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Victims (Bill of Rights)

Volume 593: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2015

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a framework for victims of crime; to provide for the training of criminal justice staff on the impact of crime on victims; and for connected purposes.

Over the past few years, it has been my privilege to play a part in realising changes to the law on stalking and domestic violence. During the course of the independent parliamentary inquiry into stalking law reform, which I was honoured to chair in 2011-12, our panel—many of whom are here today—took evidence from a number of victims of stalking whose experiences shaped a great deal of our report. Equally, in bringing in my ten-minute rule Bill on coercive control last February, I was indebted to victims of that abuse who came forward and shared their experiences with me. It is no coincidence that both campaigns resulted in changes to the law. Indeed, what those two campaigns had in common was that each was informed by the victims and their families. I have long harboured the view that victims of crime do not get the support they deserve from our justice system.

One victim, Tracey Morgan, gave evidence to our stalking inquiry. She said that it is not right that perpetrators get rights, while victims get only codes and charters. Complaints and appeal processes are lengthy and complex, and victims are put off engaging with the justice system at all.

Harry Fletcher of the Digital Trust who, alongside Claire Waxman, drafted the original Bill presented to the Clerks, identified numerous examples of victims being badly let down by unenforceable codes, which he recalls from his time with the National Association of Probation Officers. Those examples include a victim who was not told that their offender had been released from prison following a conviction for violence; a victim who went to court to find that the impact statement was not in the Crown Prosecution Service bundle, despite the perpetrator being tried for a serious imprisonable offence; a case where the Parole Board was not aware of a victim’s view that she wanted the perpetrator excluded from her postcode because of real fears of repeat attacks; a case that took 18 months to go to court, which resulted in serious stress for the victim, who was not given any reason for the delay or multiple adjournments; a case where a victim arrived at court to find that she had to share a room with a witness for the defence and felt intimidated; numerous cases where personal information about new victims’ whereabouts was disclosed in court when the abuser was present; and a case where a victim was told not to be openly emotional in court where her son’s murderer was facing trial. She faced removal from court, believe it or not.

All those examples are indicative of a wider culture of neglect, and I say neglect because that is what it is—a neglect of the justice system’s duty to protect and support victims of crime. The Bill aims to put that right by placing a responsibility on the Secretary of State to publish a victims Bill of Rights, which would be applicable to cases arising in criminal and civil courts.

The Bill would ensure that victims have the right to accurate and timely information from all relevant agencies; notice of all court and legal proceedings relating to the victim’s perpetrator; and direct contact details of all criminal justice agencies and individuals involved in the proceedings. Crucially, the Bill sets out that children and vulnerable adults should be able to give evidence from a location away from court—I realise that that does happen in part—and that victims should have access to discreet waiting areas during all court proceedings. There is also a provision to ensure that victims would have the right to a case companion who would update the victim on the progress of their case. Young witnesses would also have access to registered intermediaries to help them understand court procedures.

One of the factors that troubled us most during the stalking inquiry was how frequently perpetrators were able to use the family and civil courts to make vexatious claims against their victims and, in so doing, to continue their harassment of the victim. That is why this Bill would give the judiciary in family and civil proceedings the power to disallow claims that can be shown to be an abuse of process.

Claire Waxman was one of the brave survivors of stalking who gave evidence, very bravely and fully, to our inquiry in 2011. Since then, she has mounted a forthright campaign to secure a stronger voice for victims called Voice4Victims. Ms Waxman’s campaign has gained the support of numerous victims’ organisations and charities. A survey conducted by the campaign in 2014 highlights just how frequently victims are let down by our present system. I want to share some of the survey’s findings with the House.

More than 50% of the victims surveyed rated all agencies “extremely poorly” in communication, with the Parole Board scoring the highest with 67%. Furthermore, 55% of victims were never informed about criminal injuries compensation; 44% were never given the opportunity to make a victim personal statement; and 64% of victims never received any advice or support on writing their victim personal statement. The words of the campaign’s founder, Claire Waxman, sum up the situation powerfully:

“As a stalking victim, I experienced first-hand a torrent of abuse and re-victimisation at the hands of our Criminal Justice System. I naively believed the system was there to help victims, while instead it compounds their trauma. It placed the rights of my stalker above my rights to be protected.”

The Bill has received cross-party support, as evidenced by the names of the supporters to whom I shall refer shortly. I believe that, like the stalking and domestic violence campaigns, this is an issue on which this House is united rather than divided. We want to see change, because we owe it to victims of crime who have suffered wrong and they deserve just and fair treatment. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mr Elfyn Llwyd, Sir Edward Garnier, Zac Goldsmith, Sandra Osborne, Mr Barry Sheerman, John McDonnell, Annette Brooke, Caroline Lucas, Ms Margaret Ritchie, Hywel Williams, Jeremy Corbyn and Dr Julian Huppert present the Bill.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 March, and to be printed (Bill 181).

supply and appropriation (anticipation and adjustments) Bill

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 56), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Question put forthwith, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

corporation tax (northern Ireland) bill (PROGRAMME (no. 2))

Ordered,

That the Order of 27 January 2015 (Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of that Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion, at today’s sitting, two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.

(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion, at today’s sitting, three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.—(Mr Gauke.)