Consultation on Victims’ Code

The Ministry of Justice is consulting on what it should include its consultation on the Victims Code later in the year. RoadPeace has highlighted the key issues for crash victims, including the need to ensure they are treated as victims of crime from start and do not have to wait for a charge to be laid before they are offered support and information as per the entitlements of the Victims Code.

Consultation closes on 11 Sept.

Have your say on the consultation here

RoadPeace will be responding with the below. Please feel free to utilise our responses or add to them. We very much appreciate your support, as the more voices respond, the more we can influence how crash victims are treated.

 

Consultation questions

Our approach

  1. Are there any specific areas/issues that you think we should also focus on in our second consultation?

The key issue for road crash victims is

  • When the code starts to apply to crash victims. The Mayor of London has confirmed that the Metropolitan Police Service will apply the Victims’ Code from the time of the crash. However, this is not replicated at a national level. Currently, police can interpret the Victims Code as only applying to victims who report a crime to the police. Given that the vast majority of crash victims do not report a crime, they are excluded from accessing information and support.

 

In addition, other areas of concern to road crash victims are

  • Right to information. This should include:
    • which contributory factors the police reported
    • how many witnesses were identified
    • if CCTV footage was obtained

 

  • Right to review. There is much room for improvement with the Victims’ Right to Review, including extending it beyond notifiable offences, as well as where a lesser offence is being prosecuted, and with an option for an external review.

 

Few driving offences qualify as notifiable crime. Whilst all bereaved families have a right to review, with the injured it is limited to those where a notifiable offence is suspected. So few of the hundreds of thousands of people injured by road crashes have a right to review the charging decision.

 

The right to review does not extend to cases where the police or CPS have decided to prosecute for a lesser offence than that desired by the victim/family. As RoadPeace and many others, including British Cycling and Cycling UK, have highlighted, there is much overlap in the definition of dangerous and careless driving with some police services much more inclined to prosecute for dangerous driving than others.

 

The right to review is not independent. It may be conducted by a different unit but it is still the same organisation involved in reviewing the decision.

 

  • Civil compensation. At present, the only compensation discussed in the Victims’ Code is that of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS). But victims of crashes do not qualify for CICS and must claim via the civil compensation system. This includes victims of crashes where a driver is prosecuted for causing the crash.

 

  • Inclusion of coroners. Coroners are currently excluded from the Victims’ Code. Yet they have a key role in both the treatment of bereaved families and police investigations. Coroners can order reconstruction or additional investigation procedures. They can also refer a road death back to the CPS if they think a prosecution is justified.

 

  • Definition of victim of crime. The consultation references the statistics on crime victims, as defined by the Crime Survey of England and Wales. But this is limited to victims of notifiable crime. This is misleading and excludes almost all road crime victims. Victims of all crimes, including road crime victims, deserve to be counted in the crime statistics.

 

Information and communication

  1. Do you agree with the proposal to have separate guidance alongside the Code aimed at victims and practitioners? Please give reasons for your response.

RoadPeace agrees with the proposal to have separate guidance for victims and practitioners. We appreciate that the current Code includes different chapters for these target groups but separate guidance would make it easier to change the tone and awareness assumed.

 

RoadPeace does think the guidance for practitioners should be visible to victims. This will help with accountability.

 

  1. Do you agree with the proposal to change the structure to a smaller number of overarching rights? Please give reasons for your response.

In principle, RoadPeace agrees with this but we would like to see more information and clarification on these overarching rights. We would argue that these should include

  • Right to recognition—if a victim believes they have been a victim of crime, then they should be treated as such and offered information and support accordingly. This is the approach already adopted with some types of victims, including victims of hate crime. It should be applied consistently across all types of victims.

 

  1. How else could we improve the accessibility of the Code?

Victims should also be reminded of the Code at every possible opportunity. RoadPeace recommends links to the Victims’ Code in all correspondence from the police, and other agencies dealing with victims.  RoadPeace guides, funded by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner and the Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime (MOPAC) in London make much reference to the Victims’ Code.

 

The MoJ could consider producing short videos about the Code and also conducting an online and ongoing survey as to victims satisfaction with the Victims Code and its implementation. RoadPeace has piloted such a survey.

 

 

Improved engagement

  1. Do you agree that there is a particular need to strengthen communication from the point of charge? Please give reasons for your response.

RoadPeace believes the focus should be on strengthening communication during the investigation stage, before the point of charge. Most crashes and crimes do not result in a criminal charge, with many resulting in no prosecution whilst others result in an out of court sanction.

 

  1. Should the victim’s preferences relating to frequency and preferred method of contact through their criminal justice journey be recorded as part of the initial communication? And if so, should these preferences form part of the referral process between agencies? Please give reasons for your response.

RoadPeace believes it would be useful to record the frequency and preferred method of contact requested by the victim. This should be part of the referral process between agencies but each agency should reconfirm that the victim’s preferences have not changed, as these may change over time or depending on the agency contact.

 

Victims Voice

  1. Do you agree with the proposal to provide agencies with more discretion on when the Victim Personal Statement is offered? Please give reasons for your response.

Agencies should be encouraged to start discussing the VPS only after it has been decided to prosecute the offender. This would spare victims from feeling pressurised in the early days when they are still coping with the shock of the crash. It would also give them time to better reflect the devastation caused by the crash.

 

  1. Do you agree that victims should be provided with a copy of their Victim Personal Statement? Please give reasons for your response.

This is long overdue. It is shocking that defendants get a copy of the Victim Personal Statement but not the victim. They should be allowed to keep a copy and be encouraged to practice reading it, if they want to read it at the sentencing.

 

  1. Are there any additional comments you wish to make on changes to the Victim Personal Statement process?

If the courts are to be expected to record if and how the VPS was used, then they should also be asked to record if a victim was injured by the law breaking. At present, it is difficult to identify with motoring offences as most do not mention if a victim was injured.

 

Mentally Disordered Offenders

  1. Which agency is best placed to support victims of unrestricted patients?

RoadPeace does not feel qualified to answer this. In the rare cases we know of that involve a person killed by a mentally disordered offender, the FLO has still been the main point of contact and source of information for the bereaved family.

 

Support

  1. Do you agree that the right to access practical and emotional support for victims should be made clearer in the revised Code, for those victims:
  2. a) who do not report incidents to the police?
  3. b) who choose to withdraw after reporting an incident to the police?
  4. c) at the end of their case? Please give reasons for your response.

 

It should be made clear how crash victims access practical and emotional support. The Code is aimed at those who report a crime and this does not apply to crash victims, even those who believe a crime was involved.

 

It is important to reach out to those who have been injured or affected by law breaking but choose not to engage with the police. RoadPeace is aware that only a minority of road crash victims report to the police. DfT estimates that 590,000 people are injured in crashes each year with only a third choosing to report to the police. This applies to those seriously injured as well as slightly injured.

 

And this may increase with online reporting, as victims may not bother reporting if police are not able to attend the crash scene and collect evidence.

 

Specialist support

  1. Do you agree with the proposed changes to eligibility categories for access to specialist support? Please give reasons for your response.

RoadPeace believes the current and proposed categories include all those bereaved by crashes and also those who suffer physical or mental injuries that affects their capacity. This should be confirmed but on that basis, RoadPeace agrees.

 

  1. Are there other types of support or information which would benefit those victims who are offered specialist support?

RoadPeace’s Resilience Building Support programme should be available for all those bereaved or suffering a life threatening injury in a road crash. These are not normal events as they are sudden, violent, and yet occur in the most everyday circumstances—going to work, school, shopping or a night out.

 

Our Resilience Building Support programme for the bereaved has been independently evaluated and shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

 

  1. What changes should be made to the existing needs assessment process?

The needs assessment process should be extended to include all those bereaved or left with life changing/threatening injuries.

 

Accountability

  1. Do you agree with that PCCs should work with their local criminal justice partners to adapt the victim guidance to explain the local offer for victims? Please give reasons for your response.

Yes, for two key reasons

First, they should all clarify when the Victims Code applies to crash victims. Is this from the reporting of the crash or do victims need to allege a driving offence has occurred?

 

Second, as the MoJ acknowledges, the Victims’ Code “sets out the minimum level of services that victims of crime should receive from criminal justice agencies and other organisations in England and Wales”. RoadPeace believes PCCs should aim to do better than the minimum.