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What is the Victims and Prisoners Bill, and why is it being criticised?

The bill has allegedly been ‘hijacked’ by Dominic Raab (PA Archive)
The bill has allegedly been ‘hijacked’ by Dominic Raab (PA Archive)

A bill sponsored by former Justice Secretary Dominic Raab will be read in the House of Commons for the second time today, with the aim of cementing the principles of the Victims’ Code in law.

The Victims and Prisoners Bill seeks to provide a minimum standard of treatment for prisoners and improve national scrutiny of prisons, probation, police, and the courts.

In addition, the bill would also create an independent public advocate to represent victims’ interests after disasters like Hillsborough, the Manchester Arena bombing, and the Grenfell Tower fire, as well as prevent prisoners serving whole-life sentences from marrying.

However, the bill is currently facing criticism from activist groups closely linked to the UK justice system, after claims that additional clauses made by Mr Raab during his term have taken the bill too far away from its original goals.

Why is the Victims and Prisoners Bill being criticised?

Revealed three weeks before Mr Raab was forced to resign over bullying allegations, a subsequent watchdog investigation has now found Mr Raab added controversial additional clauses that make the bill “not worth the paper it’s written on”, reports the Independent.

These clauses include giving Mr Raab the power to veto prisoner releases and alter parole boards, moving away from the bill’s original aims to strengthen victims’ rights.

At the moment, it’s impossible for the Government to extend a sentence or prevent release, so vetoing prisoner releases would be one way for government officials to do so.

Claire Waxman, who acts as the victims’ commissioner for London, claimed that the Victims and Prisoners Bill had been “hijacked by Dominic Raab” to increase government powers, at the cost of its primary goals.

As such, activist groups such as Women’s Aid and The End Violence Against Women Coalition are calling for the additional clauses to be removed, returning the bill to its earlier function.

“It won’t deliver any meaningful change to victims in its current format,” Ms Waxman told the Independent.

Parliament’s justice committee agreed with Ms Waxman’s comments, stating that the bill fell “short of what is required” and continued to require victims to “claim rights they are often unaware of”.

However, the Government has refuted this, arguing that its proposals put victims “at the heart of the justice system” and that the bill, complete with Mr Raab’s clauses, still addresses its original purpose.

As such, the Victims and Prisoners Bill will be read in the House of Commons today for the second time, where it will be made public for the first time and members of the House will be able to read and review it in full.