Draft Victims Bill, November 2022

  • By Amy Leppänen


London boroughs do essential work to support victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, modern slavery and other serious crime. They do this through statutory duties related to social services and housing, working in partnership to safeguard victims and survivors of domestic abuse and through the commissioning and delivery of support services for victims and survivors of serious crime. Boroughs also play a key role in prevention, including through community safety partnerships and, in London, through partnership work with the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) and the development of violence and vulnerability plans.

London Councils also commissions domestic abuse and sexual violence support services, including community-based services, through its grants programme on behalf of the 32 London boroughs and the City of London Corporation.

London Councils strongly welcomes the ambitions of the Draft Victims Bill to improve the experience of victims as they move through the criminal justice system and improve the support they are offered in the community. The Draft Victims Bill was subject to prelegislative scrutiny by the Justice Committee, which published its report in September 2022. London Councils echoes the concerns raised by the Justice Committee that the Bill in its current form does not do enough to ensure all victims are supported. London Councils is also concerned that the implications of the Bill for London have not been fully considered.

Key asks for the government

London Councils is calling on the government to:

  • Review the proposed governance of the duty to collaborate on the provision of community-based support services to ensure the role of London boroughs is properly reflected;
  • Make new burdens funding directly available to London boroughs to support their role in collaboration on victim support services;
  • Include a principle in the statutory Victims’ Code that supporting victims of crime should be prioritised over migration status;
  • Ensure joined up, long term funding is available to underpin victim support services;
  • Make dedicated funding available to support interventions which enable collaboration between organisations providing victim support;
  • Amend the definition of victim to be inclusive of victims of non-criminal anti-social behaviour or harassment that meets the Community Trigger threshold.

The Victims’ Code

The Bill would put the Victims’ Code, which currently exists as guidance to criminal justice agencies, on statutory footing. The Bill would also require the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice for criminal justice agencies regarding services provided to victims.

Victims are defined as a person who has suffered harm as a result of being subjected to or witnessing criminal conduct. Subsection (3) states that criminal conduct means conduct that could be prosecuted under criminal law.

Victims of anti-social behaviour

Local authority community safety officers have told us about the impacts of non-criminal anti-social behaviour on individual and communities, as well as the strong links between cases of anti-social behaviour and criminal activity. At present victims of anti-social behaviour are not covered by the Victims’ Code and are therefore not entitled to victim support services on a statutory basis.

London Councils endorses the recommendation made in the Justice Committee’s report (Page 9) that victims of non-criminal anti-social behaviour who meet the threshold for a ‘Community Trigger’ should be recognised as victims for the purposes of the Bill and be entitled to rights under the revised Victims’ Code.

Proposed duty to collaborate on the provision of community-based support services for victims of serious crime

The Draft Victims Bill would create a duty on the Police and Crime Commissioner, the local authority (in London, the Greater London Authority) and Integrated Care Boards to collaborate to develop and implement a needs assessment and strategy for the commissioning of community based support services for victims of crime.

Community-based services provide vital support for victims of serious crime, including modern slavery, domestic abuse and sexual violence. They also provide the majority of specialist support for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. Pressure on communitybased support services rose dramatically during the pandemic, with increased demand and complexity of the support needed. Nearly three-quarters of organisations surveyed by Women’s Aid in May 2021 said that demand had increased. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner also found that fewer than half of domestic abuse survivors were able to access the community-based support services they wanted.

Concerns about the proposed duty

London Councils is concerned that the proposed legislation does not consider the complexity of governance in London and the need for co-ordination and collaboration at different levels. The Greater London Authority is the sole local authority in London covered by the duty; London boroughs are not referenced in the duty.

London boroughs are key commissioners of support services for victims and survivors of serious crime, as well as providing statutory services, including children’s and adults’ social care, that work closely with such services. This is inconsistent with how the duty will be applied in other regions; for example, county councils (which, like London boroughs, deliver social services) are included within the duty. There are existing local collaborations between local authorities, the specialist victim support/domestic abuse sector and health partners. London Councils is concerned that these local arrangements may be undermined by the proposed duty.

The proposal also does not cohere with the government’s Serious Violence Duty, which applies to London boroughs and will potentially overlap with or duplicate those duties.

There is need for cross-London coordination in the delivery of services to ensure parity across the capital, especially in the provision of safe accommodation services for survivors of domestic abuse, where survivors will typically need to leave their home borough for safety. However, service design and collaboration also need to happen at a more local level, and London boroughs must have a role in strategic collaboration on commissioning of support services.

Concerns about the current funding landscape for community-based support

The challenges and gaps in community-based support services are the result of a range of issues, including insufficient, disjointed and short-term funding arrangements. London Councils is concerned that the proposed duty to collaborate will not be effective in improving cohesion due to insufficient resources and issues with current funding arrangements, which will lead to the development of strategies that cannot be meaningfully implemented. Without dramatic changes to the funding set up, it will be challenging to effectively develop a strategy for collaboration across London.

Furthermore, greater join up between service requires dedicated funding available to support joint working at an operational level, such as funding for specialist domestic violence/ violence against women and girls organisations for networking and professional development, resourcing for needs assessments, mapping services and information sharing, and funding for pathway and co—ordination services for victims of crime.

Support for migrant victims

London Councils supports the aim of the legislation to improve the experiences of victims going through the criminal justice system. Support for migrant victims of serious crime was flagged as a key issue in the Delivering Justice for Victims consultation. In the commentary to the Draft Victims’ Bill, the Home Office committed to introducing an Immigration Enforcement Migrant Victim Protocol in late summer 2022. Under the protocol, migrant victims who report a crime will have relief from immigration enforcement action while criminal proceedings are underway and are supported to make an application to regularise their stay in the UK.

While this is a welcome first step, the Victims’ Bill should go further to support migrant victims of crime. Currently, migrant victims, including refugees and asylum seekers, face barriers in accessing justice. For migrant victims experiencing domestic abuse, their migration status is often used as tool by the perpetrator to exert control and isolate them from means of support. Denying victims access to paperwork, making it hard for them to prove their migration status, is a common form of abuse. Fear of immigration action is a significant barrier to migrant victims; among migrant victims and survivors interviewed by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), more than half feared that they would not be believed by the police because of their immigration status.

The Victims’ Code should explicitly address the barriers face by migrant victims of crime. There should also be a principle in the Victims’ Code that in cases of serious crime such as domestic abuse, sexual violence and modern slavery, investigating the crime and supporting the victim should be prioritised over the victims’ migration status.

Amy Leppänen, Parliamentary Officer