Poor treatment of victims highlighted in survey a ‘wake-up call’ for justice system, says Victims’ Commissioner

A new survey reveals more than 70 per cent of victims were dissatisfied with the police response to the crime, while a third would not bother to report a crime again.

Nov 9, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Baroness Newlove

Victims’ Commissioner Baroness Newlove said the statistics should serve as a “wake-up call” for all those involved in the justice system.

The findings were released ahead of her first speech in the House of Lords on Wednesday (November 8) in response to the King’s Speech.

They come as the landmark Victims and Prisoners Bill is set to return to Parliament.

Baroness Newlove used her speech to call for the Bill to be the “catalyst”, “to end the culture whereby victims’ entitlements are regarded as ‘optional’ extras or ‘nice to haves’, instead of a being a core part of delivering justice”.

The Bill includes measures aimed at improving victims’ experience of the criminal justice system and will be a key area of focus for Baroness Newlove, having been asked by ministers to scrutinise it in her capacity as Victims’ Commissioner.

Welcoming the re-introduction of the Bill, Baroness Newlove said: “I am so delighted to hear of the Government’s commitment to finally continue the passage of this so long-awaited Victims and Prisoners Bill. I, and many others, have been calling for a Victims Law for some ten years now.

“However, let me be clear from the start: I do not want legislation just for the sake of it. Legislation needs to transform the experience of those people whose lives have been damaged and devastated by crime and seek justice.”

Baroness Newlove, who was re-appointed last month on an interim basis for one year, having previously served two terms as Commissioner from 2013 to 2019, said the findings from the survey paint a troubling picture of how victims experience the criminal justice system.

Launched last summer by the previous Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird KC, the survey sought to understand victims’ priorities and gain insights into their experiences of the criminal justice system over the preceding three years (2019-2022).

Around 500 victims responded, providing “new and concerning insight” into the victim experience of the criminal justice system, said Baroness Newlove.

The survey found:

  • 71 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with the police response to the crime;
  • Over a third (34 per cent) said they would not report a crime to the police again, consistent with 2021 and 2020 surveys;
  • 70 per cent of respondents felt that they had to wait too long for their case to come to court (up from 66 per cent in 2021); and
  • Only eight per cent were confident that they could receive justice by reporting a crime.

In addition, less than a third (29 per cent) of respondents were aware of the Victims’ Code while only 29 per cent said they were offered the opportunity to make a Victim Personal Statement, a drop from 39 per cent in 2021.

Reacting to the survey’s findings, Baroness Newlove said: “These numbers simply must not be shrugged off as they concern me deeply. For when victims lose trust in the system, they’re less likely to report crime. These statistics should serve as a wake-up call for all those involved in the justice system.

“This survey echoes what we’ve heard in years prior. And as the Victims and Prisoners Bill returns to Parliament, it’s our moment to finally deliver the transformational change that victims need.

“The Victims and Prisoners Bill must be that catalyst. We must act now, amidst all the present challenges in the criminal justice system, because victims will not wait – and nor should they.”

The survey results show procedural justice – being treated fairly and with respect by the criminal justice system – remains as just as important to victims as securing a conviction.

For example, it can include being kept informed on the progress of an investigation, meeting the prosecuting barrister ahead of the trial or being able to read their victim personal statement in court. .

However, year-on-year victims are reporting that they are not receiving the service they expect and deserve, said Baroness Newlove.

For the largest proportion of victims (24 per cent), the most important factor when reporting a crime to the police was having the crime fully investigated. However, 82 per cent of respondents reported not being confident that police would thoroughly investigate the crimes. In fact, for those respondents who did report a crime, 59 per cent felt their concerns were not taken seriously, and victims voiced a lack of action taken by police:

The length of time that victims are having to wait for justice has improved but remains a concern, with 45 per cent of respondents agreeing that the police investigation took too long (compared with 54 per cent in 2021).

Only nine per cent were confident that the courts were effective at dealing with cases promptly, the same figure as 2021. Latest figures show there is an open caseload (often referred to as a ‘backlog’) of around 65,000 trials in the Crown Court, up from around 40,000 before the pandemic hit in 2020.

Baroness Newlove said: “Victims aren’t asking for much; they’re asking for fairness – a level playing field, where their needs and rights are considered alongside those of the offenders.

“A capable and competent justice system that is sensitive to the needs and interests of victims, delivers procedural justice, and gives victims a voice in proceedings is the key to better justice for everyone.”

In one of her first moves as Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove has commissioned one of the most extensive victim surveys to date. Conducted by YouGov, the survey will encompass a sample group of 3,000 victims, ensuring representation from across England and Wales.

This marks the largest survey ever undertaken by the Victims’ Commissioner and one of the most extensive of its kind.

The results are expected in the New Year.

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