Crime victims to be consulted on bail pleas

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Victims of serious sexual and violent crimes will have an automatic say in whether their alleged attacker gets bail under new rules to be introduced next month.

Details of the scheme were disclosed yesterday at a national conference organised by the group, Victim Support, which attacked the Government for not introducing enforceable rights for victims. The organisation called for reforms to the criminal justice system, which it argued still failed properly to consult victims and did not keep them informed about cases.

Barbara Mills, Director of Public Prosecutions, speaking at the London conference, said that from the end of March the new police manual will tell all officers to pass on to the Crown Prosecution Service any views that victims give on the issue of bail. In the case of serious offences, all victims will be contacted automatically and their opinions sought. The CPS will use the information when deciding whether to oppose bail.

The move follows criticism that victims are not properly considered or consulted. This has resulted in people accused of violent and sexual offences obtaining bail and being allowed to live near their alleged victim.

Mrs Mills said: "Their [victims'] voices cannot dictate, but they must be heard if we are to avoid them feeling doubly victimised, once by the criminal and once by the criminal justice system."

Mike Grewcock, a researcher for the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the measure was unnecessary as there were already provisions to keep defendants away from witnesses and victims. "This is a back-door method of putting more people in custody, which is counterproductive," he added.

Despite the moves, Victim Support yesterday published a report - The Rights of Victims of Crime - which highlights what they believe are the inadequacies of the current system. Helen Reeves, director of Victim Support, said: "We believe that victims should have the right to be protected and respected and the right to know what is happening in their case."