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MoJ warned uncosted and vague victim reforms will hit forces

Plans to overhaul victims’ rights have significant gaps, council and police leaders have told MPs.

The Ministry of Justice has been given a blunt warning not to overhaul victims’ rights on the cheap.

A scrutiny committee in Westminster was also told by Police and Crime Commissioners and a senior local government leader that the current legislation has significant gaps.

MPs reviewing the draft Victims Bill were told that plans to move powers away from the national Victim’s Commissioner would be a mistake.

And forces could end up carrying the cost of meeting the demand resulting from increased caseloads to ensure victims of crime are not failed twice by the justice system, the committee was told.

The government wants to make provision for the Victims’ Code to set out who is entitled to receive services.

The new legislation will place a duty on specified criminal justice bodies within a police area (police, CPS, courts, prisons, probation and Youth Offending Teams) to keep under review their own compliance with the Code.

It will also, according to the MoJ, enhance the role of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) by placing them under an overarching duty to keep under review the bodies’ compliance.

The MoJ said its plans will “improve the end-to-end support for victims of crime so that they get the support needed to cope and recover from the impact of crime and feel able to engage and remain engaged in the criminal justice system”.

MPs have now been told there are significant gaps in the Bill in its current form – including what happens when forces don’t meet demands for information.

Cllr Nesil Caliskan, Chair, Local Government Association Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said there was a risk the national Victim’s Commissioner could be sidelined.

“We think there should be some sort of national oversight. That shift in power allows for some things like data collection – but that’s not the name of the game,” she said.

“Collaboration is vital – but understanding who those agencies [involved] are is really important. I think the bill could do more to tease that out.”

The national Police and Crime Commissioner’s lead for victims, Sophie Linden, said there had to be national scrutiny so that organisations like National Criminal Justice Board can be held to account.

She also said a crucial failure had been the failure to include children and young people’s services in the legislation.

And PCCs will not get the power to request watchdogs such as HMI to investigate when they find failings.

Ms Linden said the MoJ needed to focus on “outcomes rather than compliance”.

A Westminster convention is that new legislation is funded by central government.

Ms Linden warned the changes could not simply be lumped into the precept demands as the changes would likely generate increased demands from victims.

“To ensure PCCs can effectively monitor compliance with the code we need consistent funding and analytical support. Currently the funding across local areas is variable, and if the expectation is that these are through which compliance is monitored then resource must be provided to strengthen capability.”

“We are also concerned that as PCCs we will not be properly resourced to effectively deliver the new duties. Effective collaboration which leads to a strong strategy will be complex and require coordination of input from across organisations.

She added: “I do believe the costs of effectively implementing this Bill have been underestimated and this needs to be appropriately assessed.”

The MoJ said the plans will “amplify victims’ voices in the criminal justice process, strengthen transparency and accountability of criminal justice agencies and improve support for victims”.

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