Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird resigns in damning letter accusing ministers of undermining victims’ interests | Political News

The victims’ commissioner announced her resignation in a damning letter saying “the criminal justice system is in disarray” and ministers have undermined the interests of victims.

Dame Vera Baird criticized the government for failing victims of rape, burglary, theft and attempted murder in her resignation letter to new justice minister Brandon Lewis.

He accused the government of “degrading” the interests of victims as “little has been done to deal effectively with the huge and devastating backlog of cases, particularly in the Crown Court where the most serious crimes are tried”.

Dame Vera also said the Victims Bill remains inadequate and the “British Bill of Rights” so seriously threatens victims’ human rights that it undermines what little progress the Victims Act is about to make.

The Victims Bill aims to “strengthen the voice of victims” and is currently in pre-legislative scrutiny, while the Bill of Rights is set to replace the European Convention on Human Rights.

He wrote: “This relegation of victims’ interests to the government’s priorities, together with the marginalization of the Office of the Victims’ Commissioner and the strange recruitment process make it clear to me that there is nothing to be gained for victims by remaining in office beyond from the current extension.

“Therefore, my term will end on September 30.”

Dame Vera, a former Labor MP, solicitor-general and Northumbria’s police and crime commissioner, was appointed to the independent victim advocacy role in 2019 under Theresa May’s government – which she thanked, as well as then-Justice Secretary David Gauke.

But she said she was confused by Dominic Raab, who was justice secretary under Boris Johnson, as he did not extend her appointment as previous commissioners had done and told her to reapply.

She was then told that no one else should be appointed, so she remained and was then told to reapply while being asked to extend her term until the end of the year.

Dame Vera added that Mr Raab had not met her once since February, when she was told to reapply and her vital access to ministers was curtailed.

British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab gets out of a car outside Downing Street in London, Britain, July 12, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Dame Vera said former justice secretary Dominic Raab had not met her once since February

“The lack of commitment from the top at a time of great upheaval for victims reflected poorly on the MoJ’s priorities and the government’s approach,” he said.

“I want to highlight how important this role is in driving much-needed change for victims.”

Dame Vera said she had been involved in shining a spotlight on “the plight of rape investigations and prosecutions” and secured safeguards against “excessive requests” for victims’ mobile phone data in rape investigations.

It also ensured that rape victims were able to pre-record their evidence and cross-examination in court and continues to push to limit the disclosure of victim treatment notes and data.

The commissioner urged the government to reaffirm the government’s commitment to increasing the “disgracefully low charging rates”.

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

“Despite years of promises, we have yet to see new laws to protect those who suffer from criminals,” he said.

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