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Access to Justice for Victims of Crime

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 7 July 2022

1. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the CPS in ensuring access to justice for the victims of crime. (900960)

Before I answer question 1, may I take the opportunity to pay tribute to my superb hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk)? He was quite simply an excellent Solicitor General, who took the difficult decision to resign from the Government this week. He was an absolute honour and pleasure to work with, a brilliant lawyer, a dedicated Member of Parliament and a shining example of the highest standards of public service.

Victims are not spectators. They have the right to be informed of their case and to be supported. That is why the Government are increasing funding for victim and witness support services to £192 million by 2024-25, which represents an uplift of 92% on core budgets in ’20-21. A large proportion of that funding has been allocated to police and crime commissioners to commission local victim support services. For ’22-23, the Ministry of Justice allocated about £5.2 million to the Greater Manchester PCC, to support services.

I am bound to welcome any extra resources to support victims. Nevertheless, victims and their families are still treated in an appalling fashion in too many cases. Cases that do not come to court, trials that are cracked and all the things that go wrong give victims the impression that they are simply an adjunct to the process. What is the Attorney General seriously going to do about it?

Well, I think that the Government have already acted in a significant way to put victims front and centre in our criminal justice system so that justice is secured for them. For 2021-22, the Ministry of Justice has provided £150 million for victims and witnesses alone, whether that is with more independent sexual violence advisers, who are game-changing in the victim experience—victims have told me personally how transformative the presence of an ISVA can be to their experience through the criminal justice system—or with the £20 million for local community-based sexual violence and domestic abuse services. I am very proud of the track record of this Government on supporting victims.

I join the Attorney General in her tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), whose service was absolutely outstanding and exceptional. He departed his post with great honour and with the respect of this House, the profession and the judiciary.

I thank the Attorney General for what she says about victims. It is clear that the Government have done a great deal. However, I am sure she is aware that in the course of the Select Committee’s prelegislative scrutiny of the welcome draft Victims Bill, we have heard evidence that—as the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) said—although there is good work, there is still patchiness in the provision of services for victims in many areas. The draft Victims Bill is a real opportunity to improve that and ensure a much more consistent approach. May I ask the Attorney General for an undertaking that the Government will look with care at the recommendations that we make as a result of that prelegislative scrutiny?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the forthcoming Victims Bill. I am proud that the Government are introducing specific measures to transform victims’ experience of the criminal justice system. The Bill will pursue measures to improve victims’ experiences; we are looking at what more can be done to ensure that the victim’s voice is heard, both pre and post charge. I am particularly proud of the victims code, which came into force last year and is a real reflection of our commitment to victims.

May I say what an honour it is to be at this Dispatch Box facing the next Prime Minister as she awaits her call from the palace? It is a true honour, although colleagues will have noticed that in her list of leadership priorities last night the Attorney General had absolutely nothing to say about tackling the epidemic of crime in our country or ending the culture of lawbreaking in our Government, both of which have flourished on her watch. What she did say last night, however, was that we need to

“shrink the size of the state”.

I ask the Attorney General a very simple question: in percentage terms, what size of staffing cuts does she plan to make to the Crown Prosecution Service, and what will that mean to the record backlogs that our courts currently face?

I know that the right hon. Lady loves to degrade these question sessions to petty politics. I am not going to lower myself to her standards; I am here to talk about victims and what we are doing to secure justice for vulnerable people. I am very proud of the financial settlement that this Government have put into the CPS, increasing the number of prosecutors. Notably, in the past 12 months alone there have been 115 more RASSO-trained prosecutors in place to work specifically to support victims.

The Scottish Government are investing an extra £4 million this year to tackle violence against women and girls and offer greater support for victims’ needs. The Crown Office budget in Scotland is more than 40% higher than at the start of the last Parliament, supporting a range of improvements and modernisation processes. Does the Attorney General welcome that? Does she agree that more funding should be made available across the UK for greater access to justice for victims? Will she consider putting that in her prime ministerial manifesto?

The hon. Lady has raised some good points. Over the last two years, however, there has been a sea change in what the Government have been doing to tackle violence against women and girls. We now have more data, with localised data dashboards and scorecards shining a light on how different parts of the country are performing in relation to RASSO— rape and serious sexual offences—and indeed all crime, and how they are recovering from covid.

As I have said, I am proud of the victims code, which contains 12 rights for victims which will be enshrined in statute—for instance, a right for victims to be referred to the relevant support services, a right for victims to have access to the relevant information, and a right for victims to make a personal statement in court. Those are meaningful changes that this Government have introduced, and I am very proud of that.