With the UK election result bringing a level of uncertainty, and with Brexit negotiations about to start, we must be asking the questions needed to ensure the rights of victims are secured and we continue to move in a progressive direction.
Regardless of where you lie on the political spectrum, we must all agree that the rights of victims must be upheld, and that we must act together to ensure that anyone affected by crime receives the support and care they are entitled to. With negotiations about to begin, we owe it to victims, witnesses and survivors the knowledge that we will continue the fight for support that puts victims at the centre of the criminal justice process. Despite our imminent departure from the EU, we must ensure that we take advantage of all the mechanisms both the UK and the EU have adopted over the years to enhance the rights of victims. We have experienced three barbaric acts of terrorism in the last few months which has undoubtedly left families and friends bereaved and traumatised, hurt and scared. It is time to put aside political differences and work as a united front to help build a society that puts victims at the heart of criminal justice processes.
The EU Victims’ Directive (Directive 2012/29/EU) came into effect in November 2015 with an aim of establishing the minimum standards for the equal rights, support and protection to all victims of crime in EU Member States. There are several Member States that are still working towards adopting legislation to transpose the Directive, however the majority have already enacted new laws. The UK’s Code of Practice for Victims of Crime entitles you to an enhanced service if you are a victim of serious crime, a persistently targeted victim or a vulnerable or intimidated victim; it sets out the rights of victims and runs parallel to the EU Victims’ Directive. Not only this, but the UK has been a leading figure at the forefront of securing victims’ rights and continues to uphold legislation and implement new laws to tackle those most deeply affected by crime. At the end of 2015, the government introduced a new lawmaking coercive and controlling behaviour a crime. These are the developments that must continue to happen if we are to be one of the leaders in driving forward victims’ rights. As we enter the negotiations with the EU we must be discussing how we will continue to uphold these rights for victims and how we can improve on protecting the most vulnerable in society. Cooperation between the UK and EU member states may be hampered by the Brexit negotiations and we must look at how we can overcome this.
New rules adopted by the Council and the European Parliament on 7 March 2017 will help prevent terrorist attacks by criminalising acts such as undertaking training or travelling for terrorist purposes, as well as organising or facilitating such travel. The new rules, in the form of a Directive, strengthen and widen the scope of the existing legislation (Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA in particular). They also strengthen the rights of the victims of terrorism. It includes a catalogue of services to meet the specific needs of victims of terrorism, such as the right to receive immediate access to professional support services providing medical and psycho-social treatments, or to receive legal or practical advice, as well as assistance with compensation claims. At a national level, both Belgium and France bolstered the support services given to victims of terrorism following the attacks in both countries in 2016. The UK has no obligation to adopt these new measures for victims of terrorism, however it would be prudent for the new government to take a similar approach to Belgium and France in the wake of the most recent horrific incidents. Continuing to pave the way for the advancement of victims’ rights is essential and so we should look carefully into adopting new measures. With terrorism currently being high on the political agenda, it would be wise for the government to be looking at the best ways to support those most affected.
Despite our eventual departure from the EU, it seems unlikely that the UK would retract the rights of the Directive, yet we may see a lessening in pace of effective cooperation and developments in cross-border victim rights. This is why this government must stay committed to a victim led criminal justice system that if efficient, effective and cooperative.
Supporting Justice recently attended and delivered a workshop at the Victim Support Europe annual conference in Dublin. The theme of this year’s conference was: Victims of Crime: Rights, Needs & Responses. Delegates from around the world attended plenaries and participated in workshops – what was most notable was how we were all there to learn from each other. To discover new practices, to develop further knowledge about innovative ideas, to see how different organisations can work together to become more efficient. Delegates didn’t go in as competitors, they went in as equals searching for one thing – how to best support victims and witnesses of crime. As the world becomes, in lots of ways, a smaller place, it’s important to recognise that Victim Support Europe and its members exist for the betterment of victim services, regardless of borders.
Despite us having no obligation to enact legislation to follow the EU Directive and the terrorism additions, I hope this article exemplifies that we should be aiming to be the pacemaker in delivering high quality victim care and support. We are unlikely to retract the current rights of victims, following the three terrorist attacks in the UK in recent months, a strengthening of victim care may end up high on the agenda. What we must ensure is that our criminal justice system puts victims at the heart.