The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales has announced she is leaving the role as she launched a scathing farewell attack on the Government’s commitment to those she represents.
Dame Vera Baird KC said she would not stay in post beyond her current term on September 30, accusing the government of downgrading victims’ interests, reducing her access to ministers and failing to provide clarity on her reappointment.
She said she had not met the former chancellor, Dominic Raabwho resigned earlier this month, since January, a lack of commitment that reflected poorly on the Ministry of Justice’s priorities.
In a termination letter to her replacement, Brandon Lewis, Baird also criticized the criminal justice system and Raab’s plans for a UK Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, which she said “so seriously threatens the human rights of victims that it undermines what little progress has been made. the victims’ bill is set to bring in. I’ve been told that the bill of rights is set to return in some form and that its withdrawal was only temporary.
“Furthermore, little has been done to effectively tackle the huge and catastrophic backlog of cases, particularly in the Crown Court, where the most serious crimes are tried. This has exposed victims of these crimes to intolerable delay, anxiety and uncertainty. It is no exaggeration that say the criminal justice system is in chaos.
“This de-prioritisation of victims’ interests in the government’s priorities, together with the sidelining of the Victims’ Commissioner’s Office and the curious recruitment process, makes it clear to me that there is nothing to be gained for victims by my remaining in post beyond the current extension. “
Baird’s first three-year term was set to end in June. Instead of being reappointed like her predecessor, she was told by Raab that the position would be open to competition, but he also encouraged her to apply, she wrote. Her tenure was extended twice in a process that Baird said brought uncertainty to her already troubled and destabilized office, describing the latest request for her to reapply as apparently “a ploy to keep me in place as a nominal position in the short term term than a genuine invitation”.
Baird has been particularly vocal about violence against women, an issue that came under renewed focus last year after the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police officer. She said police forces must be forced to address violence against women and girls with the same level of resources, expertise and urgency as terrorism or organized crime.
Baird claimed rape had effectively been decriminalized as a result of a breakdown in the prosecution and accused the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales, Max Hill, of presiding over a “catastrophic” period in the Crown Prosecution Service’s history of rape convictions has hit a historic low.
Baird’s criticism of Raab for not meeting her echoes complaints from managers from the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) that he had refused to meet them since its members initiated industrial action in April. By contrast, Lewis met the CBA on Tuesday after the Queen’s mourning period ended.
When lawyers this month escalated their case over legal aid to indefinite time this month Baird described it as “the latest symptom of a criminal justice system that is severely and ruthlessly underfunded”.