Last month (23rd September 2022), the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird KC, resigned from her post following the government’s decision to open recruitment for her role, against recent precedent.
The government’s decision to recruit for the Victims’ Commissioner’s role comes at a critical time for tackling violence against women and girls. With our broken criminal justice system under scrutiny for failing survivors of rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse; several HM inspectorate reports pointing to a crisis in the police and CPS response to women and girls; and with sexism, racism and victim blaming evident in the culture of institutions, the government’s decision to recruit for a new Victims’ Commissioner only adds to the instability facing victims and survivors.
In her resignation letter to the new justice secretary, Brandon Lewis, Dame Vera echoed these concerns, describing the criminal justice system as being “in chaos” and noted that the victims’ interests had been downgraded in government priorities, and her office had been side-lined.
The government’s decision to recruit for the Victims’ Commissioner’s role also comes as we await the passage of the Victims’ Bill through Parliament. This new law could give victims and survivors greater rights and entitlements and, importantly, has the potential to strengthen the role and scrutiny powers of the Victims Commissioner’s office.
However, a recent parliamentary report by the Justice Committee found the draft Bill falls significantly short of meeting the government’s aim to enshrine victims’ rights in law, and requires substantial changes.
Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said:
“Dame Vera has been a stable and tireless advocate for victims. We’re grateful to the outgoing Victims’ Commissioner for never failing to ask the uncomfortable, yet necessary questions and name the changes that are needed to deliver transformation and justice for survivors.
The government’s decision to recruit for the crucial role of Victims’ Commissioner goes against recent precedent and will only add to the instability facing victims at such a critical time for tackling violence against women and girls.
At this crucial time, with the justice system in unprecedented chaos and the long-awaited Victims’ Bill on the horizon, we need independent and consistent oversight of the government’s commitments to improve, as well as meaningful transparency and accountability to victims and survivors.”