In January, I openly spoke about the Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove, first major review looking at compliance with the Victims’ Code. In February, we saw the publication of the much anticipated findings of the Labour's Victims' TaskForce comprising of Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Peter Neyroud CBE QPM and Sir Keir Starmer KCB QC.
Neither the findings of Baroness Newlove nor the recommendations from Labour’s Victims' TaskForcehave come as a surprise. With the upcoming election looming you can’t blame parties in the divulgence of high-profile, vote winning, manifesto-setting activities. And this is only the beginning.
For example, the TaskForce report included an evidential regurgitation of victim statistics and ‘must do better’ attitude for those affected by crime. Again, no surprises there. However, what is astonishing, and in no way symptomatic of just the Labour Party, is the continual need for politicians and policy makers to state the obvious; the obvious need to change our approach to the treatment of victims, the obvious discontent with the administration of justice, the obvious need to focus on those most vulnerable (who shockingly, are also offenders- no political wins to be had there though!). We don’t need a report to tell us what we already know. Especially when the majority of recommendations have to become policy requirements and law by November 2016 as per the EC Victims’ Directive that establishes minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.
Albeit the task for governments to produce such reports and set appropriate agendas, it will be the work of individuals and communities to bring the Directive to life and ensure the rights of victims. That is why at the IARS International Institute that I founded and Direct, we have launched a free e-course for victims educating them about their rights (new and old) as protected in the Directive which is higher than national laws and policies.
Our main concern is that victims, who at the most vulnerable continue to be disregarded by the justice system whatever en vogue political rhetoric is currently being employed. We were particularly disappointed to notice a complete lack of reference in the TaskForce Report to Black and Minority Ethnic victims especially those without a UK or EU citizenship. This is a protection extended by the Victims' Directive which all policy makers and politicians tend to ignore. We would expect more from at least one member of the TaskForce known for her fights for race equality.
From our research within vulnerable communities this animosity to address the real needs of victims stems from the inability for politicians and policy-makers to view vulnerable people as ‘victims’. This is reflected policy; even the recommendations by Labour fail to address the issue of non-discrimination in regards to victim’s residence status. This important development proposed by the Victim’s Directive typifies the shift towards a more inclusive approach to victims.
In conclusion, as an independent, user-led institute, we encourage politicians and policy makers to root out the culture of discrimination which extends far beyond how we treat offenders, but also how we treat victims.
To this end we have introduced an International Victims’ Pledge and we encourage all organisations and individuals to become part of a shifting culture. We have written about this culture through our recent book "A Victim-led Criminal Justice System: Addressing the Paradox".
The Pledge aims to ensure that all victims of crime and their families are treated with respect, provided with appropriate safeguards at all stages of the restorative and criminal justice processes and are supported and empowered to know their rights.
We also provide free training programmes to those working with victims to promote the much needed ‘change of culture’ for victims, so often promised but rarely delivered. We also have an online course for professionals
We know that changing culture is not an easy task. But we cannot give up. Treatment of victims is an entrenched stereotype within our social consciousness. We must work together to ensure that the political rhetoric of change moves out from the halls of Westminster and into the lives of victims, those who work with victims and want change don’t need a report to tell them that.