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Victim Support

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2024

Supporting victims has broadly three elements. First, it means ensuring harmful behaviour is comprehensively criminalised. That is why we have legislated to create new offences of stalking, coercive and controlling behaviour, upskirting, revenge porn, non-fatal strangulation and cyberflashing. Secondly, it means ensuring that the punishment fits the crime, which is why the average sentence has increased by around 50% since 2010. Thirdly, it means supporting victims before, during and after the court process. That is why we are funding over 1,000 independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers by 2024-25, we have set up a 24/7 rape support helpline, and we are quadrupling funding for victims’ services in cash terms since 2010.

Cuckooing is not a victimless crime. The victims whose homes are invaded are frequently extremely vulnerable. Will the Secretary of State consider a separate specific offence of cuckooing in the Criminal Justice Bill to ensure not just that the punishment fits the crime, but that the crime fits the crime?

My hon. Friend has been brilliant in raising this issue time and time again. At least in part because of the pressure she has put on, we held a stakeholder engagement exercise on this issue with the police, criminal justice system partners, local authorities, other Government Departments and so on. The exercise reveals that there are civil orders and criminal offences which are available to disrupt it. It might be, for example, that the underlying offence is the possession of drugs with intent to supply, the possession of firearms or common assault. However, this issue is worthy of further consideration, so I will invite a conversation with her in due course.

Last week, I was contacted by a constituent who has been named in the local press as a victim of domestic abuse against their expressed wishes. As my right hon. and learned Friend will appreciate, naming has the potential to endanger their safety and harm their recovery. What more can be done to safeguard the confidentiality of victims of domestic abuse?

My hon. Friend raises an absolutely essential point, because giving evidence is a deeply traumatic experience. Powers in section 46 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 allow the court, on application, to make a decision about anonymity and to take account of the circumstances of the alleged offending, the alleged offender, the alleged victim, and so on. That is a matter for the court. The court has to weigh the circumstances of the case against the overarching interests of transparency. That is a matter on which the courts are well placed to decide.

Carshalton and Wallington is supposed to be one of the safest parts of London, but it has been shocked by a number of knife and violent crime incidents recently, including a knife attack in Wallington Sainsbury’s on Christmas eve, which was traumatic not only for those involved but for those who witnessed it. Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that victims and witnesses of terrible crimes can get access to help and support while they wait for the police to build a case?

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to that appalling incident. Yes, it is absolutely imperative that both victims and witnesses can access support in the aftermath of such shocking crimes. As I indicated, we are quadrupling funding for victims and witness support by 2024-25 on 2010 levels. This is important. Under the 2006 victims code that we inherited, support was available only for direct victims. We have changed that, so it is now available for witnesses who have suffered mental or emotional harm.

The Government left the role of Victims’ Commissioner unfilled for over a year and to this day have refused to place any duty on public bodies to co-operate with the postholder. Will the Government and the Secretary of State explain why they have not supported Labour’s proposals to give the role the same powers as the Domestic Abuse Commissioner has over public authorities such as the police?

The Victims’ Commissioner plays an important role and we are delighted that Baroness Newlove is taking it on again. She has an exemplary track record. The role sits within a wider approach that we are taking, which is to ensure, through the Victims and Prisoners Bill and through the revised victims code and so on, that victims go from being spectators of the criminal justice process to participants in it. I know the Victims’ Commissioner will help us on that journey.

What is being done to ensure that victims of crime, particularly violent crime, get the necessary mental health support they require, particularly where they can suffer ongoing mental health issues and trauma beyond the period of the crime itself?

The hon. Gentleman raises an absolutely essential point. As I indicated, we are quadrupling funding for victims’ services on 2010 levels. Part of that is directed through police and crime commissioners to procure and commission precisely the kind of support he has indicated. What I am also able to say is that in those tragic cases that result in a fatality, the Homicide Service is now better resourced to provide ongoing support. That may be physical support, but it may also, sadly, be the mental support that is desperately needed.