Ignorance over crime code upsets victims

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Lack of awareness of the Victims’ Code by people working in the criminal justice system is placing some crime victims under extreme duress and leading to injustices, according to a watchdog.

The warning from the Parliamentary Ombudsman came as the Government unveiled proposals for a revamp of the Code designed to ensure extra support for victims of the most serious crimes and to offer specialist help to young people.

Ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor said investigation of complaints had uncovered a lack of awareness and understanding of the Code by some of those working in the system.

Her office looks into complaints that individuals have been treated unfairly or received poor service from government departments and other public organisations.

Dame Julie said: “Failures by agencies to recognise even the most basic rights of those victims under the Code, such as being told that the charges against the defendant have changed or that an appeal was taking place, have added to their distress and undermined their confidence in the criminal justice system.”

The ombudsman warned it was essential for all within the system, from ushers to legal advisers, to be aware of the remit of the Code and their responsibilities, adding: “A Code that is not being followed is of little value.”

The Code tells people what they can expect from the moment they report a crime to the end of a trial.

All victims are automatically offered support, but since 80 per cent do not take it up, the Government proposes automatically offering more targeted help to victims of the most serious crimes.

Victims’ Minister Helen Grant said: “Victims will now be able to understand and prepare themselves for their entire journey through the criminal justice system, from reporting the crime to after the trial.

“It easily explains what they should expect from the system and who to demand help from if it is not being provided.”