Victims ‘losing faith in criminal justice system’, warns commissioner

‘All too often victims are still treated as an afterthought,’ says Dame Vera Baird

Rory Sullivan
Thursday 09 September 2021 12:22
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<p>Crown courts in England and Wales now have a backlog of almost 60,000 cases</p>

Crown courts in England and Wales now have a backlog of almost 60,000 cases

Less than half of victims would report a crime again after their experience of the justice system, a new survey has found.

Just 43 per cent of the 600 respondents to an online poll launched by Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, said they would lodge a complaint in the future, while slightly more than a third of people revealed they would not consider doing this.

The survey’s findings come at a time when the courts backlog has reached a record high. As of 31 March, there were almost 60,000 crown court cases awaiting trial in England and Wales, a 45 per cent increase from the previous year. The average waiting time also rose by more than 40 per cent to 363 days.

The survey found just 9 per cent of people said their cases were handled promptly by the courts.

The number of people who said they would attend court again dropped considerably from last year’s poll results, falling from 67 per cent to 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, 83 per cent of people said they lacked confidence in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to effectively prosecute those accused of a crime.

Others complained that they were not treated fairly by the police after reporting a crime. This was particularly true of victims from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Poor communication throughout the justice process was also highlighted as a problem.

One victim said: “The poor communication from the initial reporting to the final sentencing was unacceptable and so easy to fix.

“I felt unsupported, isolated and as though I was fighting a battle with the very people who were supposed to be fighting for me.”

In response to these findings, Dame Vera said “time and time again” the police, the CPS and other justice agencies had failed to live up to victim’s needs.

“All too often victims are still treated as an afterthought – a bystander to proceedings, rather than the valued participant they should be,” she said.

Jan Lamping, victims and witnesses lead for the CPS, said the organisation was working with the police and the courts“to build confidence in the criminal justice system”.

“We recognise there needs to be long-lasting change and so we are also working closely with victim services to improve how we communicate with victims to help them understand the system and support them through the process.”

The government, which has been criticised for not investing enough in the justice system, is expected to soon consult on a new Victims Law.

Reflecting on this, Dame Vera said: “If we are to regain victims’ trust, the government must have the ambition and resolve to make the Victims Bill truly transformative. The time for half-measures is over.”

A government spokesperson said: “We’re doing more than ever to support victims and build back confidence in the justice system.

“Victims’ rights will be enshrined in law for the first time, while we are investing hundreds of millions to deliver swifter justice and fund vital support services.

“We’ve also published a new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, and our landmark Domestic Abuse Act and rape action plan will transform the response to these horrific crimes.”

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