Report authors: Madeline Rolfe, Senior Analyst | Ellie Brown, Head of Strategy | Freya Smith, Analyst | Samantha Cunningham, Executive Director (Strategy)
Tuesday 19 December 2023
In October 2022, Crest Advisory was commissioned by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to support its joint inspection with His Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP). The joint inspection focuses on how effectively the criminal justice system (CJS) meets the needs of victims of crime at every stage of their journey.
To review this question Crest Advisory designed a two-phase research project. The first phase involved a literature review of victims’ experiences of the CJS. The second phase developed on the literature review findings through primary research with victims of crime.
We engaged directly with victims of serious violence, theft, weapon offences and anti-social behaviour across England and Wales through 16 semi-structured interviews, followed by five co-production workshops. The interviews and workshops explored participants’ experiences and perspectives of their CJS journey and recommendations for change.
Our engagement revealed a host of different victim experiences and perspectives of the CJS. While there were examples of good practice and meaningful engagement, research participants were generally critical of the CJS and our research found that victims’ needs are not being met by the criminal justice system.
Our four key findings
1. The Victims Code of Practice (VCOP) is not consistently adhered to by CJS agencies. Participants described failings in the way the crime was recorded; extremely poor provision of information by each agency; and failures to invite them to provide a Victim Personal Statement (VPS). These failings made many participants feel excluded from the justice process; they inhibited participants’ abilities to engage and ultimately led to feelings of distress and disaffection with the CJS. Moreover, participants were faced with having to take a pivotal role, in their criminal justice journey, (like chasing agencies for information) and this, for many, was entirely unsatisfactory and diminished their status as victim.
2. Agencies are not adequately sharing and managing information with each other, which places an undue burden on victims to bridge the gap and navigate their own journey through the CJS. Participants described how agencies worked in a fragmented way: they failed to share information with each other and there was little sense of ‘joined up’ working. When information was not shared (like a VPS for use at court) it limited the extent to which participants could have their voices heard and also limited the extent to which justice was done. Beyond this, there was a deep scepticism and distrust of other agencies, which diminished the trust and confidence that victims placed in agencies and the CJS as a whole. Ultimately, this undermines the ability of the CJS to provide a ‘whole system approach’.
3. CJS agencies are failing to properly identify and assess the individual needs of each victim of crime. Needs assessments were not offered in nearly all cases. There was a real issue with agencies identifying and assessing needs consistently. It meant that needs were often overlooked, disregarded, often assumed (rather than assessed) and were not accommodated by each agency. As a result, participants felt excluded, unseen and unheard. Participants advocated for a dialogue, through which vulnerabilities and needs could be discussed, and through which support could be identified and agreed with the victim. It would bring a sense of individualisation to a process which could, at times, feel isolating and impersonal.
4. They are often left feeling unheard, and in some cases, even disrespected. It is not about more communication, or more frequent communication, but better quality communication. Participants described issues with the tone, timing, and impersonal nature of the communication they received. They advocated for communication which demonstrates care, respect and compassion; that is clear and tailored to them. If done well, it helps victims feel heard, taken seriously and builds trust in the system.
In the second phase of our engagement with victims of crime, we facilitated workshops to co-produce recommendations on how the CJS could better meet the needs of victims. The main takeaway from this engagement is that improvements should prioritise the quality of engagement and support, beyond simply adapting the process. With this in mind, the report identifies four key recommendations:
1. CJS agencies must provide the level of service prescribed by VCOP. However, they must also focus on the ‘operationalisation’ of VCOP, i.e. what does it mean for a victim in practice? What will a victim receive in terms of support and engagement from each agency?
2. Agencies must work together more effectively and focus on providing a whole system approach. Better joined up working may be achieved through having a clear point of contact within each agency, who is made known to the victim and who takes ownership of sharing information. However, in addition to improved coordination across CJS agencies, victims’ overall need for a seamless journey supported by a trusted individual may be better achieved by having a Single Point of Contact who ‘sits’ outside of the current system and provides each victim with continued support throughout their journey.
3. Victims' needs should be assessed in a consistent way, notwithstanding the offence type. A needs assessment should be carried out at the point of reporting; information gained at this point should follow the victim through the system. Once needs are identified, they must then be accommodated by each agency, in an individualised way i.e. through tailored support and engagement.
4. Above all else, each agency should communicate with victims in a respectful manner ensuring that all contact treats them as legitimate complainants. The solution is not more process, more templates, more software (nor more formality). The solution is to move to an individualised, victim-centred approach, where communications show an understanding of the victim’s case, which are professional in tone but also demonstrate care and compassion. Communications should be about making victims feel heard, which recognises them as legitimate complainants and acknowledges their victimhood.
This research has highlighted that those within the CJS need to decide how they identify people with the ‘greatest’ need. They should ‘assess’ need, rather than ‘assume’ need; such assumptions tend to be driven by the severity of the offence, rather than the individual victim. Once agencies are clear on individual victim needs, they can then make more informed decisions about how, and to whom, they should allocate their limited resources.
Beyond identifying victims with the ‘greatest’ needs, any change efforts should focus on improving the quality of engagement and support, beyond simply adapting the process. This will require a substantial re-orientation of agents involved in the CJS, specifically in how they regard and interact with victims. It will require a substantial cultural shift towards creating a victim-centred, individualised approach, one which truly emphasises care, respect and support.
Perspectives will need to shift in terms of what ‘success’ looks like for the CJS. Currently, success is from the perspective of the system, and the agencies involved (i.e. a CJS outcome like conviction and sentence), rather than from the perspective of the victim (who may hope to feel engaged, well-supported, heard, safer, more resilient, less at risk of repeat victimisation). Thus, there will need to be a shift from ‘system outcomes’ to ‘individual outcomes’.
The joint inspection was by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, His Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation. The inspection assessed whether the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Probation Service understand what victims need, whether they meet those needs and whether they provide a good quality service.