possible quality was obtained during cross-examination. I know that the Minister is very supportive of that idea, but what is his view of the barriers that still prevent the use of registered intermediaries?

There are certainly no barriers as far as I am concerned. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of registered intermediaries. As she knows, as well as introducing a victims code, we are taking other steps to help particularly vulnerable victims of the type that she has described, which include the introduction of changes in the way in which they can give evidence. In some cases video evidence can be used, and we are consulting on how to surmount the problems posed by the multiple cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses in other cases. Obviously, we will continue that work.

One of the Government’s objectives is to ensure that victims receive much more compensation and restoration from offenders themselves. What progress is being made in that regard?

I am pleased to report to my hon. Friend that we are making significant progress. Increased use of the victim surcharge means that more money is available for victims’ services than ever before, and we hope in time to double the amount that is currently available from £50 million to £100 million. I am sure that the whole House will welcome the fact that the extra money will come from offenders themselves.

As the Minister will know, those who deal with victims of domestic violence fear that the services they currently receive will not be maintained when police commissioners take over the provision of support for victims, and those in areas such as Warrington still do not know how much money will be provided in April. Is he prepared to give the House a commitment that support for those very vulnerable victims will be maintained?

Obviously that will be a decision for individual police and crime commissioners, but they will all be very aware of the need to help, in particular, the most vulnerable victims. As I have said, not only will the total budget available be greater than ever before—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady says that I am not deciding how the budget is distributed. No, I am not: the decision is being made by elected people at local level, and I think that that is more likely to provide locally sensitive and tailored services than a decision made by someone sitting in London.

Local commissioning of victim support will start in October. Will the Minister reject the proposal to base the funding on population rather than on the number of victims, so that police authority areas such as Cleveland do not lose out?

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. In particular, I do not agree with his suggestion that his area will lose out. The fact is that every area in the country will receive more money under our proposed system than it was receiving under the previous system, so no one will lose out.

Does the Minister agree that victims of assaults, especially serious assaults, should be warned when the offenders are due to leave prison? If he does agree, will he tell me what he is doing to ensure that that happens?

I do agree with the hon. Gentleman, and the system is there to enable that to happen. However, if he can cite individual cases in which it is not happening, I urge him to write to me, and I will investigate.