The Victim Contact Scheme
There seems to be a public perception of the judicial system as being skewed towards the needs of the defendant or offender; much of the literature available from the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and police is about the rights and treatment of suspects. There are, however, a number of schemes available to help ensure that victims of crime receive the help that they require.
The Victim Contact Scheme is a wing of the National Probation Service (NPS). The Scheme is available to those who have suffered from a violent crime or a sexual offence, or who are a close relative of a victim of such a crime. The Scheme is available only after a successful prosecution in which the offender has been sentenced to a custodial term of at least twelve months.
Aims of the SchemeThe Scheme was devised as a result of a perceived lack of information available to victims of violent crime. Previously few or no details regarding the offender's sentence, further than what was announced in court, were made available to the victim. The purpose of the Scheme is to ensure that the victim is made aware of the basic workings of the prison system, and given information regarding the terms of the sentence. It is hoped that this will prove useful and comforting to the victim during what can otherwise be a difficult, uncertain period.
The Victim Contact Scheme is administered by individual Victim Liaison Officers (VLOs). The VLO assigned to each victim will be an employee of the National Probation Service. However, they are not in contact with any offenders. The purpose behind this is to ensure that the victim can have complete trust in their Liaison Officer, without concerns that they might be passing information on to the offender or also acting for them.
Meeting a VLOAfter a successful prosecution has taken place, the victim's details will be passed on to the Scheme unless the victim has stipulated that this should not happen. The victim will subsequently receive an initial visit from their assigned VLO, during which the Officer will give information about the offender's sentence. They will also advise the victim about how probation and early release decisions are made.
Importantly, the Officer will also try to ascertain any particular concerns that the victim might have about the offender, particularly with regard to their behaviour when they are released. This can be a hugely important opportunity as the Officer will be able to pass these concerns on to the licensing authority; this is, in many cases, the first step to having a distance clause attached to the offender's release license, meaning that they will not be permitted within the area around the victim's home.
It should be stressed that the Victim Contact Scheme is entirely voluntary. Even if the victim agrees to have their details passed on to the Scheme there is no obligation to meet with an Officer. The NPS recognises that not all victims find this type of support helpful, and there is therefore no pressure on individuals to take up their offer.