Victims of major disasters set to receive extra support under new Government plans

Victims of major disasters are set to be given extra support as ministers consult on plans to create an Independent Public Advocate, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

Bereaved families will be guided through an investigative process so their voices can be heard at inquests, and directed to appropriate support services, under the plans unveiled in the Government’s first cross-department Victims Strategy.

The consultation, which will run from Monday until early December, follows criticism of the handling of victims of the Grenfell Tower fire last year and a damning report into the experience of relatives of the 96 Hillsborough victims.

In a foreword to the consultation, Justice Minister Edward Argar said he hoped to ensure the “painful experience” of the Hillsborough families is not repeated.

He wrote: “It is clear there remain serious concerns about how far the voices of the bereaved are heard, and how far they are supported in fully understanding and participating in the investigatory process.

“An Independent Public Advocate will help to address these concerns. I am determined that we should never again see families struggling, as we did in the many years that followed Hillsborough, against the very system that was supposed to deliver answers – and, ultimately, justice.”

Prime Minister Theresa May said the strategy, which aims to “overhaul” support for victims of crime, showed the Government were taking steps to “enshrine” the rights of victims in the law for the first time.

She said: “Nothing can take away the distress and trauma of being a victim of crime, but ensuring people get the support they need as they rebuild their lives is vital.

“How we support victims is fundamental to a caring society, and in recognition of that we are taking steps to enshrine their rights in law for the very first time.

“The duty of a government is to keep people safe, but it is not enough to simply bring offenders to court.

“Victims need to know they are protected and listened to, and we will continue to work with charities and support groups to improve their experience.”

Justice Secretary David Gauke added: “Many of us will be lucky enough to not have to encounter the justice system as a victim of crime – but those who do must not also become a victim of the process.

“We will enshrine victims’ entitlements in law by beginning a consultation early next year, and otherwise seek to boost the Victims’ Code.

“This strategy addresses the changing nature of crime, and sets out the support victims should receive at every stage of their journey through the justice system – from providing statements to police, appearing in court or in front of the Parole Board, and every step in between.”

The strategy also outlines plans to fully review the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme after critics warned some victims are unfairly denied payouts.

Mr Gauke said the move was necessary to ensure those affected by offences including sexual abuse and terrorism get the awards they are due.

Officials will assess a number of the scheme’s rules, including a time limit on when applications must be lodged and restrictions on claims from those with criminal records.

The Ministry of Justice will also weigh up whether to extend the crimes covered to include grooming.

In addition to the review, which will start immediately and report back next year, the Government also announced that a controversial bar on financial awards to victims if they lived in the same home as their attacker before 1979 will be abolished.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Yui Mok /  PA Wire.