Dame Vera Baird announces resignation as Victims Commissioner
Dame Vera Baird has announced her resignation as the Victims Commissioner - her last day in office is to be Friday 30 September. Her office tweeted her letter of resignation to the new Secretary of State for Justice, Brandon Lewis MP, on Friday 23 September. Dame Vera’s term of office was due to end last June. Whilst previous Commissioners have had this extended for a second term automatically, the Government announced early this year that it would be conducting a full-scale recruitment process. However, the last Secretary of State Dominic Raab encouraged Dame Vera to apply. The initial round of interviews did not result in an appointment. The Government asked Dame Vera to continue in post until September, to allow for a second round of interviews, and she agreed to do this to ensure that victims voices were heard during the discussion of the draft Victims Bill. However, she has decided she is not willing to remain in post beyond the end of September whilst the appointment process reaches a conclusion. Her letter sets out clearly her reasons for this decision.
Dame Vera’s comments in her letter about the draft Victims Bill are damning. She describes the Bill as “inadequate” and says that “my office had carried out a dozen victims round tables and sent in abundant recommendations … but little of that work was reflected in the Bill.” Dame Vera also expresses concern about the proposed Bill of Rights, which in her view “so severely threatens victims human rights that it undermines what little progress the Victims Bill is set to bring”. She further states that little has been done to tackle the “enormous and catastrophic” court backlog or the “intolerable delay, anguish and uncertainty” it has caused to victims.
Dame Vera’s resignation leaves a very significant gap in the criminal justice system. There is no-one else who is able to champion victims interests in the same way and with potentially the same benefits to victims. Dame Vera has been an outstanding Victims Commissioner. She brought to bear on the role all her knowledge and experience of how the system works, as a barrister, and former MP, Solicitor General and Police and Crime Commissioner. She has notably campaigned for the right to access to high quality restorative justice for all victims regardless of crime type. The Government’s decision not to offer her a further three-year term of office is difficult to understand, except as an indication of discomfort about her strikingly effective advocacy of victims’ rights. The Government claims in its overview of the draft Victims Bill that it wants to “amplify victims voices in the criminal justice process” and has in the past aspired even to empower them and end their current status as bystanders. Unfortunately, its recent actions – watering down the Victims Bill, failing to tackle the court backlog effectively and now refusing to re-appoint Dame Vera, preferring to leave the vital post of Victims Commissioner vacant for months at this crucial time - suggest that this rhetoric is not to be backed up by the changes needed to put these aspirations into effect. Lack of the necessary investment in restorative justice needs to be seen in the context of its lack of investment in the criminal justice system as a whole.
If you are interested in the post of Victims Commissioner, you have until the 10th of October to apply.
Further details about the post and application process can be accessed here.