The #MeToo campaign has done much to raise awareness of the importance of speaking out when you have been the victim of a crime. But a recent European Parliament Resolution indicates that much more needs to be done.
On 30 May, the European Parliament adopted a non-legislative Resolution on the implementation of the Victims’ Rights Directive (Directive 2012/29/EU). The Directive, adopted by the UK in 2012, establishes “minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime…seeks to place the victim of a crime at the centre of the criminal justice system, and aims to strengthen the rights of victims of crime so that any victim can rely on the same level of rights, irrespective of where the offence took place, their nationality or residence status”.
The EP was critical of Member States in relation to their implementation of the Directive. In particular, the EP noted that improvements are needed in relation to the information provided to victims and support available to them:
“despite many changes introduced in Member States, victims still often lack awareness of their rights…”
“some Member States display a lack of victim support services and coordination between them at local, regional, national and international level, which makes it difficult for victims to access existing support services”
“victims are often not well informed of trials and their outcomes; whereas all too often victims are unexpectedly informed of the release of an offender through media or other external factors, instead of by competent authorities”.
The EP deplored “the complexity of procedures for accessing support services and shortcomings in the victim support system, including insufficient access to legal aid and compensation, lack of financial support and coordination between support services, and inconsistent referral mechanisms”. The EP stressed the need to improve information mechanisms to ensure that victims are aware of their rights and know how to exercise them.
A few days before the EP adopted its Resolution, the Ministry of Justice published its single departmental plan. The plan contains a high level objective to protect vulnerable victims, witnesses and children. The MOJ proposes to achieve this by various means, including by “Publishing an overarching strategy for victims of crime to ensure they are properly supported”.
For victims, the process of reporting a crime, providing evidence and waiting for a verdict is always going to be unpleasant. This is of course a serious process and it is right that victims should approach it soberly. However, the EP noted that victims of crime regularly report that the justice process is itself “a type of victimisation – a secondary or re-victimisation”. That must be a factor in what the EP identified as the “systematic underreporting of incidents or perpetrators of violence in the EU”.
Clearly, if victims in the UK feel “re-victimised” by the criminal justice process and if crime is systematically unreported, our justice system is not properly serving victims or the wider public. Providing victims with sufficient information and support to enable them to provide witness evidence is crucial to the functioning of and trust in our criminal justice system. The detail of the MOJ’s strategy for victims of crime has not yet been provided, but I hope that it will reassure the EP and, more importantly, victims themselves, that they will be provided with an appropriate level of support, information and protection to make what will always be a difficult process as painless as possible.