19:12, October 10 59 0 theguardian.com

2017-10-10 19:12:03
Victims need legally enforceable rights, commissioner says

The victims commissioner, Helen Newlove, has urged the government to guarantee victims legally enforceable rights within the criminal justice system.

Despite repeated promises by political parties to improve their status, she said in a speech in Westminster that many victims are left feeling like “bystanders”.

Lady Newlove, whose husband Garry was fatally beaten by a teenage gang in August 2007, said that there should be a right to be informed about court dates and decisions, a right to make a personal statement at trial and a right to be consulted on conditions of the offender’s release or discharge.

“I am calling for a victims’ law to make the needs and rights of victims central to the delivery of justice,” she said.

“Over recent years, there has been considerable debate about putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. So why do victims complain that the justice system leaves them feeling like bystanders?

“I’m not advocating offenders shouldn’t have rights. Neither do I accept that giving rights to victims can only be at the expense of offenders. True justice requires both offenders and victims to be given rights that guarantee both are treated fairly.”

Newlove also called for victims to have the right to take part in a restorative justice programme and to have a legal right of review of decisions to drop or reduce charges against a suspect.

Many victims, she said, say they feel let down by inadequate support from the criminal justice system, making it hard for them to move on with their lives.

Offenders have clearly defined human rights enshrined in the European convention on human rights, Newlove said. Victims, on the other hand, only have entitlements set out in a code that lawyers tactfully describe as “persuasive guidance”.

She said: “We owe it to victims to feel they’re part of a productive two-way relationship with the criminal justice system, where their experience and trauma counts. In short, we have a moral obligation to go the extra mile in supporting victims through their justice journey.

“Achieving the ambition of putting victims at the heart of our criminal justice system can never be achieved without cost. But to the victims, it’s a right that is priceless.”

Garry Newlove died of his injuries two days after the attack. She was given a peerage in 2010 and appointed victims commissioner two years later.