Every year, one in five people in the UK will become the victim of a crime. The repercussions of a crime can have life-long repercussions on the victim, psychologically, physically, and financially. Given how many of us have been or could be affected by crime, our criminal justice system needs to be highly effective and supportive in delivering justice to victims. However, as it stands, many victims feel let down by the system, with no confidence in its capacity to support them in the journey to receiving justice.
In light of this, the Ministry of Justice opened a consultation, “Delivering justice for victims“, in order to understand how victims can be treated and supported better through the criminal justice system. This consultation will pave the way to passing the ‘Victims’ Law’ – a bill that hopes to drastically improve victims’ experiences of the system, building on the rights laid out under the Victims’ Code.
There is currently a lot of confusion surrounding the classification of a victim and what rights they are entitled to under this ‘identity’ (under the Victims’ Code). Arguably, this lack of clarity for the victim is what lies at the heart of their disengagement and lack of confidence in the criminal justice system. Victims often don’t see themselves as a victim, and therefore many of those who are eligible for support are unaware of the resources out there for them or unable to access them.
From our experience at Catch22, this issue often stems from a culture within the police that is not as victim centric as support services in the criminal justice system. It appears that those who are enforcing the law are more concerned with effectively carrying out the prosecution, which can lead to them not placing the victim first. To change this, a culture shift is needed. This can be done through adapting training to ensure the Victims’ Code is more embedded across policing, encouraging a more victim-centric approach to managing crime.
The issue around victim classification and the awareness of the rights they are entitled to under the Victims’ Code also extends to child victims, who have seemingly fallen through the gaps of the system. This is especially the case for victims of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE), as there currently is no national legal definition of CCE and no national strategy dedicated towards tackling it. There is inconsistency in the treatment of child victims of exploitation both within and between Police Forces, creating confusion for the victim and often compounding the trauma caused by the crime they have suffered.
This mishandling of child victims is also reflected in the relationship between the police and victims, and the methods of communication used to inform the victim throughout the justice process. The current system is too long, and the methods of delivery are not very considerate of the emotional impact it can have on a child. For instance, we have experienced cases where the child’s phone has been taken for evidence on grooming, with the analysis lasting months. This is not only isolating for the victim but also presents impracticalities for the child to go about their daily life. Similarly, the lack of communication and updates provided to the child throughout this process can make them feel as if they are being scrutinised, rather than the perpetrator.
Whether a child or an adult, it is clear that victims are currently not at the heart of the criminal justice system, causing their disengagement and lack of faith in the process. From our experience, this issue is closely tied to the misunderstood identity of a victim, with many being unaware of their rights and the resources out there to support them. We need to ensure the system is more victim-centric and offers greater transparency from start to finish, to guarantee their voices are heard and to better support them through a process that can be emotionally challenging.
In order to improve victim’s experience in the criminal justice system, we recommend:
- that all services throughout the justice system, from start to finish, are victim centric. The Victim Code needs to be embedded in training for police and support services to ensure that the victim is placed first
- clarity on the ‘identity’ of a victim and ensure the victim understands the rights they are entitled to under the Victim Code
- better integrating systems to enable information sharing between services
- better communication and transparency with the victim to ensure that they are included in every step of the justice process, and to avoid the process being retraumatising for the victim.
- a more bespoke approach to how victims are treated – there currently is a one-size-fits-all approach which isn’t fit for purpose