What is the victim's role in criminal proceedings?

Focusing on the entitlement of victims to read their statements in court, it certainly makes a nice policy announcement and a nice sound bite for the 10 o’clock news. Many are of the view that it goes no further than that.

There has been a growing trend in recent times surrounding the involvement of the victim in criminal proceedings. Where once they were seen as – and made to feel – ancillary to proceedings, there has over a number of years been a change of direction.

Both Labour and the Government have sought to gain political capital from championing the victim. The government announced there would be a victims’ code. This was trashed by Labour as toothless, promising to go one better and make it a law. At first this appears to be one-upmanship, but is there any substance?

The key promises

The key promise hitting the headlines today is that where a person is found guilty, victims will now be able to read their victim personal statements aloud in court, if they wish to do so.

Among other ‘entitlements’ are to be kept informed about the police investigation, such as if a suspect is arrested and charged and any bail conditions imposed;of any appeal against the offender’s conviction or sentence; and of how to seek a review of a CPS decision not to prosecute.

Victims will also be able to opt into the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS) if the offender is sentenced to 12 months or more for a specified violent or sexual offence where they will be able to make a VPS for consideration by the Parole Board if the offender is considered for release or transfer and apply to the Parole Board to read it out at the hearing.

These all seem like decent ideas, giving a voice to the victim and ensuring they will be heard.

Politicking?

Is this new Code an exercise in PR for a government gearing up for an election? Probably. Is there anything of substance to it? I think so.

Focusing on the entitlement of victims to read their statements in court, it certainly makes a nice policy announcement and a nice sound bite for the 10 o’clock news. Many are of the view that it goes no further than that. The truth is that as the law stands at the moment, prior to the code coming into force, victims can, where appropriate, read their statement aloud in court (though the courts have stated that this will be rare). This announcement is likely to make that a more regular occurrence, though I doubt many will take up the opportunity to read their statements aloud. However, in terms of substance, if it helps a few victims with the process of coming to terms with being a victim of crime, then surely it is to be welcomed?

Is this a cosmetic change, raising the hopes of victims? The sceptics say that this changes nothing and unrealistically creates the impression of ‘ownership’ by a victim of a criminal case, which it does not. Decisions (to prosecute etc) are made by the CPS and will remain so. The Judge will decide, for example, whether a VPS should be read aloud at all, and if so, which sections are appropriate. However, those in favour see the importance for victims in being a part of the process, being kept informed, asked their opinion and given the opportunity to read their statement aloud, even if many will decline – and that is not cosmetic. It is a statement of intention, underlining that victims are no longer ancillary to proceedings, but that they have a say. This is the culmination of the rise of the victims’ voice. And why not? Judicial discretion is the ultimate safeguard against the inappropriate.

The Conservatives state that they are ‘making changes to ensure that the justice system is always on the side of victims’. Surely the point of justice is that it isn’t on anyone’s side? Let’s make sure this doesn’t go too far.

Where victims were once seen as ancillary to proceedings, they now play a bigger role. Image: Getty
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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.