Code of Practice for Victims of Crime
Becoming a victim of crime can, of course, be an unsettling and sometimes traumatic experience. At this time, as well as finding the perpetrator of the crime, it is the duty of the police to offer sufficient care to the victim. All too often, however, anecdotal evidence appears suggesting that in far too many cases the police are not giving this care. Partly in response to this, in 2005 the government published the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime. This was presented to Parliament by the Home Secretary, and is an important document for ensuring that the victims of crime are treated in a suitable way.
Prior to the publication of the Code of Practice, victims had no special statutory rights. This means that, while the different elements of the Criminal Justice System (including the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for law and sentencing, and the Home Office, which is responsible for policing) may have had their own codes of conduct outlining the ways in which they aimed to provide service, there was no legal obligation for them to abide by those codes. The Code of Practice, on the other hand, as been passed into law and is therefore obligatory and binding on all the parties it affects.
The Code of Practice deals with ‘service providers’. These are the organisations with which the victim is likely to have the most contact, and it is these groups to whom the Code applies. Primary amongst these service providers is the police. The police assume several key responsibilities under the code. In the first instance, if a crime is reported to them but, after “using their professional judgement” they decide that it will not be investigated, the victim must be informed within five working days. Regardless of whether or not an investigation will be carried out, however, the police have a responsibility to ensure that the victim is aware of their local victim support services. It should be noted that the victim has no responsibility to use these services; indeed, they can opt out of the entire code if they so wish. However, this is an ‘opt-out’ situation – unless the victim specifically states otherwise, their contact details will be passed to the victim support organisations.
Witness Care Units
Another service provider discussed in the Code is the Joint Police/Crown Prosecution Service Witness Care Units. These groups have a responsibility for witness and victim care during the trial period. This care begins when a ‘not guilty’ plea is entered. It is the responsibility of the Witness Care Units to ensure that the process of giving evidence, if necessary, is as smooth and easy as possible. This includes ensuring that they pass on instructions from the court that the victim or witness will be called (this must happen within one working day); ensuring that the date of the court appearance is known; and explaining the sentence received by the offender to the victim or witness. These are key responsibilities that, while small, can make the experience of going to court considerably easier.
The full text of the Code is available on the Home Office website.