Victims’ Commissioner quits, saying she has been ‘sidelined’

Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird is to stand down, accusing ministers of “downgrading” victims’ interests in the Government’s priorities and of “side-lining” her office.

In a letter to Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis, Dame Vera said that under his predecessor, Dominic Raab, she had twice been invited to apply for a second term in the post, which was due to end in June.

However despite having received assurances from the Ministry of Justice that she was considered to be an “appointable” candidate, there had still been no appointment and the recruitment process was being re-run.

“Asking me to re-apply, given that two opportunities to re-appoint me have already passed, and my office is no longer given much access to ministers, seems more a ploy to keep me in place as a nominal post-holder in the short-term than a genuine invitation,” she said.

“Coupled with this, the Victims’ Bill remains inadequate and the ‘British Bill of Rights’ so severely threatens victims’ human rights that it undermines what little progress the Victims’ Bill is set to bring.

“This downgrading of victims’ interests in the Government’s priorities, along with the side-lining of the Victims’ Commissioner’s office and the curious recruitment process make clear to me that there is nothing to be gained for victims by my staying in post beyond the current extension.

“As such, my term will end on 30 September.”

Dame Vera, a former Labour MP, solicitor general and police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, was originally appointed to the post championing victims’ rights in 2019.

However, in her letter, she said that unlike her predecessor she was not offered an automatic second term, although she was “strongly encouraged” to apply when it was opened up to competition earlier this year.

At the same time she complained of a lack of access to ministers, and that she had not met once with Mr Raab since he invited her to reapply in February.

“The lack of engagement from the top at a time of great upheaval for victims reflected poorly on the Ministry of Justice’s priorities and the Government’s approach,” she said.

For Labour, shadow justice minister Anna McMorrin said Dame Vera’s resignation showed that under the Conservatives, victims of crime were “simply an afterthought”.

“Despite years of promises, we are still yet to see new laws to safeguard those suffering at the hands of criminals,” she said.