Victims of crime now have a new right to receive information and advice from key public agencies.

A code of practice for victims, which has now taken effect, will guarantee the right to be informed on the progress of their case.

It will also ensure they are provided with information on local support services.

For the first time all victims must be told when a suspect has been arrested and why an offender received a particular sentence.

"Victims deserve these rights, and they deserve a code with real teeth," said Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart.

"Under the code, all criminal justice agencies - police, courts and Crown Prosecution Service - have a legal duty to provide the crucial information and advice that is so important to giving victims the ability to get their lives back on track.

"And if anyone feels that they have not received the level of service they are entitled to in the code, they will be able to appeal to an independent body.

"I am determined that the needs of victims of crime must be better met and the code is part of a wider programme of government initiatives to support them.

"We have already established 165 witness care units and we are currently in the final stages of recruiting a new commissioner for victims and witnesses."

Other new minimum service entitlements include a dedicated family liaison police officer to be assigned to bereaved relatives, clearer information on the criminal injuries compensation scheme, and improved service in the cases of vulnerable or intimidated victims.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Victim Support said: "Today is a landmark day for victims of crime and for witnesses.

"From today onwards, they are entitled to a guaranteed level of service from the criminal justice system - something we have campaigned for for years.

"We are particularly delighted that victims now have the automatic right to be referred to our charity for help - this should cut the risk of them falling through the gaps and missing out on the independent support we offer."

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