Dame Vera Baird has quit as Victims’ Commissioner, as she criticizes the Government for failing victims of rape, burglary and theft.
In a resignation letter to the new attorney general, Brandon Lewis, she accused the government of sidelining her and downgrading victims’ interests.
She said the criminal justice system was in “chaos” but added she could not continue with the way she and the victims had been treated by the government.
She revealed that she had had no access or meetings with his predecessor, Dominic Raab, in the eight months since February when she was told she would not be re-appointed and would have to reapply for the three-year post, unlike to the predecessor.
“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,” she wrote.
This was followed in July by an announcement by Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, that the appointment process was being suspended and restarted even though she had been told by MoJ officials that she was an “appointable” candidate.
She was invited to reapply, but she described it as a “trick to keep me in place as a nominal post holder in the short term [rather] than a genuine invitation’ as the government had rejected two chances to reappoint her and she no longer had access to ministers.
“Furthermore, the Victims’ Bill remains inadequate and the ‘British Bill of Rights’ threatens victims’ human rights so seriously that it undermines the little progress the Victims’ Bill is set to bring,” she said.
“I am told that the Bill of Rights is going to come back in some form and that the withdrawal was only temporary. Furthermore, little has been done to effectively tackle the huge and catastrophic backlog of cases, particularly in the Crown Court where the most serious crimes are tried.
“This has subjected victims of these crimes to intolerable delay, anxiety and uncertainty. It is no exaggeration to say that the criminal justice system is in chaos.
“This devaluing of victims’ interests in the government’s priorities, together with the sidelining of the Victims Commissioner’s office and the curious recruitment process makes it clear to me that there is nothing to be gained for victims by my remaining in post beyond the present. Extension.”
Dame Vera, who took up the post in June 2019, said she now intended to leave the post on September 30.
With interviews for a compensation commissioner not scheduled until December, victims could be left without a watchdog to represent their interests and hold the government accountable for more than six months.
“Horrible state of rape investigation”
Allies of Dame Vera suggested she had been driven out following a regime change after she was appointed by then-Justice Secretary David Gauke during Theresa May’s premiership.
She has been an outspoken critic of the prosecutors’ and police’s approach to rape investigations, which has seen charge rates drop to a record low of just one in 70 offences. In her first annual report, she said it constituted an effective decriminalization of rape.
In her letter, she cited her spotlighting the “appalling state of rape investigation and prosecution” and “unbearable” fee rates as evidence of how important the Victims’ Commissioner’s role was in driving reform for victims.
As a result, this had seen new privacy safeguards against intrusive and excessive requests for victims’ personal data, and the roll-out of pre-recorded video evidence to spare victims the trauma of facing their alleged attackers in court.
“I urge you to confirm the Government’s commitment to the ambitions of the Rape Review to return tax rates to 2016 levels by the end of this Parliament,” Dame Vera said.
Raab said: “I am proud to have published the Victims Bill, seen a two-thirds increase in rape convictions over the last year and secured a four-fold increase in funding for victims compared to 2010.
“The victims’ commissioner role is important, and we ran the process again because, in all honesty, we wanted a stronger field of candidates, and we were confident of getting one.”