Bishop of Chester asks Government to clarify appropriate use of term ‘victim’, in response to statement on new Victim Strategy

On 10th September 2018 a statement was repeated in the House of Lords about the Government’s victims strategy. The Bishop of Chester, Rt Revd Peter Forster, responded to the statement with a follow-up question:  

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I wholeheartedly endorse and support what has been said about this strategy. I know from my pastoral work how the effects of crime can resonate throughout people’s lives, not least when it comes to sexual abuse that happened a long time ago. Nevertheless, can the noble and learned Lord comment on the term “victim” and when its use is appropriate and when it is not? Occasionally in the report the term “victim/survivor” is used, and of course we have the report from Lord Justice Henriques into the Operation Midland case, which contained some warnings about the premature use of the word “victim”; in that case it is clear that those who were accused were the victims, and I understand that the person who was widely described as the victim is himself now facing criminal charges. The same was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his report on the Bishop Bell case. Is there a way of defining the term? At the end of the report there is a glossary of about 29 or 30 terms, but the term “victim” itself is not defined in it. Perhaps the strategy might be strengthened if there was at least some recognition that people who are falsely accused can equally be victims.

Lord Keen of Elie: I thank the right reverend Prelate for his observation. It is of course difficult in this situation, because if we simply proceed with the term “complainer”, people have certain perceptions about that, and that in itself appears to inhibit them from coming forward. They are perceived to be merely complainers rather than, as they are in reality, victims. Terminology is therefore important here, but it is also difficult. However, I entirely endorse the right reverend Prelate’s observation that those who are falsely accused of crime are also victims. Of that there can be no doubt whatever, and we should always remember that.