Victims and Prisoners Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice
Moved by
13: Clause 2, page 2, line 27, at end insert “, including where there are or were multiple perpetrators”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to ensure that all victims can request a review of a police or Crown Prosecution Service decision not to charge a suspect including when there are multiple perpetrators.
Baroness Gohir Portrait Baroness Gohir (CB)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register, particularly as CEO of the Muslim Women’s Network UK, which operates a national helpline. I will speak to Amendment 13 in my name; I also support the other amendments in this group, which I will address at the end.

The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that all victims have an equal right to have the police or CPS decision reviewed when suspects are not charged. Not all victims will exercise this right, but it must be available to all victims if their voices are truly to be heard in the criminal justice system. At present, some victims do not have the same right to review a decision. For example, when there is one suspect and they are not charged, there is a right to review the decision. When there are multiple suspects and none of them is charged, there is a right to review the decision. However, if there is more than one suspect and some of them are not charged while others are, the victim cannot ask for a review into why the other suspects were not charged. This creates a hierarchy of victims.

I will explain how I stumbled on this gap in the law. The Muslim Women’s Network helpline supported a south Asian Muslim teenager who had been groomed and sexually exploited. She was raped by a gang of men. With the support of the helpline and her family, she reported the crime to the police, which was very difficult for her as she came from a south Asian background. The culture of shame and honour could have been a huge barrier to reporting, but she did it. The police then arrested several men, but ended up charging only one of the suspects. This was a huge shock to the victim, her family and the helpline. She then decided to try to get the decision reviewed but was told that she could not, for the reasons I have stated. She lost trust and confidence in the process, which led to her eventually dropping the case against the one perpetrator, so she got no justice at all.

I do not believe that this is an isolated case. We already know that rape convictions are extremely low, even in simpler cases where there is just one suspect, so one can imagine the conviction rates in more complex cases where there are multiple perpetrators. It is very plausible that this current loophole is contributing to victims dropping cases. Although I am using rape cases as an example to highlight the gap for reviewing decisions, this can also apply to many other scenarios in which more than one perpetrator is involved in the crime, such as anti-social behaviour.

I thank the Minister for listening to my concerns. We have exchanged letters and he has committed to explore this issue further with the CPS and the police. However, I believe they will continue to follow the current legislation, which has been adopted from the EU. Unless this is changed, it is in their interests to continue with the status quo rather than to follow non-binding policies.

Bringing multiple perpetrators requires more work because there needs to be more evidence gathering. It can be easier for the police and the CPS to say, “Well, we are only charging one person and not the others”, knowing that the victim cannot appeal this decision. That will mean less work for the police.

Police forces have already been heavily criticised for the way that they treat and investigate sex abuse crimes. The loophole therefore works in favour of the police and against the victim. One explanation that has been provided for not reviewing decisions is that if some suspects are not charged, and this is then reviewed, it could delay prosecution, which, in turn, can result in witnesses and victims withdrawing from the case. However, this theory has not and cannot be tested, because victims cannot review the decisions. In fact, this very mechanism has resulted in the withdrawal of cases, such as the case study that I provided today.

Earlier, on the first group of amendments, the Minister talked about thresholds being crossed and victims having a right to certain processes. This speaks to one of the As, of accountability. Therefore, how will the victim know? That is why the victim’s right to review exists. Some victims have had their decision reviewed, the decision has then been overturned and suspects have been charged, which means perhaps that the police have not charged suspects despite thresholds being crossed.

I understand that the Minister is exploring other potential routes outside the Bill; for example, challenging decisions by going through some kind of complaints process where a senior manager can review cases, thereby allowing reviews in certain exceptional circumstances. While I appreciate that the Minister is actively considering other options, I believe that this measure would not work for the following reasons. It would be a subjective process which would vary widely across the regions. It would add another separate process and yet another barrier for the victims. The message then being sent to the victims would be, “Well, the decision would only be reviewed in exceptional circumstances, so don’t bother”. Also, we would then have to have a definition of what we mean by “exceptional circumstances”. Alternatively, we could just simplify the process with this amendment, so that all victims followed the same process. I therefore urge the Minister to reconsider his options.

I end by stating my support for the other amendments in this group. I support them because from my experience of operating a national helpline I have found that victims need more support—to be referred and signposted to specialist services that meet their needs and to restorative justice services. There is also a particular information gap when it comes to minority-ethnic victims, because service users have informed the Muslim Women’s Network helpline—when they have eventually found us—that they were not informed about the service. They were not informed or made aware of the victims’ code, nor of the restorative justice service.

I therefore look forward to the comments and response from the Minister. I beg to move.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 14. This amendment would ensure that all victims knew of and had access to restorative justice services. I am glad that it has the support of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who unfortunately has a long-standing speaking engagement this evening and sends his apologies, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I also add my support to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, whose effect is the same as mine, to ensure that restorative justice services are clearly in the Bill.

I will not repeat what I said at Second Reading in favour of restorative justice; instead, I will make two very brief points. First, research has shown that restorative justice is effective. It has been a benefit in two ways: one is the impact it has on the offender, reducing the likelihood that they will reoffend; the other is the impact on the victim. For example, restorative justice has been shown to bring satisfaction to victims in reducing stress and trauma. Interestingly, victims found that apologies were more important than restoration.

RJ has proven effectiveness; however, awareness of it and its availability are not as they should be. Research commissioned by the APPG on Restorative Justice showed that there is a postcode lottery and a number of factors resulting in RJ not being taken up in the way that it might be. For that reason, there needs to be a statutory duty on authorities in the criminal justice system to ensure that it is available for those who wish to make use of it.