Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird quits as she unleashes withering attack on ministers: Ex-solicitor general warns ‘criminal justice system is in chaos’ and accuses Government of ‘failing victims’ in scathing letter
- Dame Vera, who was appointed in 2019, used to be a Labour minister and PCC
- She hit out at former Justice Secretary Dominic Raab saying he ‘failed victims’
- She warned newly appointed Brandon Lewis that the justice system is in ‘chaos’
- And was also upset that she was twice invited to apply for her role earlier
Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird has resigned – saying ministers have been ‘failing victims’ in a scathing letter to the Government.
The ex-solicitor general, 72, also warned recently appointed Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis that the ‘criminal justice system is in chaos’ as she resigned.
Dame Vera pointed the finger squarely at his predecessor, Dominic Raab, who left the Government earlier this month, saying he ‘downgraded’ victims’ interests in the Government’s priorities and accused the former Justice Secretary of ‘side-lining’ her office.
The former Labour minister had twice been invited to apply for a second term in the post, which was due to end in June, and claims despite having received assurances from the Ministry of Justice that she was considered to be an ‘appointable’, the department was re-recruiting again.
Women’s charities said it was ‘sad’ that the QC who has held the Government’s ‘feet to the fire on the shamefully low rates of rape prosecutions’ was to go.
Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird (pictured) quits as she unleashes withering attack on ministers – saying they have been ‘failing victims’ in a scathing letter
‘Asking me to re-apply, given that two opportunities to re-appoint me have already passed, and my office is no longer given much access to ministers, seems more a ploy to keep me in place as a nominal post-holder in the short-term than a genuine invitation,’ she said.
The Victims’ commissioner who attacked the police over its ‘male brotherhood culture’ and used to be a Labour minister
Dame Vera, a former Labour MP, solicitor general and police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, was originally appointed to the post championing victims’ rights in 2019.
She has previously attacked the police and the court system over failing women.
In September 2021, she said that police ‘should tell men to stay indoors’ when a killer is on run in local area and said there was a ‘real vacuum of action in the fight against violence against women’ following the murder of Sabina Nessa, 28.
She added: ‘Three-quarters of women over 16 have been harassed in a public place and don’t feel safe. They need to know that the police understand that and will use all the powers they have got to keep the streets safe.’
Another fiery speech later that year in December also cited Britain’s most hated policeman Wayne Couzens, who used his position to abduct, rape and kill Sarah Everard in a case that sparked protests on the streets and shattered trust in the Met.
A year ago, she also described rape as ‘domestic terrorism’ against women and said the CPS should not be judged on conviction rates as it means they only want to take ‘rock solid cases’.
Dame Vera said: ‘They made a decision… to take fewer of what they called weaker cases in order to increase their conviction rate.
‘Historically the CPS have been judged on their conviction rates. They should not be judged in that way.’
The Victims’ Commissioner also claimed police forces are ‘overwhelmingly male’ and that the public won’t have any faith in them until they root out criminals in their own ranks, citing a new survey showing just one in three women still trust the police after Couzens’ appalling crimes.
‘Coupled with this, the Victims’ Bill remains inadequate and the ‘British Bill of Rights’ so severely threatens victims’ human rights that it undermines what little progress the Victims’ Bill is set to bring.
‘This downgrading of victims’ interests in the Government’s priorities, along with the side-lining of the Victims’ Commissioner’s office and the curious recruitment process make clear to me that there is nothing to be gained for victims by my staying in post beyond the current extension.
‘As such, my term will end on 30 September.’
Dame Vera, also a former police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, was originally appointed to the post championing victims’ rights in 2019.
However, in her letter, she said that unlike her predecessor she was not offered an automatic second term, although she was ‘strongly encouraged’ to apply when it was opened up to competition earlier this year.
At the same time she complained of a lack of access to ministers, and that she had not met once with Mr Raab since he invited her to reapply in February – echoing the complaints of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA).
The have claimed he did not meet the CBA since April over strike action.
She added in the letter: ‘An important part of my role is access to ministers on behalf of the people I represent and serve.
‘Prior to this year, we have made progress for victims largely through the responsive attitude of previous Secretaries of State.
‘The lack of engagement from the top at a time of great upheaval for victims reflected poorly on the Ministry of Justice’s priorities and the government’s approach.’
The Victims’ Commissioner London, Claire Waxman, also paid tribute saying: ‘I am hugely disappointed that, for the first time in years, we will not have a National Victims’ Commissioner in post.
‘It’s a critical role to ensure that the interests of victims are championed to help influence much-needed change in this country.
‘It’s also a critical moment for victims, with a justice system in crisis as our courts struggle to deliver justice, and the Victims’ Bill finally going through Parliament.
‘Having worked closely with Vera for the past few years, I am very grateful for all the work she has done.
‘She has been a tireless advocate. Anyone coming into the role at this stage must have a deep understanding of the challenges in the justice system, a desire to centre voices of victims, & fresh ideas for radically strengthening the Government’s Victims’ Bill.’
Women’s domestic violence charity, Refuge, said it was also ‘sad to learn that Dame Vera Baird is stepping down as Victims Commissioner.
‘Dame Vera has played a pivotal role in helping push for better protections for survivors of Domestic Abuse and violence against women and girls and has undoubtedly helped to change the narrative and influence policy and practice.
‘She has held the governments feet to the fire on the shamefully low rates of rape prosecutions and pushing them to deliver on the rape review. Dame Vera has also spoken out about court backlogs and about misogyny in the police.
‘As a staunch advocate for victim’s rights, Dame Vera will be much missed in this role, and we hope the government will bring the Victims Bill back to Parliament as soon as possible, strengthen it so it better protects victims, and takes on board Dame Vera’s robust recommendations for change.’
Mr Raab in a statement to the BBC said: ‘The Victims’ Commissioner role is important and we re-ran the process because in all honesty we wanted a stronger field of candidates and were confident of getting one.’
Labour’s shadow victims’ minister, Anna McMorrin, said Dame Vera’s ‘tireless work’ will not be forgotten and said if they win the General Election then then their Government would put ‘victims back at the heart of our broken justice system’.
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