A new code which explains to victims of crime their rights within the criminal justice system has been welcomed by independent charity Victim Support and the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner.
Victim Support believes changes to the code announced by ministers will help to improve victims’ experiences by making the police, courts and other agencies more responsive to their needs.
And Olly Martins, Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, said the revised Victims’ Code was a welcome step to ensuring that the needs and interests of those unfortunate enough to suffer crime are front and centre of the criminal justice system.
The code provides key new entitlements such as giving victims the right to have their personal statements read out in court and providing them with better access to restorative justice.
David Padgett, Victim Support divisional manager for Bedfordshire said: “We spoke to 7,625 victim in Bedfordshire last year and know they often feel left on the sidelines. The new code for victims will ensure they know what they can expect as they move through the criminal justice system.”
The new code also maintains the principle that all victims of crime should be automatically referred to support services, after Victim Support raised concerns earlier this year at proposals to limit this to victims of certain crimes or those deemed vulnerable.
The code will ensure victims receive the support they need, and sets out how to navigate the criminal justice system more easily than in the past.
One of the key changes is the right for a victim to describe the way the crime has affected them, in the form of a ‘Victim Personal Statement’ read out in court.
Victims will now have the choice to have their statement read out on their behalf explaining in their own words the impact a crime has had on them and their families. They can also choose to have the statement read aloud on their behalf, usually by a prosecutor, or not to have it read aloud.
Mr Padgett said: “We believe the new code is a real step in the right direction and look forward to working with our Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martins and other partners to ensure the code is effectively implemented for victims we support in Bedfordshire.”
Mr Martins, who previously worked for Victim Support and still regularly telephones victims of crime to find out about and learn from their experiences, said: “I know from my work talking to victims that sometimes it can feel as though their needs are very much secondary to how the police, the courts, prosecutors and judges, together with all the other elements of our system of justice work. The new code sends a strong signal that our justice system should put the needs of those who have actually suffered crime first and foremost.
“Bedfordshire Police are already working hard to improve the satisfaction of victims with the service they receive from the force by ensuring they are given full and accurate information about the investigation and are kept updated. This is in line with Chief Constable Colette Paul’s ambition that the force should be in the top 10 for this vital performance measure in five years.
“Furthermore, commissioning of local victim services becomes the responsibility of Police and Crime Commissioners next October, which should mark another step towards a victim-centred approach to criminal justice.
”One of the most significant reforms announced should see victims of crime in England and Wales given the opportunity to personally read a statement to the court before an offender is sentenced by the judge, following a guilty verdict, to explain how a crime has affected them.”