Victims still an “afterthought” in the criminal justice system

Work with offenders on today’ annual survey of victims

Losing faith

Victims are losing faith in the criminal justice system according to a new survey of victims, which suggests less than half of victims would report to the police again based on their experience of the justice system.

Around 600 victims responded to the annual survey of victims’ experiences by Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner. The survey which found just 43% would be likely to report to authorities in the future, with over a third (34%) saying they wouldn’t report a crime again.

Launched in the summer, the survey sought to understand victims’ priorities and gain insights into their experiences of the criminal justice system over the past three years, including during the Covid-19 pandemic. Around half of the responses were from victims who reported or had their crime investigated during the pandemic, however, there were few substantive differences in responses compared to those whose cases were dealt with earlier.

Little confidence in the CPS

Notwithstanding the effects of the pandemic, the findings suggest a worrying picture for the justice system, with victim confidence shown to be low. Many victims expressed their disappointment with the criminal justice system, especially the court process and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS): 83% said they didn’t have confidence in the effectiveness of the CPS in prosecuting those accused of a crime.

Above all, the survey found that victims most want to be ‘treated well’ by the criminal justice system: 48% said that having the crime fully investigated was the most important or second most important factor for them, with 38% saying being treated fairly and with respect by the police was the most important or second most important factor to them. Just 24% rated the perpetrator being charged with a crime as the most or second most important factor.

However, only 42% felt they had been treated fairly and with respect by the police, with many feeling their reports hadn’t been taken seriously and there was a lack of action by the police.

Racial disparity

There was an alarming difference in victims’ experiences with the police according to the victim’s ethnicity. Only 33% of those from an ethnic minority background felt the police treated them fairly and with respect, as opposed to 44% among those from a white background. Similarly, only 16% of ethnic minority respondents agreed with the statement, ‘victims are fully supported by the police,’ compared to 26% of those from white backgrounds.

Many victims said it was difficult to obtain information and updates at various points throughout their criminal justice journey. The impact of Covid-19 on investigation times was noticeable, with 60% of those whose cases were reported or investigated during the pandemic saying the investigation took too long, compared to 47% of those whose cases were dealt with before the pandemic. This was despite an overall drop in reported crime during the pandemic.

Increasing delays dent confidence further

In a further sign that the growing courts backlog is damaging victim confidence, only 9% of victims thought the courts dealt with cases promptly. The Crown Court backlog of cases, which was further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, now stands at around 59,000 cases.

The picture didn’t improve once victims reached court. While half (50%) of those who reached court said they would attend again, over a quarter (26%) said they would not. This figure is considerably lower than the 67% who said they would attend court in the Victims’ Commissioner’s survey last year.

Other findings

There was little good news in the survey findings with the sole exception that victims are increasingly being offered the opportunity to make a Victim Personal Statement (VPS). 39% said they were offered the opportunity to make a VPS, rising to 51% since the pandemic.

Other findings included:

  • Victims said they found the court process challenging. Less than 10% felt they were supported by the courts or by the CPS, with well over half (58%) feeling their needs and wishes were not considered.
  • Many said that special measures that had been requested were not put in place.
  • There were concerns that victims’ services were under-funded, leading to long waiting lists and difficulties accessing some services.
  • A number of the survey’s responses came from serving police or prison officers. They felt that the crimes committed against them were not treated seriously by both the police and the courts and were seen more as an ‘occupational hazard’ than a true assault.

Responding to the survey’s findings, Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner, made the point that most victims’ had pretty basic expectations of the justice system: “to be treated with fairness and respect by the police, for the crime to be investigated and to kept informed of the progress of the case” and that it was simply inexcusable that the police, courts and prosecutors were unable to meet them in most cases.