Amendment 9

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 8:10 pm ar 16 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Bellamy:

Moved by Lord Bellamy

9: Clause 2, page 2, line 13, after “functions” insert “of a public nature”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment clarifies that the victims’ code issued under Clause 2 is directed at persons exercising functions of a public nature relating to victims or any aspect of the criminal justice system.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, in speaking to the relevant government amendments on the victims’ code and compliance, I will summarise the ways in which the Government have strengthened the code and the framework in which the various duties under the code arise.

There are essentially seven points to make quickly. There is a new statutory duty on agencies to act in accordance with the code and a statutory duty to have a complaints procedure. The amendments set out what is now required instead of what “should” happen. There is a duty on Ministers to review the code, and to publish an annual report on compliance and lay that before Parliament. There is a power to issue non-compliance notices, a most important enforcement mechanism. There is significant strengthening of the role of the Victims’ Commissioner, who is empowered to keep under review compliance with the code; has a right to be consulted on all the regulations and guidance, and the code itself; and will also be part of the ministerial task force to enforce the code and the statutory guidance under Clause 11. Those are the various amendments which I will move, but I summarise them as a package so that people can see the whole package as an important strengthening of the code. I hope we have arrived at a very considered position in relation to the status of this code.

I will go through the amendments in turn. Government Amendment 31 would place a statutory duty on relevant agencies to provide services in accordance with the victims’ code unless there is a good reason not to. This duty does not give agencies licence in any way to ignore the code. It allows for a bit of operational discretion to cope with circumstances where the agency is, for whatever reason, short of resources or cannot quite meet the timescale or whatever, but it places that statutory duty firmly on the agencies. In addition, Amendment 31 places a duty on relevant agencies to have complaints procedures for non-compliance with their duty to provide services in accordance with the code. That is a duty that has been elevated from the code into the statute, to demonstrate that complaints must be taken seriously and victims should receive the level of service they are entitled to and deserve. Government Amendments 33, 38, 40, 42, 98 and 99 are consequential on that.

There is a short amendment, Amendment 9, that makes it clear that the victims’ code is applicable only to

“persons exercising functions of a public nature”.

That is a small tidying-up amendment and is, I hope, not controversial.

We have then done a lot of work in Amendments 10 to 12, 14 and 15 to remove the word “should” and, where relevant, replace it with the revised word “require”. This is a point that I think the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, was particularly pertinent on in Committee, and I hope we have recognised the point that was being made there and have amended the relevant clauses accordingly.

The most important amendment is Amendment 44. Ministers now have a duty to review national code compliance, to publish an annual report and, most importantly, to issue non-compliance notifications. If I may say so, this amendment does build on an amendment, in broadly the same direction, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, about what procedures we should have in place for ensuring compliance of one sort or another. The amendment will require Ministers—in practice, the Secretary of State for Justice, the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, although to the extent that, for example, the Ministry of Defence Police are involved, it might involve the MoD as well—to jointly review agencies’ compliance with the victims’ code and enable them to take action where agencies fall short. It also sets out the important, central role the Victims’ Commissioner will play in that process.

I think I mentioned in Committee a non-legislative commitment to establish a ministerial task force to oversee compliance with the code, and I can now say that we intend to publish the minutes of that task force. Of course, the Victims’ Commissioner will be a member of the task force and thus centrally involved.

To address unsatisfactory compliance, the amendment will provide Ministers with the power to issue and publish non-compliance notifications. That will be an extremely salutary power. It also requires Ministers to prepare and publish an annual report on code compliance and lay it before Parliament—all, of course, in consultation with the Victims’ Commissioner, who will provide independent scrutiny before carrying out either of these actions. The fact that this comes before Parliament is, again, a powerful reinforcement of the code.

Clause 11 provides for statutory guidance, which will include details of how the national oversight system of the ministerial task force will operate, various trigger points for the non-compliance notifications and so forth. The Victims’ Commissioner will be fully involved in that development as part of the task force. Those are fairly central amendments, and Amendments 45, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52 and 53 are consequential on those.

Then we have Amendments 86 and 97, which again refer to the Victims’ Commissioner reviewing national compliance with the code. Government Amendment 86 goes further, updating the Victims’ Commissioner’s functions to include keeping the operation of the code under review, thus bringing that role of the commissioner clearly within the purview of the Bill. That will be discharged through the ministerial task force, as well as the commissioner’s independent actions of oversight and scrutiny. I hope that these amendments demonstrate the Government’s intention to improve the situation for victims. Government Amendment 97 is consequential on what I have just said.

Amendments 25, 28, 36, 39, 41, 43 and 56 in various respects concern the duty to consult on the code and the various code compliance regulations and guidance. They require, in particular, Ministers to consult the Victims’ Commissioner. We have listened carefully to the points made in Committee—notably by my noble friend Lady Newlove, but also by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and others—regarding the specific statutory role of the Victims’ Commissioner. We will introduce these new consultation duties to align directly with the Victims’ Commissioner’s statutory responsibilities and to formalise the independent role of scrutiny of the code that the commissioner undertakes.

Finally, there is the important element of consultation on the code. Amendments 25 and 28 place a duty on the Secretary of State to consult the Victims’ Commissioner and Welsh Ministers when preparing or amending the victims’ code, to ensure that the code takes fully into account the systems operating across both England and Wales. Government Amendment 37, which is important, is the feedback amendment. It will facilitate the collection of victim feedback on code compliance by a third party in relation to criminal justice bodies, if required. That will allow Ministers effectively jointly to direct certain bodies to provide specified information to a third party for the purposes of enabling or assisting them to collect victim feedback. That is going to be an important mechanism for following how we develop these various mechanisms.

If I may, I will take this opportunity to reply to a query my office received recently from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about whether this interfered with data protection legislation in any way. The answer is no. Clause 26 makes it perfectly clear that all data protection is subject to data protection regulation. The code compliance duty already involves the collection of information and sharing it between bodies. Victim feedback is a vital part of this and is going to provide very important insight into the experiences of victims. This amendment will give us flexibility on how that is collected, and the compliance framework.

There are also one or two minor technical amendments to Clause 20 that I need not dwell on. They make a minor drafting change, updating statutory practice relating to provisions for different purposes, which is a technical point. However, overall, I hope the House will accept that in tabling these amendments the Government have gone a very long way to improving the force, standing and legal status of the code and, in particular, of the Victims’ Commissioner. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Gohir Baroness Gohir Crossbench 8:15, 16 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I have proposed Amendment 16 to ensure that all victims have the same right to have a CPS or police decision reviewed. At present, the criminal justice system does not allow the same right for all victims. This anomaly, which the Government seem to want to retain, has arisen because of the inherited EU legislation that we have adopted. It could be put right if my amendment is accepted. We have discussed amendments on how to strengthen the Bill in relation to victims of anti-social behaviour and child sexual exploitation. This amendment seeks to help those types of victims and victims of other horrific crimes such as gang rapes—in other words, crimes committed by multiple perpetrators.

At present, a review can be requested only if there are no perpetrators. In cases where some perpetrators are charged, or even one perpetrator is charged, and others are not, a victim cannot then go and ask why the other perpetrators are not being charged. It is not about opening up new cases; it is about reviewing the decisions that have been made. We know that the police and CPS make mistakes. There have been cases where there have been no charges at all and, when a review has taken place, charges have been brought forward.

One argument used against the amendment is that it could delay justice for the perpetrators who have been charged; but surely, at that point, it could be explained to the victim that, if they go for review, it may delay the process. At least the victim can then make an informed choice. They may decide that, actually, they do not want to have a review.

Including the amendment in the Bill would not only help victims to have the same right to review but would make sure that the police and CPS were not cutting corners. At present, the system works in favour of the CPS and the police rather than the victims. In cases where there are multiple perpetrators, they can choose to charge some perpetrators or just one, fully knowing that their decision cannot be challenged. That is exactly what happened in a case on the helpline of the charity that I run: the Muslim Women’s Network, in which I declare my interest as the CEO. In that case, where a woman was gang-raped, only one person was charged; the other perpetrators were not. She was shocked, and she tried to get a review, but was unable to get one. That resulted in more trauma and the case was then dropped.

Charging one person involves far less work than charging several perpetrators. I am not suggesting that police are cutting corners in every case, but it is plausible to suggest that this may, and does, happen some of the time.

We know also that racism exists in the criminal justice system, and there is plenty of data showing that minority-ethnic victims are treated less favourably in the system. The loophole that currently exists in the right to review could lead to further inequalities. The amendment would therefore also help to reduce the misuse of police and CPS power.

I thank the Minister for meeting me online last week and discussing this in more detail. I know that he understands the concerns. One suggestion has been that, in exceptional circumstances, in the cases that I have described, there could be a right to review, but, unless that is written down somewhere, it simply will not happen. If it can be included in the code of practice, the term “exceptional circumstances” will need to be defined. I hope that I can persuade the Minister to change his mind and accept my amendment.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I will speak briefly on several amendments. On Amendment 16, on which the noble Baroness has just spoken, it is hard in principle to disagree with her. Clearly there is an anomaly here that needs to be dealt with. The way that it is working at the moment is inconsistent and not as clear as it could be. I do not think I need to say any more than that. I echo her wish that the Minister and the Bill team will reflect on this and find a way of clarifying the situation and improving the lot of those victims. One can hardly imagine what it must be like to be a victim of the type that the noble Baroness described and to find that, having been violated by a whole series of perpetrators, they have absolutely no idea why one is singled out and the others are left out. I entirely endorse and support that amendment.

On Amendments 46 and 47, about publishing code compliance, we have made—I thank the Minister for this—significant progress in this area, so I do not need to talk any further about that.

I will speak a little bit about Amendment 58, on training, which is in my name with the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. Clause 6 of the Bill says that criminal justice bodies must

“take reasonable steps to promote awareness of the victims’ code” to victims, but what it fails to mandate is that professionals within those bodies receive any form of training. In our view, the Bill should ensure that all organisations that come within the victims’ code not only understand it but are capable of delivering the rights that the victims’ code embodies.

There is a clear evidence base for training and a widespread lack of awareness of victims’ rights. In Committee, the Minister said:

“The noble Lords are quite right that there is an obvious need for more training”,

but he also said:

“The Government hesitate to have a national training framework because so much will depend on the local situation”.—[Official Report, 5/2/24; cols. 1467-68.]

I understand that point of view but I am not sure I entirely agree with it.

I would look at some evidence and input that has come this week from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner herself. The Domestic Abuse Act statutory guidance contains the following:

“Public agencies should invest in awareness raising, specialist training and systems change within their services to ensure that victims receive effective and safe responses and that information about their services reach the range of different communities and protected groups in their areas”.

Nicole Jacobs says that the guidance, despite that clear stricture, is inconsistently interpreted, applied and delivered. She is very much of the view that training needs to be in legislation, not in accompanying guidance, as the guidance on the Domestic Abuse Act has led to a very disparate picture across the country. Some agencies in areas that recognise the importance of this have implemented good training and awareness raising, but other areas have simply not done anything because, as she summarises their feedback, “It’s just guidance so we don’t actually have to do it”. That very current evidence from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner about the importance of training, showing that it should be mandated in a way that means it is delivered effectively and consistently, is a very strong case, and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to it.

I agree entirely with the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in principle and in spirit. I am not sure the Government will accede to it, but I hope there will be a cumulative force of arguing for the code being much better understood and to have much more substance and muscle than it has been demonstrated to have over the many years that it has been in place. It needs to be improved.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:30, 16 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend the Minister for all the conversations and meetings we have had with his officials and other Peers. In Committee I expressed my concerns about provisions in the Bill, so I am speaking in support of Amendments 46 and 47 but, having listened to the Minister, I am delighted that we have resolved this issue.

The provisions in the Bill relating to delivering code compliance are important because they must be strong enough to give effect to the level of change that we require. I have always maintained that the success of this Bill will depend on whether future victims receive their code entitlements. I am delighted that the Government have listened to our concerns and reviewed their proposals. The government amendments tabled last week are an important step in the right direction. Statutory non-compliance notices, coupled with statutory changes to ensure that future Victims’ Commissioners are able to provide rigorous scrutiny of compliance data, are important and I welcome them.

Naturally, I want to see the Government go further. It is important that details on how the Government’s compliance regime will operate are set out clearly in statutory guidance. I also want to see trigger points for non-compliance enforcement to be set out clearly. I am delighted that there will be transparency as the minutes of the task force meeting will be made public.

Of course, setting out a compliance regime is one thing but making it happen is another. I do not underestimate the challenges in building a dataset that provides us with a comprehensive understanding of exactly what is happening and what is not. Importantly, we also need to understand how well services and entitlements are being delivered. While these provisions are a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go before we can say that all victims are getting the support they deserve.

We must not confine ourselves to compliance monitoring. We need to tackle the culture of our criminal justice system when it comes to victims. Earlier the Minister referred to training, which certainly has an important part to play, but we need to go further to understand why the victims’ code is of secondary importance in the eyes of so many practitioners.

Defendants have statutory rights; victims do not. The victims’ code was described to me by a government lawyer as “persuasive guidance”, but at times I, along with many victims, would question just how persuasive it actually is. I make no secret of the fact that I would like to see victims’ rights elevated to statutory rights as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in Amendment 23. I also support Amendment 16 from the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir. It is important that every victim has a right to review when there are multiple defendants in the dock. As somebody who has personally experienced that, it is so important for the victim to have that individual right to make sure they get answers and an understanding of what is going on.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Llafur

My Lords, it is pretty much an understatement to say that it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner. She and my noble friend Lady Lawrence of Clarendon are very special Members of your Lordships’ House, if I may say so, for their extraordinary superpower and ability to turn experiences that no one should have to endure into a subsequent lifetime of public service, for which I think we are all very grateful.

I will take my lead from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I do not think it is a secret that my many amendments in this group were tabled with her blessing and that of the London Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman. I am also grateful to a number of victims’ groups and NGOs for their support of these amendments.

This is Report, not Committee, and we have had a long day, so I do not want to trouble noble Lords for too long, but I am grateful to the Minister and his team. Petty France may have shown Marsham Street that it is possible to engage just a little—half a loaf is better than no bread. Of course, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, and I are going to disagree about the extent to which government amendments to this part of the Bill are a huge step in the right direction, but they are a step. I thank him and his team, including those who are not in your Lordships’ Chamber. This is the way, perhaps, that we ought to try to do legislation.

The motive behind my many amendments was to try to put victims’ rights on a proper statutory footing and to make them equivalent to suspects’ and defendants’ rights. Divide and rule is a really bad thing, and for decades Governments of both persuasions have sometimes been able to be in an arms race where victims’ rights are set against defendants’ rights. As the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, put it so eloquently yesterday at Questions, if you treat a suspect badly and delay justice, that is justice denied. The same is true for victims, and for some years now we have told victims that they have rights and a code, but those rights have been totally unenforceable and that is not fair. That false expectation has caused enormous trauma and concern.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, for moving things on just a little, but I hope that a future Government of any persuasion will go further still. I hope I am not dishonouring the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and letting her down in saying that. I can say thank you for what has been achieved but still be more ambitious for change.

The justice department has, I think, had the biggest cuts of any department in recent years. To deliver rights for victims takes resources and investment. Sometimes with suspects’ and defendants’ rights, you can deliver something by holding back, but when it is victims’ rights you really need to invest in the different entrances—in the staff of any criminal justice agency who will be there and so on. I am so grateful and do not want to seem churlish, because this is something, but I hope that it is the building block for further reforms so that we can have a level playing field.

Finally, I remind noble Lords that suspects’ rights came from a Conservative piece of human rights legislation: the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Given that both parties often compete for the law and order agenda—forgive me, I should say all parties—it seems odd to me, as a human rights campaigner of many years, that we would entrench and codify suspects’ and defendants’ rights in a way that we have yet to do for victims.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I start by referring to Amendment 16 from the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir. I will not repeat the points she made but she emailed me just prior to us starting this evening’s debates on Report. I am interested that she notes that this is a loophole caused by us exiting the EU. I have immense sympathy with the amendment. If it is a clear anomaly caused by us exiting the EU, I remember considerable debate on the retained EU law Bill about what to do when things were discovered. Ministers said on more than one occasion that in the EU withdrawal Act there is something called the correcting power, and that that can be used to correct any anomalies, providing they are not the Government’s whim because they have changed their policy on something. I do not know the detail because I have not seen where the loophole has come from, but it seems to me, on the amendment the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, has described, that if this is caused by our leaving the EU then there is a remedy of legislation. Perhaps the Ministry of Justice will take that away and look at it, and the Minister will write. It can be done quite simply in most cases by regulation, which is why the retained EU law Bill took such a long time to wind its way through Parliament—I worked on a lot of those amendments. It seems that if the Minister has sympathy with this, there is an easy remedy.

My own Amendment 34 seeks to ensure that each criminal justice body makes arrangements to provide adequate training regarding violence against women and girls for all personnel supporting them. The hour is late, so I will not say very much, other than that there is already a substantial amount of training in other areas but the guidance on what that training should be and how it should happen is not the same. The Domestic Abuse Act statutory guidance is clear, and at paragraph 225 provides that:

“Public agencies should invest in awareness raising, specialist training and systems … to ensure that victims receive effective and safe responses”.

Unfortunately, that is not the same in the code of practice; it is not as strong. My Amendment 34 attempts to strengthen that.

I am mindful of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I know that he has spoken, but his amendment is slightly broader than mine and, if he chooses to divide the House on it next week when we return, I think our Benches will be happy to support him.

I end by reflecting on the debate we have had on the Minister’s amendments and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. It seems to have been the prime debate that we have had since the start of this victims Bill about its function and practice. I echo the thanks from all around the House for the steps that the Government have taken to strengthen it. I am still with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that it is not quite there, but I will take any change at all.

I am mindful that, when we first managed to introduce a specific stalking law with a maximum sentence of five years just over a decade ago, two subsequent pieces of legislation have been added since to strengthen it. That has helped and enhanced it. I hope that these government amendments are the beginning of a journey. I believe that practice will show that there needs to be further strengthening. In the meantime, I am very grateful to the Government for taking these steps forward.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 8:45, 16 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, there is great consensus across the House to say thank you to the Minister and his team for the steps that have taken us forward. I went through all these amendments to look at what they contained. They reminded me of the debates that we had in Committee about the things we wanted to see strengthened in the Bill. We should be pleased that we have made such progress. The Minister has done a great service to the victims’ code and compliance. I am also with my noble friend, in that it is a good start but we would like to go further. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, echoed that.

We would be very pleased on these Benches to support the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, in her amendment. I have been in the House for 26 years and have been in a similar position as a Back-Bencher on something I really cared about and thought should happen. It is possible that we may have a solution from the Liberal Democrat Benches, and that would be great, but there is always another Bill coming down the track. I can say from these Benches with some certainty that, if there is another Bill coming down the track and the noble Baroness goes for it again, we will support her. It sometimes takes a little while but, quite often, if you have an issue that you care about—I think this is a really important issue—you will get there. But perhaps the Minister will say yes to the noble Baroness —let us hope so.

The second issue is in the amendments about training, both of which are very important. We will certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Russell, in his amendment at the appropriate time, when it is dealt with. This is a very good example of how the House works best when we continue to talk to each other about all the things that we want to see happen. It is amazing how often you start a Bill and the Government Benches and the Bill team think that the Bill they have is perfect—of course they do—and should not be changed, but the iterative process of discussion and debate we go through in this House does improve legislation. This is a good example of that.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for the sincerity with which their various points have been made. I will briefly reply to the amendments not proposed by the Government. Unfortunately, while understanding all the points that have been made, the Government are not in a position to accept the amendments as they are. Although noble Lords have been kind enough to say that this is good progress and to express their thanks, I make it absolutely clear that I work with my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk, and he is the boss, and my right honourable friend Minister Argar was responsible for this Bill in the other place. Although it is very kind of noble Lords to make compliments to me, they should please bear in mind that I am part of a wider team, supported by an excellent staff.

We are not in competition with Marsham Street—or at least, we do not see it that way—but under the present Lord Chancellor, progress on this Bill has reflected the current ethos of the Ministry of Justice. I fully welcome and support the plea from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for more financial resources for the Ministry of Justice; that would be wonderful. But we work with what we have and, of course, some of those constraints have provoked the Government’s inability to go quite as far as others would like.

Amendments 23 and 122, from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, would place the victims’ code in a schedule to the Bill and make related changes. I hope I have reassured her on our strengthened approach, and that compliance with the code is not optional. It may have been seen as optional in the past, but this is quite a change. As an alternative to Amendment 32, which would promote enforcement through the courts, we have a different non-compliance notification process which I hope will be equally effective. We are very reluctant as a Government to go down a court-based route because that can take up more resources and be less effective and more counter-productive than other routes.

We are very much in favour of the other routes that we have developed, I hope comprehensively, in the Bill, including the need to have clear compliance procedures, bolstering the accountability framework to make sure that there is appropriate recourse and, in particular, relying heavily on the independent scrutiny of the Victims’ Commissioner. So those various mechanisms collectively should give us a good framework; let us give them a good try and see, as noble Lords have suggested. At some point we may need to go further, but this is a good start, is it not? That question is rhetorical, so noble Lords do not have to answer.

Amendments 24, 26, 27, 29 and 30 concern consulting the Victims’ Commissioner. We have effectively covered the same ground in the Government’s amendments, and I do not think I need say any more about that. We have not gone down the route of putting all this through the affirmative procedure. I am not entirely persuaded that the affirmative procedure is as good as it might be, in that you can only say yes or no, et cetera. But the procedures we have for bringing the code into force, reviewing it, issuing it and consulting on it are all good and should work quite well. I hope that, in the light of that, there is no need to pursue those amendments.

Similarly, Amendments 55, 68 and 69—the latter being one of the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool—concern consulting various commissioners and “by and for” services on the duty to collaborate. I am very grateful to all the commissioners who have collaborated with us on developing these measures. We will publish draft guidance on this part of the Bill, but the Government’s position is that the overall framework we have for consultation and publishing guidance is already sufficient and appropriate.

Of course, the department will continue to engage with all national commissioners. I am particularly grateful for the support of the Victims’ Commissioner. I mentioned earlier the Children’s Commissioner, and I work very closely with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. They are all making a very significant contribution to a better system. Of course, we will continue to engage with a whole range of providers, including the “by and for” organisations. It is very much in the Government’s interests to consult and engage as widely as possible, so there is no reason not to.

Amendments 46 and 47 would require code compliance data to be shared with the Victims’ Commissioner. We have put forward a number of amendments to make the central role of the Victims’ Commissioner clear. I hope these are sufficient to place the Victims’ Commissioner at the heart and centre of the system, remembering that they already have existing and separate powers to issue reports and recommendations, and, under this Bill, the agencies have to respond to them.

This brings me to the important subject of code training in Amendments 34 and 58 from the noble Lord, Lord Russell. He is rightly concerned about this and has emphasised it throughout. I do not at all hide behind this fact, but if you believe in devolution—and we have 43 different police forces, different local authorities and 43 police and crime commissioners—you have to accept a certain degree of difference in the way those authorities operate. That is inherent in any devolved system. None the less, it is of fundamental importance that front-line staff are adequately trained to support victims of all crimes. That is why I can and do commit to using the statutory guidance to be issued under Clause 11 to set a clear expectation that agencies should have adequate training on the code so that staff know what the code is, can inform victims of their entitlements under it and do their job in a way that complies with it.

The Government are of the view that legislation is not the right place for such matters, given the level of operational detail required and the diverse requirements of the various organisations delivering the code. However, we appreciate that there needs to be a mechanism to ensure that training not only exists but is effective. I believe we can achieve the right balance by committing to prescribing in the regulations that bodies must collect and share information on the training they have in place to ensure that the code is delivered effectively as part of the delivery assessments within the compliance framework.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The Minister mentioned that he works very closely with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. Given what I said about her experience that, for training, the statutory guidance which is part of the Domestic Abuse Act is very inconsistent, despite being statutory guidance, will he undertake to go back to her and explore in more detail what she has experienced since the Act was passed and see whether any lessons can be learned that can be applied immediately to this Bill?

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I am quite happy to accept the noble Lord’s invitation to have a conversation with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to explore her experience and see whether it is transferable to what we are discussing here.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I hesitated to intervene in this debate, but with the leave of the House I will add a thought for the Minister. Keeping training up to date is important because the understanding of the issues is developing quite dramatically. Nobody would have identified the acronym VAWG not that long ago and our understanding of what comprises violence against women and girls, for instance, is developing very fast.

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, as always, made a very pertinent point: we must have up-to-date training. Both learning and knowledge in this area are developing very quickly. That is quite a challenge for the authorities, but we should meet it— I fully accept that. Of course, under the compliance framework, there are powers to issue non-compliance notices and to understand why agencies are falling down. Almost certainly, a lack of training will be an explanatory factor in underperformance, so that will be overseen by Ministers, the criminal justice agencies and the Victims’ Commissioner.

The annual report is also a useful vehicle for focusing on areas for improvement, and it may well be that training will be one of them. If training is not mentioned, noble Lords will ask why and demand to know what is going on. We have a framework for testing and improving the system as we go along. I hope that what I have said so far will enable the various amendments that I have dealt with—in essence, those of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell—not to be pressed.

That takes me to the important Amendment 16, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, for which I thank her. We have discussed the issue that arises. The question here is whether the victims’ right to review scheme strikes the right balance. I was not sure, but I have just received a message that confirms my understanding: I do not think that it is a gap caused by our exit from the EU. The EU directive on victims provided for that scheme, but a Court of Appeal decision—R (Chaudhry) v DPP [2016]—found the present scheme to be compliant with the directive. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, did not raise the EU point directly—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, did—but it is something of a red herring.

It is worth saying that, in that case, which is one that influences the Lord Chancellor, the Court of Appeal said that a requirement to halt the prosecution process, while the position of several individuals who might have been charged was reviewed, risks slowing down the whole thing. You have to go up through a process, and the whole time you are balancing whether you want to slow down the prosecution process by having internal reviews of who should be charged or whether you get on with prosecuting the person who is charged. The Government’s overall position is that that balance—the way that it should work—is broadly right. There are some difficult trade-offs here: time spent by independent prosecutors reviewing the evidence in cases involving multiple suspects is time that they would no longer spend charging someone else or pursuing the prosecution. You are making a trade-off in all these cases.

The point that I do accept, which is a fair point made by the noble Baroness, is that the present situation under the right to review scheme and the accompanying ability to lodge a complaint is not very well communicated. I can commit to making it clear in the victims’ code what the options are for victims in cases where the prosecution proceeds against one but not all suspects. I am not sure that I can go so far as to define in advance what the exceptional circumstances might be, because, by their very nature, we do not quite know what they are until they have happened. The approach of a case-by-case basis is, in the Government’s view, the right one to take in this matter.

However, to address the wider issues of making sure that victims understand why decisions are taken in cases, this is an important issue, and we have seen it highlighted in the recent Nottingham case, for example. Therefore, there have been conversations and there will be further conversations between the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions about encouraging prosecutors to initiate further discussion with victims when decisions are made not to proceed in those types of cases. I cannot mention Nottingham because there are ongoing proceedings, but that was a decision to make one charge rather than another.

This whole area of communicating to victims is under the microscope at the moment. There is no reason why the matter we are on, rightly raised by the noble Baroness, should not be part of those conversations, and to align this aspect with the CPS work ongoing through the victim transformation programme should introduce a more proactive policy of communication from the CPS with the victims. I think the Attorney-General believes that this will go at least some way forward to addressing the point raised by the noble Baroness without creating additional pressures on the criminal justice system through diverting resources from the most important job of pressing on with the prosecutions that we have.

Therefore, while completely understanding the points made, I hope the noble Baroness will not feel the need to press the amendments.

Amendment 9 agreed.