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Survivors being neglected, charities warn, as they mark one year without a victims’ commissioner

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Charities accused the government of “blatant neglect” of needs of victims as they marked one year without a victims’ commissioner for England and Wales.

Victim Support, Women’s Aid, and Rape Crisis are among ten groups who signed an open letter to justice secretary Alex Chalk urging him to appoint a new commissioner “without delay”.

The letter comes a year after Dame Vera Baird KC resigned from the post with a scathing letter warning the justice system was in “chaos”.

It read: “We are writing to express our deep concern that as of this week, the post of Victims’ Commissioner will have been left vacant for an entire year – with no indication that a new appointment is imminent.

“This void where there should be a strong advocate for victims and survivors has never felt starker given the current crisis in our criminal justice system.”

Dame Vera Baird KC warned the justice system was in “chaos” when she stepped down last year (Northumbria PCC/PA) (PA Media)
Dame Vera Baird KC warned the justice system was in “chaos” when she stepped down last year (Northumbria PCC/PA) (PA Media)

They warned that court backlogs were leaving victims facing “excruciating delays” and public trust in police is “rapidly declining”.

A commissioner is also urgently needed to help advocate for victims as the Victims and Prisoners Bill passes through parliament, added the letter, which is also signed by Barnardo’s and the NSPCC.

The letter continued: “This legislation will shape their rights for decades to come. Yet during the most crucial period for debate and scrutiny, there is no commissioner in post to hold the government to account and help shape this long-awaited Bill.

“The government has repeatedly voiced its commitment to improve the experience of victims, but failing to appoint a commissioner suggests an unwillingness towards actually being held accountable for doing so.

“This situation is unacceptable and neglects the needs of victims. The government must rectify it by appointing a new victims’ commissioner with the urgency it requires.”

Ten groups signed an open letter to justice secretary Alex Chalk urging him to appoint a new Victims’ Commissioner ‘without delay’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Archive)
Ten groups signed an open letter to justice secretary Alex Chalk urging him to appoint a new Victims’ Commissioner ‘without delay’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Archive)

Katie Kempen, chief executive at Victim Support, said: “Failing to appoint a commissioner blatantly neglects the needs of victims – leaving them without an independent voice at the heart of government, with the authority to challenge decision makers and effectively fight for their rights.

“The government must act now and appoint a new victims’ commissioner without delay.”

In August last year, the Independent reported that the appointment of a new commissioner had been delayed by several months after the government re-started the recruitment process.

When Dame Vera stepped down the following month, she accused the government of “downgrading of victims’ interests”, “side-lining” her office and reducing access to ministers in a letter to the then justice secretary Brandon Lewis.

She wrote last year: “Further, little has been done to effectively tackle the enormous and catastrophic backlog of cases … this has exposed victims of these crimes to intolerable delay, anguish and uncertainty.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the criminal justice system is in chaos.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We understand how important the role of Victims’ Commissioner is and there has been no attempt to deliberately delay the appointment of the next one.

“The recruitment is underway and we will confirm the outcome of this process as soon as possible. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”