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Victims bill has 'no teeth', claims government adviser

A bill to put the rights of victims of crime into law has "no teeth", according to the government's adviser on the issue.

The Victims and Prisoners Bill will return to parliament this week, aiming to "fundamentally transform victims' experience of the criminal justice system", ministers have said.

The government has promised to put a code of practice into law to support victims, as well as giving the Ministry of Justice the power to inspect agencies failing them, and to create better oversight of all those involved with their treatment.

But Baroness Newlove, who has held the job of victims' commissioner since October, has told Sky News' Sophy Ridge the legislation is "not strong enough".

Speaking to the Politics Hub, the Tory peer - who has campaigned on victims rights since her husband Gary was murdered in 2007 - said the code of practice for supporting victims should be "on the face of the bill" to ensure those involved "have access to services, they get communicated properly, [that victims] do understand what support systems are out there".

She added: "As it stands now, the code is just seen as persuasive guidance. So unless you have legal rights in a legal system, none of the professionals will stand up and do anything for it if you don't make it by law."

Baroness Newlove also said the victims' commissioner needed to be given oversight of whether the code is being adhered to "instead of the agencies and Ministry of Justice and the police marking their own homework".

Describing the bill as it stands, she added: "It has no teeth. It's very weak. It came in that thin in the House of Lords.

"We've got to make sure that we give as much support and understanding and treat victims with dignity and respect.

"And as victims' commissioner, I will keep on championing that and make sure we get some teeth in that bill, because otherwise it's not worth the paper it's written."

A Ministry of Justice Spokesperson said: "This government is doing more than any other to improve the experiences of victims - including quadrupling funding for support services and improving training for staff who work with survivors.

"Our Victims and Prisoners Bill will place the foundations of the Victims' Code on a statutory footing. This means that victims will be entitled to challenge decisions to not charge or continue a prosecution, receive information on how their case is progressing, and be signposted to relevant support services.

"However, we recognise that there is more to do, which is why alongside this landmark bill, we will be working with criminal justice bodies on a Victims' Code campaign to better inform victims about their rights under the Code and to ensure their needs are met."