Criminal Law Update

12 Apr 2021

On 18th of November 2020, the UK Government confirmed that it was proceeding with planned changes to the Victims’ Code, following a consultation that began in March 2020. It is hoped that the changes will mean victims have a greater awareness of their rights, receive the information and support when needed, and have a greater level of satisfaction with the treatment they receive in the Criminal Justice System.

The Victims’ Code applies to all criminal justice agencies, including the Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Courts Service, and the Probation Service. The Code’s primary aim is to protect the victim, and to ensure that all of these agencies have the victim’s best interests as their primary consideration.

The Code was established by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 and came into effect in 2006. Victim Support petitioned for the Code to be introduced and has campaigned for it to be improved and strengthened ever since.

Who is a ‘Victim’ under this Code?

This Code defines the word ‘victim’ as:

  • a person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental, or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence.
  • a close relative (or a nominated family spokesperson) of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence.

The Code also acknowledges that the words ‘survivor’ and ‘complainant’ are regularly used in the Criminal Justice System. Therefore, these terms fall under the umbrella term of ‘victim’.

You can also receive Rights under this Code if you are:

  • a parent or guardian of the victim if the victim is under 18 years of age; or
  • a nominated family spokesperson if the victim has a mental impairment or has been so severely injured because of a criminal offence that they are unable to communicate or lack the capacity to do so.

April 2021 Revisions

As of the 1st of April 2021, the revised Victims Code of Practice came into effect. It has structured victim entitlements into 12 over-arching rights with further detail, including timescales and other specifics, under each one.

Victims of alleged crimes attending court will have the right not to see the defendant before or after their case under a new code that comes into force today.

Right 8 allows victims to enter through a different court entrance from the defendant and wait in a separate area before and after the case has been heard. The Code states that some court buildings do not have separate entrances for victims and will require staff to ensure the victim does not see the defendant upon arrival.

Any victims required to give evidence will have access to their witness statement in case they need to refresh their memory. If the court allows, they will be able to meet the prosecutor before they go into court.

Other rights include being assessed for special measures during the trial. A list of common special measures includes giving evidence by video-link or a screen around the witness box. The code lists ‘other special measures’, such as giving evidence in private with no press or public allowed in the courtroom, judges and counsel removing wigs and gowns, or pre-recorded evidence or cross-examination.

Victims will be told what to expect at every stage of the Justice System procedure. For the first time, this includes a victim’s automatic right to be told when a perpetrator is due to leave prison. Victims of sexual violence will be able to choose the gender of their police interviewer and there will be clearer advice on when they can have their evidence pre-recorded ahead of a trial.

Andreana De Vecchis is an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor at the independent charity Victim Support and helps ensure victims get access to the support outlined in the Code. She stated:

“Working with victims of rape I know the prospect of reporting a crime to the police and attending court can put a huge emotional strain on people. It is my job to take survivors through every step of the process, explaining the rights they have under the Victims’ Code and making sure they receive them. At every step my priority is the victim and empowering them to get the support they need from the Justice System – whether they choose to report crimes or not.”

Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC MP also commented on the revisions, saying:

‘Having worked for over twenty-five years as a criminal barrister, I know how daunting the Justice System can be for victims which is why the information and support they receive is so vital. Our new code provides victims with a simplified and stronger set of rights – making clear their entitlements at every step of the way as they recover from crime.’

What is included in the Code?

The Code establishes what each criminal justice agency must do for victims and the timeframe in which they must do it. Again, it is worth noting that these rights set out the minimum level of service victims can expect from criminal justice agencies.

According to the Code, every victim has the right:

  1. To be able to understand and to be understood,
  2. To have the details of the crime recorded without unjustified delay,
  3. To be provided with information when reporting the crime,
  4. To be referred to services that support victims and have services and support tailored to your needs,
  5. To be provided with information about compensation,
  6. To be provided with information about the investigation and prosecution,
  7. To make a Victim Personal Statement,
  8. To be given information about the trial, trial process and your role as a witness,
  9. To be given information about the outcome of the case and any appeals,
  10. To be paid expenses and have property returned,
  11. To be given information about the offender following a conviction,
  12. To make a complaint about your Rights not being met.

There are further details available for each right which can be found in the Victims Code of Practice.

Which Rights will apply to a victim?

As a general rule, rights 1, 4 and 12 apply to all victims. The remaining Rights only apply where a crime has been reported to the Police. Which Rights apply to each individual victim depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • whether the crime was reported to the police,
  • if the case goes to court,
  • whether the defendant is convicted,
  • the victim’s personal needs and circumstances.