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Victims Bill

Volume 700: debated on Tuesday 14 September 2021

The Government committed in the Queen’s Speech to bring forward a Bill to enshrine the rights of victims in law, and the hon. Lady can expect to see a consultation on this issue later this year.

As the Minister says, we first heard about this in the Queen’s Speech over four months ago now, and we have heard nothing since. In the year ending March 2020, the crime survey for England and Wales estimates that more than 600,000 women aged 16 to 74 were victims of sexual assault. For these women, who desperately need to see protections enshrined in law, I ask the Minister: when can we expect this legislation on the Floor of the House?

I do recognise the issue that the hon. Lady raises, and she will of course appreciate that we have spent significantly more money on increasing the number of independent sexual violence advisers across the whole of England and Wales. However, she is right to be impatient for the Bill, and as I say, she will see a consultation on this shortly.

It is hard for members of the public to feel confidence in the statutory provisions outlawing the rough sex defence in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 while a young woman such as Sophie Moss can be so violently killed and the perpetrator receive a sentence of just four years. Does my hon. Friend think there is an opportunity with the victims Bill to look seriously at the length of sentence for this kind of homicide, and could I urge him to press the Director of Public Prosecutions as to why so many of these cases are prosecuted as manslaughter, not murder?

That case obviously caused consternation not just in the House but across the country, and Law Officers will be looking carefully at its implications. I am more than happy to consider the issues raised by my hon. Friend during the passage of the victims Bill, not least because we want to ensure that every victim of crime in this country not only gets justice, but sees that justice is done.

For six years the Government have promised a victims Bill. Indeed, five Secretaries of State have promised that that will be their priority—will this be the one, Mr Speaker?—but meanwhile, victims are left waiting and traumatised, their rights ignored. I recently spoke to the father of a young girl who reported sexual assault two years ago. Delay after delay has meant that the family have been left not knowing when their case will be heard, with no explanation, poor communication, and the young girl having to relive her trauma. We now learn that one-third of victims would not report a future crime because of past experience. Labour has a victims Bill ready to go. Will the Minister work with us to bring that in? If not, will he tell that young girl why the Government continue to treat her as an afterthought?

I think that is a deeply unfair characterisation of the work to which all Ministers, and indeed the professional public servants who are involved in victim and witness care across the country, including police officers, devote themselves every day. Having said that, we recognise that many victims are dissatisfied with the support they get, and they do not necessarily see the victims’ charter writ large in their experience of the criminal justice system. As I said, we will soon be bringing forward legislation to enshrine their rights in law, and a consultation on that matter will be issued in the coming days.