Today (9th December 2021), the Government has set out plans for a first-ever Victims’ Law and various reforms to improve the experiences of victims of crime. As part of these plans, they have announced the roll-out of Section 28 for all victims of sexual offences, a Victim’s Bill consultation that will allow victims and survivors to give feedback on new legislation, and the introduction and publication of quarterly performance scorecards across the whole justice system with the aim of monitoring progress and accountability.
Victim’s Law consultation
The Victim’s Bill consultation is a really good opportunity for victims and survivors to have a tangible impact on legislation that applies to them. We have spoken extensively about how the criminal justice system is not designed with survivor needs in mind, and so it’s encouraging to hear that survivors will be given the chance to make their voices heard. We will be working closely with our Rape Crisis Centres to ensure those we support have the information needed to participate in the consultation and to support them through that process.
Section 28 roll-out for intimidated and vulnerable witnesses
Following extensive lobbying from Rape Crisis England & Wales and other Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) organisations, we’re extremely pleased that the Government have listened to our calls for Section 28 to apply to all victims and survivors of sexual offence cases. This means that victims and survivors of rape and sexual abuse should have the choice to provide pre-recorded video evidence in their trials rather than have to appear in court. This acknowledges the extra barriers and difficulties complainants of sexual offences face throughout their criminal justice journey. The ordeal of cross-examinations for victims and survivors in rape cases has been widely accepted as problematic, and many women have legitimate fears around being cross-examined. There is some anecdotal evidence indicating that Section 28 cross-examinations are less traumatic for victims and survivors. In addition to this, the length of time it takes to take a rape case to trial (over 4 years in some instances), means that victims and survivors feel they are unable to move on with their lives whilst they wait to give evidence. Section 28 recordings are completed close to the time of the offence, allowing survivors to access specialist support services sooner and without worrying about the issue of pre-trial therapy. We believe the decision to give survivors the choice to record their cross-examination will ensure many more women and girls feel that they are able to seek justice.
In contrast to the encouraging news above, the scorecard data released today shows the need for urgent and drastic improvements from the police and the CPS, with the figures trailing far behind the Government’s ambition of 2016 figures. Since 2016, the number of suspects charged and the number of cases making it to court have decreased significantly, and victims are now waiting on average 457 days for their cases to reach court - this is 156 days longer than in 2016. Victims and survivors are being treated appallingly by the criminal justice system, and these figures demonstrate this in black and white.
The announcements today mark a shift in attitude towards how victims and survivors of rape are treated in their criminal justice journey and have come about following significant campaigning from the VAWG sector. We now need to see a continued focus on implementing the necessary changes to improve the experiences for those who report rape and sexual abuse, as well as acknowledgement of the important role specialist sexual violence support services play in achieving this.