Crime victims get right to be told how, when and where attacker will be released

Victims of serious crimes are to get an automatic legally-enforced right to be told how, when and where their attacker will be released and how they will be protected from them as part of a 12-point code to be unveiled on Wednesday.

The new victims’ code lays down 12 fundamental rights and will be enshrined in law next year. It will be overseen by a commissioner with powers to sanction or fine police forces, courts, probation and other law enforcement bodies that fail to meet their obligations.

One of the biggest changes will mean victims of violent or sexual offences, in which the criminal is sentenced to 12 months or more in prison, will automatically be opted into a scheme where they are guaranteed rights of appeal and regular updates on their offender.

They will have to be told when the offender is moved to an open prison, when they are due to be released and what conditions have been placed on them to prevent them contacting the victim or meeting them in the community.

They will have rights to present their views at parole hearings if they object to the offender’s early release and to appeal against both any release decision and licence conditions if they fear they are not adequate to prevent harassment or accidental meetings.

The detailed rights aim to end scandals in which families have been left in the dark only to subsequently discover that an offender has been released or is about to be let out of jail.

12 rights as a victim

Among the cases was that of black cab rapist John Worboys, some of whose victims were unaware of his proposed release on parole. Another was of paranoid schizophrenic Robert Browning, who stabbed his former housemate Ben Cargill to death but was released from a secure mental health unit three years into an indefinite manslaughter sentence.

Mr Cargill’s mother Judy said: "I didn’t think he would be released for 10 to 15 years. It was like a kick in the stomach."

Victims previously had to opt in to the "victims’ contact scheme" to be guaranteed progress reports on their attacks, which only half of the 80,000 eligible exercised their right to do so.

Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, said families were often too "hurt" to contemplate making a decision to opt in, even though they might come to regret it later, adding: "This can result in huge distress to victims, for instance if they first find out their offender is living in the community when they see them walking down the street. Therefore, I very much welcome [the opt out] plans."

As well as violence and sexual offences, victims of domestic abuse and causing death or serious injury by dangerous or reckless violence will be automatically opted in.

The new code has been championed by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, since she was a backbencher and is being introduced by Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary.

It will also give victims 11 other rights including access to easy-to-understand documentation, clear and regular information from recording the crime through to conviction, support services and compensation, making victim impact statements and a clear complaints mechanism.

It comes as the Ministry of Justice is expected to confirm an extra £11 million for victims of rape and domestic abuse during the current coronavirus lockdown.

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