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Commissioner’s response – Improving the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime

6th June 2013

Northumbria PCC Response to ‘Improving the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime’

Vera Baird, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria welcomes the opportunity to comment on these proposed reforms and since taking up office has spoken to many victims whose views have helped shape this consultation response. In particular, she has a Standing Victims’ Advisory Group, which meets with her personally, bi-monthly, involving victims, their families and VCS organisations which support victims

Victims Entitlements

Q1. Do you think that the approach taken to restructure the Code is the right one? Yes. Any reforms that make the Victims’ Code more accessible to victims and more targeted at those who require an enhanced service is welcome particularly priority cases who are vulnerable. I also welcome the new reform that improves information to the victim, in a way that the victim wants. Victims need consistency and continuity from all the services involved. Simplifying the code and providing an easy to read format that highlights the victims entitlements will make it far easier for all audiences to understand. It will also be important to ensure that the final code is available in number of formats such as ‘audio tapes’, or an ‘eformat’ to ensure that the information is accessible to everybody. Q2. Do you think that the categories of persons entitled to receive enhanced services under the Code are appropriate? Yes. I feel that the categories of persons entitled to receive enhanced services under the code are appropriate as they are likely to be in most need and who will potentially suffer the longest term impacts. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate. It may also be useful in the final version to include a definition or clarity for people about what the code means by ‘vulnerable’. I also believe that the code should ensure automatic access to support services for all victims so that they have the support they need, when they need it, we must not forget that the nature of the crime does not always dictate the impact on the individual victim. This would prevent a return to the time when officers, already burdened with additional tasks had to introduce the subject of Victim Support and encourage a referral.

Duties upon criminal justice agencies and organisations

Q3. Do you think that the duties imposed on the criminal justice agencies in the revised Code are the right ones? Please provide comments. I am broadly content that the duties imposed on criminal justice agencies are the right ones though it is my view that the whole “victim journey” should be re-assessed as a matter of urgency since the current multiplicity of organisations seeking to respond to their needs looks duplicatory. The introduction of a ‘needs assessment’ to be carried out by police with all victims of crime is a positive step. This will help to establish what support and information is needed to help the victim recover from their ordeal. However,it is essential that police have appropriate training for the needs assessment process and that they have or can call upon contacts who have the skills to support victims with specific needs such as deaf victims or those with learning difficulties.

Police and Crime Commissioners

Q4 (a). Do you think that the Police and Crime Commissioners should be included in the revised Code? Please give reasons Yes, I do feel that Police and Crime Commissioners should be included in the revised code as our obligation to consult the public make us well placed to understand the needs of victims, hold the police to account for the effective and efficient delivery of the victims’ experience and to exercise influence over the other local criminal justice agencies involved with the victim journey. We are also independent of the agencies delivering the services. We are working up local contacts so that we can ensure that everyone’s specific needs as victims can be met by an agency suitable and effective Comprehensive support for victims will strengthen confidence amongst local communities in both policing and the criminal justice system. My Police and Crime Plan 2012-18 includes an objective that will see victims needs coming first on all fronts. In Northumbria I have established a network of Advisory Groups which help shape my thinking and scrutiny of key policing issues. They represent the protected strands in the Equality Act 2010 and the Victims Advisory Groups includes representatives from most of those strands of people. As I have said that Victims Group meets regularly to inform my views about Northumbria Police and the service they provide to victims. They will support me in monitoring the local delivery of the code. Q4 (b). If so, what duties should they fulfil and at which stages of the criminal justice process should Police and Crime Commissioners be included? With the introduction of commissioning responsibilities in 2014-15 I feel PCCs are perfectly well placed to play a key role in holding local criminal justice agencies to account for delivery of this new reformed Victims Code. There is a role for PCCs in assessing the standard of the service, identifying gaps and improvement opportunities and commissioning providers. As I have said above there is a need for an urgent review of the victim journey and I would hope for support and input for this from Government before this responsibility passes to us

The Victim Personal Statement (VPS)

Q5. Do you agree that the Victim Personal Statement should be included within a revised Victims’ Code? Yes, the VPS should be included in the revised code. This is a sensible place for a comprehensive list of rights and entitlements to be explained, including the purpose of the VPS and how it can be used in court to secure the most appropriate outcome. The key challenge will be increasing the offer and uptake of the VPS. This may be achieved through better communication of the Victims’ Code and improved monitoring of criminal justice agencies compliance with it. It is therefore essential in monitoring to evaluate and measure the take up rate to ensure that it does increase with the implementation of the code and also to the victim’s satisfaction with the process.

Community Impact Statements

Q6. Do you think that police forces should be encouraged to expand their use of Community Impact Statements? Yes. In a similar way to victims it is very important that criminal justice agencies understand the impact crime has had on communities. Community impact statements could also be used to help criminal justice agencies understand better the impact of crime on specific communities such as LGTB or people suffering from mental ill health. However, there is no point in a box-ticking exercise and so real impact needs to be perceived to be present before the exercise is undertaken. However the potential need to prepare a CIS should, in turn, serve to sharpen police perceptions of community impact. Q7 (a) Do you think community impact statements provide an effective way of capturing the problems confronting communities? (b) If so, how might the wider roll out of the Community Impact Statement be encouraged? (c) If not, how might community impact statements be improved?

  1. A Community Impact Statement is just one way to capture the impact of crime and the problems confronting communities; it helps to reassure communities that their concerns are taken seriously. It has the potential to be an effective method of capturing views but should not be done in isolation to regular engagement and dialogue and must truly reflect the impact of crime on that particular community not just be a generic overview.
  2. Greater awareness of the statement is needed across criminal justice agencies including the police and public. It will be very important to feedback to communities the outcome when a statement has been used in the criminal justice system.
  3. Review and assessment of the use of the statements in the criminal justice system will enable agencies to determine if they are of value and also where they may be improved and used more effectively.

Businesses and Impact Statements for Businesses

Q8. Do you agree that all businesses should be entitled to make an impact statement to explain how a crime has affected them? Yes, I believe that all victims should be entitled to make an impact statement to explain how a crime has affected them. It’s important that all victims are provided with the opportunity to receive support tailored to their needs. This principle applies to businesses, regardless of their size and composition everyone should been given an equal opportunity to discuss the impact of their experience and future support needs. Q9. Do you think businesses will benefit from this scheme? Understanding the impact of crime may enable more informed decisions when imposing either bail conditions and /or post-conviction orders. Better information may lead to more creative solutions to prevent re-offending in the future. We have good relations with North East Chamber of Commerce, who will offer a useful link here Q10. Do you think that this statement should be extended to other organisations, such as charities? Absolutely. As the principle above outlines, all victims of crime should be given the equal opportunity to discuss the impact of their experience and future support needs. Charities are no different and should be provided the same opportunities if they are victims of crime.

Restorative Justice

Q11. Do you agree that RJ should be included in the Victims’ Code where the offender is over 18 years of age? Yes. This is a positive approach to managing re-offending and bringing justice to victims. Restorative Justice must of course remain voluntary and be agreed between the victim and offender. I feel it is important to outline the approach to victims as a real option to enable them to move forward and repair the damage following their experience. It also has the potential to reduce re-offending and ultimately reduce the number of victims who experience crime. Q12. Do you think that the section on RJ in the revised Code will help to support wider work to improve victim awareness of RJ? I think that by giving Restorative Justice a clear section within the Code it will help build the profile of RJ therefore improving victim’s awareness. This alone will not be enough to improve victim’s awareness but coupled with other proactive promotional activity and real examples and case studies of cases where RJ has worked will help to achieve this aim. It is important that communities and victims are reassured that RJ is not used for prolific and serious offenders. Q13 (a). How much do you think RJ uptake will increase as a result of the reforms to the Code? This is unknown but is likely to be determined by the level and extent of both internal and external marketing of RJ and its intended outcomes. Again the information through marketing and press coverage that is made available to communities about the impact and potential to reduce reoffending, particularly in young offenders, will potentially increase uptake.

If things go wrong

Q14. Do you think that the complaints system in the revised Code will deliver a better service for victims? Please give reasons. Yes. Anything that makes the complaints processes clearer to victims is welcome. The obligation for each agency to have clear processes with a single point of contact for victims seems a sensible way forward. It is an important reassurance message to victims that agencies are willing and ready to take action when things haven’t gone as planned. To strengthen the value of the code, agencies should be encouraged to make their complaints systems as accessible and visible as possible. Q15. How do you think compliance and performance by agencies and organisations under the Code can be best monitored? And by whom? Should this be locally or nationally driven? Clear guidance should be produced nationally and practical approaches to monitoring determined locally. This should not lead to additional bureaucracy and should be developed within existing performance frameworks. It is the responsibility of the individual agency to monitor their performance in this area, with oversight from the appropriate governing body. Consideration must be given to how closer partnership working across criminal justice agencies can lead to improved performance across the whole system perhaps through the Local Criminal Justice Board. Both a local and nationally driven approach will be necessary and as suggested in the response recently compiled by the Associations of Police and Crime Commissioner on the HMIC inspection programme a national approach could include inspection of victims’ services, perhaps as a joint inspection across the criminal justice sector. Voice for Victims have raised concerns about how we ensure the code is being followed as it is not an enforceable or legal binding document. I echo this concern and would welcome any amendments made to the code that helped ensure that it was followed by all responsible organisations. Q16. In addition to the improvements outlined in the Code, what reforms do you think are needed to improve means of redress for victims? Each case will be different, with individual circumstances therefore it is difficult to suggest what further reforms are needed. The most effective way to improve redress is through clear and simple processes, communications and actions.

Children and young people (under 18s)

Q17. Do you agree that there should be a dedicated section for children and young people in the Code? Yes absolutely. Children and young people can equally be victims of crime and it is important that they receive information about victims’ services in a way which they can easily locate and find easy to understand. A dedicated section will help children and young people feel that their needs will be taken seriously and understood. Q18. Do you agree that the duties on the criminal justice agencies with regards to children and young people are correct? Please give reasons. Yes. This new focus on children and young people is very welcome. The interests of children and young people should be the main consideration for agencies within the criminal justice system when dealing with cases involving children and young people. I feel it would be very useful for you to carry out a separate piece of consultation with young people and children to get their views the sections of the revised code that applies to them. This really is the only way to ensure that their views and needs are understood and considered as part of the final code. Q19. Do you consider that this section is appropriately user-friendly for children and young people? The code in its current format may be useful to young people but would be inappropriate to share with younger children. A ‘child friendly’ version could be explored that helps to make sense of the entitlements and service on offer.

In conclusion

Q.20 How can we ensure that the Code is communicated effectively? Use of plain easy to read language specific versions for different groups as mentioned earlier in my response. Use of social media is invaluable in raising awareness and is also a very cost effective medium. Guidance should be developed for all responsible organisations on how to communicate the code effectively using best practice.

Equality effects

Q.21 Do you think we have correctly identified the range and extent of the effects of these proposals on those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010? Yes. Q.22 If not, are you aware of any evidence that we have not considered as part of our equality analysis? Please supply the evidence. What is the effect of this evidence on our proposals? It think that the delivery of the code will impact on those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 in different ways. As mentioned in my responses around promotion and accessibility of the code there are a number of ways in which this can be done most effectively. A further more detailed assessment as the code is implemented and finalised would ensure that the effect and impact of the code in ensuring that those with protected characteristics are treat respectfully and sensitively. Obviously there is also a requirement for agencies to meet this requirement at a local level and this will be part of the monitoring process.

Impact Assessment

Q.23 Do you have any comments in relation to our impact assessment? The recognition that it will take agencies time to amend policies and information is sensible however there should be a point at which agencies should have this information ready. Other assessments made within the document appear to balance the potential impact of increased uptake of services and the resource implications for agencies with the potential benefits of improved user satisfaction and a reduction on complaints. Q.24 Could you provide any evidence or sources of information that will help us to understand and assess those impact further? No Q.25 How long does it take to record a VPS from a Victim of Crime? I have information from Northumbria Police that confirms that they have no information about specific timings. Q.26 What is the additional burden on civil society organisations if they are contracted to take the VPS on behalf of the police? Police officers are skilled at talking to victims of crime and recording information. The proposal that the VPS is taken at the same time as the evidential statement means that this prevents the victim having to meet with another organisation or go over the crime and relive the impact that it has had on them on another day. To this end, although this will increase the bureaucracy for the police, in the cases of people who are giving evidential witness statements or are entitled to enhanced services under the code it will mean fewer transactions in the victim’s journey. There may, however, be circumstances where it is appropriate and relevant to contract the VPS to another organisation on behalf of the police where they are able to provide a tailored or specific support service.