LGA response to the Government’s consultation: Delivering justice for victims - A consultation on improving victims’ experiences of the justice system

The LGA welcomes the opportunity to provide a response to the Government’s consultation on improving victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. The following submission outlines our key points on behalf of our LGA membership, although local authorities may also look to respond directly to this consultation.


About the Local Government Association (LGA)

The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government, and our members include councils and fire and rescue authorities, including Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners. We work with our members to support, promote and improve local government.

We are a politically-led, cross party organisation which works on behalf of councils to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government. We aim to influence and set the political agenda on the issues that matter to councils, so they are able to deliver local solutions to national problems.

Local Government Association response

The Local Government Association welcomes the opportunity to provide a response to the Government’s consultation on improving victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. The following submission outlines our key points on behalf of our LGA membership, although local authorities may also look to respond directly to this consultation.

Question 1: Do you agree that the key principles set out in the consultation are the right ones? If not, do you have any other suggestions?

The Government’s consultation on improving victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system outlines that too many victims feel that the system does not deliver justice for them and many feel they are let down by the system, which can compound the pain and suffering from the original crime.

We, therefore, welcome the Government’s commitment to improve the service and support that victims receive – from the moment a crime is committed right the way through to their experience in the courtroom.

It is certainly right, that more is done to amplify victims’ voices in the criminal justice process and ensure the victims are supported to rebuild their lives through accessible and professional services. It is our hope that efforts to strengthen the victims’ response through the criminal justice system, will help to increase confidence in victims to report offences and seek justice.

Whilst these are integral principles, our ultimate ambition should be to prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place. So, it is important, that the introduction of a Victims’ Law is also accompanied by a wider commitment to prevent crime and invest in early intervention and prevention services. This must be a cross-Government approach, rather than a solely criminal justice-led issue.
The consultation outlines the Government is making progress on a number of issues and plans, which include: targeted and improved support for victims of a range of different crime types and experiences – for example, through a new strategy for domestic abuse to build on the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, a new strategy for tackling hate crime, a new strategy for tackling modern slavery and consideration of ways to better tackle antisocial behaviour through Beating Crime Plan commitments.

We would stress the importance of ensuring the Government’s various strategies, guidance, and forthcoming legislation work cohesively with the forthcoming Victims’ Law Bill. Whilst this consultation focuses on particular victim support services (domestic abuse, serious violence and sexual violence) – it is important that victims of all crimes are supported effectively.

Code of Practice for Victims of Crime

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales (Victim's Code) outlines that a victim is: a person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence or a close relative (or a nominated family spokesperson) of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence.
It is helpful to have a Victim’s Code which sets out the services and a minimum standard for these services that must be provided to victims of crime by organisations. However, it is important to acknowledge that many victims of crime will have suffered violence or abuse for a prolonged period of time before they seek help. On average high-risk victims live with domestic abuse for 2.3 years and domestic abuse victims will experience approximately 50 incidents of abuse before getting effective help. Many victims of domestic abuse or sexual offences, will feel unable to report the crime and may not have the confidence in agencies to help them (SafeLives: How long do people live with domestic abuse, and when do they get help to stop it).

There will also be victims of anti-social behaviour, who feel like their case is treated as “low-level” or less important than serious violent crime or wider criminal offences. It is important to state that all victims should be treated with respect, dignity, sensitivity, compassion and courtesy. Again, this reinforces the need to invest in early intervention and community-based support, which begins upstream and seeks to prevent the crime from occurring or escalating in the first place.

Community-based support services

It is positive the Government has committed to consult on the provision of community-based support for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence to better understand how we can improve the commissioning and co-ordination of community-based services.

It is important to state that adding a legislative duty doesn’t automatically improve collaboration or partnership-working, and if it’s not adequately funded – it will not be effective. We would argue that a sector-led approach, which provides local areas with the flexibility and resources to identify local priorities and take action, is one of the best ways to improve collaboration.

The commissioning landscape for domestic abuse community-based support services can be complex. Support services are often commissioned by a variety of organisations, including national commissioning by Government departments, or locally commissioned by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and local authorities. Violence Reduction Units and Community Safety Partnerships will also be involved in commissioning decisions. As a result, there may be duplication or gaps in services identified and it can be challenging co-ordinate service provision across local areas.

Government funding for support services is often made available through short-term, one-off funds from various Government departments. It can often be challenging for local organisations to navigate the various funds that are available, with little time to submit a bid or spend the funding in a short timeframe. This leads to uncertainty within the support sector, with many organisations encountering difficulties with recruitment of staff and provision of service. This is especially true of smaller support organisations, particularly those providing “by and for” services which offer specialist and bespoke support, which are so desperately needed.

Longer term funding commitments would facilitate producing three-year strategies for issues such as domestic abuse, providing much needed stability particularly regarding staffing and commissioning arrangements. The Government should consider how its own funding opportunities could support a longer-term approach to developing these services.

When finalised in Spring 2022, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s mapping work will help to provide a more accurate sense of the total amount required to fund community-based services. We will continue to work with the Commissioner’s office to support the call for greater investment in community-based support.
During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the LGA consistently highlighted the importance of domestic abuse community-based support and called on the Government to provide long-term funding to these vital services. Whilst funding was made available to local authorities for the new statutory duty to provide accommodation-based support services for domestic abuse victims and children (Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act), it was explicitly stated that this funding could not be used for community-based support services, nor could it be used for perpetrator interventions.
In all of our work on VAWG and domestic abuse we have been clear that there needs to be an equal focus on, and funding for, prevention and early intervention measures that aim to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.

This needs to start at the earliest level, with a focus on relationships and sex education actively tackling harmful gender stereotypes and addressing subjects such as domestic and gender-based violence. There is a need to ensure that schools are properly resourced to teach relationships and sex education effectively, including through supporting specialist training. Awareness raising and developing understanding of what are, and what are not acceptable behaviours, should also be promoted through non-academic settings and other youth services and interventions.

There is also a need to invest in community level initiatives and communications campaigns that seek to raise awareness about violence against women and girls, and help women and girls feel empowered. Initiatives should also focus on prompting perpetrators to recognise their own abusive behaviour and seek help to stop it or prevent it escalating, with a focus on sharing evidence and information about the interventions that are most effective.

Trading standards prosecutions

It should be recognised that councils also bring prosecutions for criminal offences, predominantly under trading standards legislation. The Government took the decision not to include councils within the scope of the Code at the time, but instead agreed to work with them to understand how the Code would impact on councils, and the resource implications of this. We are seeking reassurance that the proposals here do Page 4 of 11 not apply to council prosecutions because in some instances the numbers of victims can be considerable. Community safety

Community safety landscape

In this complex and sometimes crowded landscape, there is a need for clarity on how PCCs, CSPs and VRUs are expected to work together, given the overlapping, but diverse range of community safety issues they cover and the varied funding streams available to different partners. The need for guidance on this to support better alignment by VRUs with existing statutory functions and partnerships was also highlighted in the Home Office’s recent evaluation of VRUs.

Question 2: What more can government and agencies listed in the Code do to ensure that frontline professionals are aware of what is required of them under the Code?

LGA response: The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Victims’ Code) sets out the services and a minimum standard for these services that must be provided to victims of crime by organisations in England and Wales. Enhanced training and the dissemination of best practice could help to publicise the Victims’ Code with both frontline professionals and the public, to raise awareness of it.

Question 4: Do the current procedures around timing and method of communication between the police/CPS and victims about key decisions work for victims? Are there any changes that could be beneficial?

LGA response: We welcome any scoping work to assess the challenges related to securing Third Party material for rape and serious sexual offences, as part of the Government’s overall commitment to tackling declining rape convictions.

We would support the criteria used by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) being expanded to include the criminal exploitation of under 18s, who are highly vulnerable. Currently, where a child or young person has an adult co-defendant, their case is heard in the crown court, without the adaptations and protections of youth court. It also brings the children back into contact with the criminal gangs who exploited them, and places them as an equal member. Exploring opportunities to change the existing practice and custom to treat all children as children would be recommended.

Question 6: a) What are the benefits and costs to greater or different use of Community Impact Statements?

LGA response: The concept of a ‘community impact statement’ is explored in the consultation, and the example given of a group of young people from Canada with personal experience of online sexual abuse producing a generic statement for courts to consider during sentencing seems helpful and should be explored further. The pressure individual children and young people are under to talk about some of the most difficult and traumatic events in their lives in a court room full of strangers may mean they are unable to sufficiently convey the enormity and impact of their experiences of abuse or exploitation in that moment. So, it would be worth exploring an option such as that presented, where a generic statement for courts, produced by a group of individuals, is considered during sentencing.

 

 

Question 10: What should the role of PCCs be in relation to the delivery of a quality service and commissioning victims’ support services, and what levers could be given to PCCs to deliver this role and enhance victims' experiences of the criminal justice

LGA response: The Police and Crime Commissioner has a valuable role as the local victims’ champion, providing grant funding to key areas of crime and disorder reduction. To do this effectively, it is important that PCCs and their offices work closely with local community safety partners to agree shared priorities, collaborative ways of working, and ensure that funding is routed to address local crime issues in a way that builds resilience across local services and partners.

We have some concern that in areas such as domestic abuse, there is a mismatch between the statutory responsibilities which are placed on councils and the fact that funding to support domestic abuse victim support services is typically routed through Police and Crime Commissioners. The introduction of Violence Reduction Units has created an additional vehicle for commissioning services, that (in some areas) sits wholly separate to the Community Safety Partnerships work. It would be useful for all commissioning / de-commissioning of relevant community safety services to be discussed between partners.

It would be helpful if there was a more consistent commitment to the provision of longer-term funding of specialist services, rather than short term ‘quick win’ style funding of 12 months. This can be problematic because short term funding can undermine the resilience and effectiveness of services which need to build trust and relationships with those who are vulnerable and make sustained changes to support a victim’s journey and to build partnership working. Longer term funding commitments would facilitate producing three-year strategies for issues such as domestic abuse, providing much needed stability particularly regarding staffing and commissioning arrangements. The Government should also consider how its own funding opportunities can support a longer-term approach to developing services.

In this complex and sometimes crowded landscape, there is a need for clarity on how PCCs, CSPs and VRUs are expected to work together, given the overlapping, but diverse range of community safety issues they cover and the varied funding streams available to different partners. The need for guidance on this to support better alignment by VRUs with existing statutory functions and partnerships was also highlighted in the Home Office’s recent evaluation of VRUs.

With current and forthcoming legislation expected to amend the role and remit of Community Safety Partnerships in the future, it will be important for PCCs and relevant partnerships to have clearly defined roles and ways of working. There should be an emphasis on strong partnership working and joint decision-making as the default position, including in relation to funding bids.

Question 13: What are the most critical functions to enable an effective Victims’ Commissioner?

The Victims’ Commissioner role provides important leadership on issues affecting victims of crime. As outlined in the Victims’ Commissioner’s 2021 – 2022 strategy, the Commissioner is committed to ensuring victims are supported in coping and recovering from the impact of crime and they are empowered to play a full part in the criminal justice system of England and Wales.

The Victims’ Commissioner has an important role to play in facilitating learning and the sharing of information across different agencies to help implement changes at a national level. Dame Vera Baird QC has outlined the importance of gaining first-hand knowledge and understanding of victims’ services, to identify and actively promote examples of good practice and excellence. The LGA supports this approach, and we will continue to work closely with the Victims’ Commissioner, to help share best practice across local government and with partners. This works particularly well because there is a supportive and collaborative relationship between councils and the Commissioner’s office.

The Victims’ Commissioner has also identified the importance of regular contact with victims and practitioners of victims’ services, to help articulate a view of the criminal justice system from the perspective of victims; contribute to, review and challenge decisions taken by policy makers and those responsible for developing practice. If we want to see effective change, it is important we listen to the people who have lived these experiences and learn from them about what more can be done to prevent these incidents from happening again. This is a critical function of the Commissioner’s role.

The Commissioner should be able to make independent and impartial assessments of policy and practice and offer a perspective independent of government. The previous Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland OBE, highlighted the importance of Commissioners having independence from Government as a key measure of success in the role.

The Victims’ Commissioner has recommended their Annual Report is submitted to Parliament to review the operation of the Victims’ Code. We would welcome greater Parliamentary time being allocated to consider the progress and implementation of the victims’ code and support the Commissioner in submitting an Annual Report on this important issue. It may also be beneficial for the Victims’ Commissioner’s report to be considered by a select committee, to ensure it receives parliamentary attention.

It is positive to see that the Victims’ Commissioner and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner work so collaboratively, helping to address important issues throughout passage of the Domestic Abuse Act and wider forms of legislation and guidance. Both Commissioners provide invaluable contributions on behalf of victims of crime, and are careful not to duplicate but to enhance one another’s roles.

Question 19: How might victims provide immediate feedback on the service they receive and its quality (such as text message, online surveys etc.)?

LGA response: It is important to ensure that victims can provide feedback on the services they received, in an accessible, inclusive, and safe way. We would recommend the Government liaises with the Victims Commissioner, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the voluntary and community sector, and victims directly for their input. In particular, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office has undertaken extensive work to ensure their recent surveys and mapping exercises are designed with victims, so that the questions and feedback mechanisms are sensitive to those providing feedback. Some consideration also needs to be given to two-way engagement, and ensuring victims are made aware of how their feedback will make a difference and what actions will be taken.

Question 23: a) What legislative duties placed on local bodies to improve collaboration where multiple groups are involved (such as those set out above) have worked well, and why?

LGA response: The consultation identifies the statutory duty outlined in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which requires the community safety partnership and PCC to collaborate and implement a strategy to reduce local crime and disorder. It also identifies the statutory duty placed on local authorities to provide domestic abuse accommodation-based support and services for domestic abuse victims and children, as outlined in Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.
It is important to state that adding a legislative duty doesn’t automatically improve collaboration or partnership-working, and if it’s not adequately funded – it will not be effective. We would argue that a sector-led approach, which provides local areas with the flexibility and resources to identify local priorities and take action, is one of the best ways to improve collaboration.

For example, we have supported the voluntary approach of Violence Reduction Units, which brings together different organisations, including the police, local government, health, community leaders and other key partners to tackle violent crime by understanding its root causes. Whilst the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to introduce a serious violence duty – we have instead called for the VRU model to be extended to all police force areas and provided with long-term funding.

There is also a question of whether the legislative duties required already exist, and instead what is needed is better resourcing from central Government and increased capacity in the relevant agencies to ensure the duty is working as it should. There is a danger that by creating additional legislative duties which direct agencies to prioritise specific crime types, this could risk agencies taking a narrow and siloed approach rather than assessing the broad range of community safety issues and identifying local needs and priorities.

Question 24: What works in terms of the current commissioning landscape, both nationally and locally, for support services for victims of: a) domestic abuse; b) sexual violence (including child sexual abuse); c) other serious violence?

LGA response: The National Statement of Expectations (NSE) 2016 for VAWG commissioning outlines a set of principles, which work well for all victim support services that are commissioned nationally and locally:

  1. Put the victim at the centre of service delivery;
  2. Have a clear focus on perpetrators in order to keep victims safe;
  3. Take a strategic, system-wide approach to commissioning;
  4. Are locally-led and safeguard individuals at every point;
  5. Raise local awareness of the issues and involve, engage and empower communities to seek, design and deliver solutions to prevent VAWG/ the crime.

As the NSE states, every victim, whether adult or child, is an individual with different experiences, reactions and needs. Local areas should ensure that services are flexible and responsive to the victim’s experience and voice.

It is helpful that where commissioning frameworks are established by central Government, that they are consistent across all Government departments, and work with the agencies involved in commissioning and victims directly – to ensure they are fit for purpose.

If we want to ensure these commissioning principles are implemented in practice, this requires long-term sustainable funding. Short-term one-off Government grants, with varying bidding criteria, from multiple Government departments contributes to the varied and sporadic nature of local commissioning.

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office has outlined that the scale and prevalence of domestic abuse, as well as the impact of the pandemic means that the demand for services still far outstrips provision of the most tailored, holistic forms of support to victims and survivors. A failure to invest in these services can lead to further long-term costs for the Government. When finalised in Spring 2022, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s mapping work will help to provide a more accurate sense of the total amount required to fund community-based services.

Whilst this consultation has identified domestic abuse, sexual violence and serious violence as the three main areas of focus for victim support services, councils and their partners may commission services that work across all these crime types and more.

For many councils, the most pertinent form of serious violence locally will be domestic abuse. So it is difficult to categorise one support service as “serious violent crime”, as that definition will vary from area to area.

With regards to commissioning, we have called for greater investment in community-based support, including early intervention and prevention services, as well as investment and research into perpetrator programmes. We’ve also called for the Violence Reduction Unit model to be expanded to all police forces areas, and to receive long-term adequate funding.

According to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s findings, seventy per cent of victims of domestic abuse who access support do so via community-based services, many of whom will never need to access higher cost refuge accommodation if the interventions are successful. Community-based services can include specialist advocacy support, welfare and immigration advice and mental health support – and there is often a high level of overlap between these two services.

Specific and dedicated support for children and young people is often underdeveloped e.g. in the domestic abuse space, and there are known challenges in accessing child and adolescent mental health services which are required to support children in their recovery.

Question 26: What can the Government do to ensure that commissioners are adequately responding and implementing the expertise of smaller, ‘by and for’ organisations in line with local need?

LGA response: It will be helpful to capture the learning and best practice, from local authorities implementing Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 – which specifically highlights the importance of including “by and for” support organisations.

Question 27: What can local commissioners (local authorities and PCCs) do to improve the commissioning of specialist ‘by and for’ services for their area?

Question 27: What can local commissioners (local authorities and PCCs) do to improve the commissioning of specialist ‘by and for’ services for their area?
LGA response: Specialist by and for services provide highly tailored support for groups of people with protected characteristics and those who experience the highest levels of exclusion from mainstream services. This includes LGBT+, Deaf, disabled and Black and minoritised victims and survivors of domestic abuse as well as migrant women. As the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Office highlights: “It is well established that victims and survivors with protected characteristics, are best served by specialist “by and for” services”.

It would be helpful for any good practice or learning to be shared, following the implementation of the new statutory duty on local authorities to provide domestic abuse accommodation-based support, which has a specific focus on investing in “by and for” services locally.    

 

Question 31: How do IDVAs fit into the wider network of support services available for victims of domestic abuse?

LGA response: The LGA has consistently called for the Government to provide funding for community-based domestic abuse support to accompany the new statutory duty for local authorities to deliver domestic abuse accommodation-based support services, as outlined in Part 4 of the Domestic Abuse Act. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Spending Review submission also outlines the importance of funding community-based support and wider advocacy provision.

As part of the wider provision for domestic abuse victims, Independent Domestic Abuse Advisers (IDVAs) provide integral support services which are vitally needed. IDVAs can help a victim with everything they need to become safe and rebuild their life, and represent their voice at a Multi-agency Risk Assessment Conference (Marac), as well as helping them to navigate the criminal justice process and working with the different statutory agencies to provide wraparound support.

Following support from an IDVA service, at the closure of their cases, Safe Lives reported that the majority of survivors reported cessation of each type of domestic abuse (86 per cent physical abuse; 91 per cent sexual abuse; 81 per cent harassment and stalking; 81 per cent jealousy and controlling behaviour).

Out of 100 cases, Safe Lives found 84 per cent of survivors reported feeling safer and 73 per cent of survivors felt their quality of life had improved.
The Safe Lives IDVA dataset identifies that if an IDVA service were to support 100 people across a year, 72 of those victims would be at high risk of serious injury or death. They will have experienced, on average, 2.5 years of domestic abuse. Support from an IDVA would have included explaining criminal justice proceedings in 76 per cent of cases, supporting the client through criminal justice processes in 50 per cent of cases, and providing updates about the court in 49 per cent of cases.

In our written evidence submission to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry on Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG), we called on the Government to provide a commitment to extend the supply of Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVAs) and Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs) for at least three years.

Question 32: How might defining the IDVA role impact services, other sector workers and IDVAs themselves?

LGA response: The Commissioner’s office has found that despite overwhelming endorsement from victims, the courts and criminal justice system agencies “frequently seem to have a poor understanding of the role or the value of the support of professional independent advisors”. For example, the Commissioner’s office has received reports that advisors are not being allowed into a court room or the video-link room. Therefore, we support the Victims’ Commissioner’s recommendation for new, clear and widely disseminated guidance about the role of advisors which is based upon a statutory recognition of the role of victim advisors.

Question 33: How do ISVAs fit into the wider network of support services available for victims of sexual violence?

LGA response: Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) provide invaluable emotional support and guidance for anyone reporting current or historical sexual offences through the criminal justice system.

As the Home Office 2017 review identifies, the ISVA role has been supported by a range of agencies, organisations, and victim and survivor groups, all of whom have highlighted the value of the role. A number of independent reviews have also highlighted and reinforced the importance of the ISVA role in supporting victims and survivors.

In our written evidence submission to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry on Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG), we called on the Government to provide a commitment to extend the supply of Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVAs) and Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs) for at least three years.

Question 35: What are the challenges in accessing advocate services, and how can the Government support advocates to reach victims in all communities?

LGA response: We support the Victims’ Commissioner’s recommendation, outlined in the Policy Paper on Victims Law, for a statutory entitlement for all victims of serious sexual or violent crime or victims who have been bereaved as a result of a crime to be allocated a victim advisor to support them through their criminal justice journey.

Question 37: How useful is existing guidance, and how can this guidance be strengthened?

LGA response: We support the Victims’ Commissioner’s recommendation for new, clear and widely disseminated guidance about the role of advisors which is based upon a statutory recognition of the role of victim advisors.

Question 45: Please comment on the training required to support advocates for children and young people. How do these differ to adult advocate training, and are there barriers that exist to accessing this?

LGA response: Supporting and advocating for children and young people is different to advocating for adults. For example, children and young people will be at differing stages of development, requiring advocates to recognise and respond to different levels of understanding of the situations that they may have experienced and the processes they are now involved in. Children and young people may also be particularly vulnerable to external pressure and coercion by offenders, particularly where these are family members or friends (including perceived friends, such as gang members), requiring advocates to display particular sensitivity and nuance in their support of that individual. It is important to consider the interface between these roles and other options for support, where a child may be in contact with children’s social care or established relationships with others. The child or young person’s wishes and needs need to be central and not have to repeatedly tell their story to different professionals.

Question 46: What are the barriers to effective work with children and young people in this area, and what action could the Government take to address these?

LGA response: Support for children and young people may be best delivered, depending on individual circumstances, by representatives of that young person’s community. There can be a lack of trust of perceived ‘authority’ figures, and community representatives can help to overcome this barrier and deliver advocacy support that recognises the context in which children and young people are living. However, this support can be challenging to identify; funding for community and voluntary sector support has suffered cuts in recent years while much available funding is limited in scope, duration and quantity. Long-term, sustainable funding is required for the services that support children and young people, including community-based advocacy services, both to train individuals and ensure they are supported long-term. We must also recognise the importance of building relationships with children and young people; we know that children and young people respond better to services where they have an opportunity to build a relationship with an individual, therefore ensuring services have the time they need to build trust with a young person is vital but not always possible where services are rationed due to funding constraints.

Contact

Rachel Phelps

LGA Policy Adviser (Safer and Stronger Communities Team)

rachel.phelps@local.gov.uk