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West Yorkshire launches first Victim Support Strategy

West Yorkshire Police has launched its first Victim Support Strategy in order to better support victims of crime through the processes of the criminal justice system, as government publishes revised Victim's Code.

‘The Supporting People Harmed by Crime’ strategy was launched by West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Mark Burns Williamson OBE, and the national Victims Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC.

It was officially launched at an event at St Catherine's Church and Centre in Wakefield on Tuesday 18th February. 

The new strategy is the result of a consultation with West Yorkshire Police, the Local Criminal Justice Board, the NHS, local authorities and the third sector.

A West Yorkshire OPCC spokesperson said: “It is widely recognised – by the Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird for example – that there isn’t enough money in the system for victims.”

PCC Burns-Williamson has undertaken a needs assessment, which has identified areas of victims’ services that require strengthening.

The strategy will address barriers that can prevent victims from seeking support. These barriers can be due to a person’s age, mental health, awareness of services and their vulnerability.

The force will provide clear, accessible information and a single point of access for all victims regardless of crime type, location or personal circumstances.

The strategy aims to “increase trust in the criminal justice system” by monitoring local compliance with the Victim’s Code and Witness Charter and provide clear knowledge and advice to victims at all stages about their options.

It also plans to continue to develop alternative options such as restorative justice and out of court disposals.

The success of the new strategy will be measured by victim satisfaction surveys and the number of self-referrals to the victims’ services commissioned by the PCC.

This all comes in anticipation of the introduction of Victims’ Law, following revisions to the Victims’ Code. The new Code, a statutory document which sets out the minimum level of service victims can expect from criminal justice agencies, was published yesterday (Thursday 5 March). It sets out 12 overarching rights which, according to the Ministry of Justice, are “clear, concise and easy to understand”.

The previous version of the Code was critcised for being too long and difficult to interpret. 

APCC Victims Leads, Sophie Linden, London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime & Julia Mulligan, North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner said: “Police and Crime Commissioners play a unique role in respect of victims within the criminal justice system. We are not only responsible for commissioning the majority of local support services for victims of crime, but also, given our senior local leadership role within the CJS, we are well placed to ensure that the system locally is doing more to meet the needs of victims.

“We welcome the consultation on the new Victims Code of Practice and the commitment to further strengthen rights for victims through a Victims Law and look forward to working with Government on this. Victims’ voices must be heard through this consultation.

“As well as strengthening the rights of victims through a revised Code and a Victim’s law, ensuring good quality support for victims of crime, is crucial, and the commitments made in today’s consultation must be backed up by the resources to provide this support.”

Victims’ Law aims to put the entitlements of the new Victims’ Code into law. It is expected to be brought into effect this year, assuming it passes through parliament.

PCC Burns-Williamson said: “One of my most important roles as PCC has been to champion the interests of all victims and witnesses, and this strategy goes some way to addressing that.

“In working with victims we have learned how critical it is to get the initial response from the police and others right first time every time. That ethos has played a pivotal role in helping to inform and develop this strategy and I was delighted that Dame Vera and DCC Foster joined many colleagues from the voluntary sector and partners to ensure a successful launch.

“I feel that it is important to note that this isn’t just another a document, this is a signal of intent and I would take this opportunity to make a direct plea to any victims out there that need help to get in touch, you will be heard, you will be listened to and you will be supported. I would also urge anyone with an interest in victims and witnesses to consider what more we can do collectively to support them and to get in touch with my office if you think you can help.

Dame Baird said: “Every victim of crime is affected to a lesser or greater degree by what has happened to them. Some people need little or no help and often go on to give help to other victims. Those who suffer the most serious violent or sexual crimes may need, in contrast, lifelong support. The traumatic and the hidden nature of what has happened can be deeply problematic, without the input of good quality accredited third sector services such victims will not find help.  

“The police are key to linking victims to services when people have reported crime. However, many more do not report and it’s imperative that PCCs should think, as Mark has done, how it is possible to ensure that they get the victim support services they need as well.”

Deputy Chief Constable Russ Foster said: “We have a culture in West Yorkshire Police where our officers and staff put the victim at the heart of everything we do and this has been embedded for some time.

“However, we are not complacent as an organisation and are always striving to do better. We have provided an undertaking to the PCC of West Yorkshire to fully embrace his Victim and Witness Strategy and ensure it is embedded and delivered at the sharp end of policing."

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