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February 27, 2015

are new laws the answer to victims’ dissatisfaction with the system?

Victims have long voiced unhappiness about their treatment by the criminal justice system.  Their unhappiness led to the institution of the Victims’ Commissioner and the Victims’ Code, of which the Labour backed Victims’ Taskforce approves.  The taskforce recently published their report which focussed on whether there should be a victim’s law.  It’s well worth reading and difficult to disagree with most of its recommendations such as “the Victims’ Commissioner should consult upon and devise a scheme for measuring victim satisfaction consistently over time”.  It is quite daring in its prescription – it criticises judges for their failure “properly to control proceedings” in allowing repeated and highly aggressive cross examination in cases of sexual violence and says judges should be subject to a statutory duty to hold a ground rules hearing in particular types of cases.   This would force judges to consider how witnesses should be supported to give their evidence.  They clearly disapproved of cases such as where a teenage victim of grooming and sexual abuse was cross examined by seven barristers over three weeks.  Such recommendations about court practice are good as far as they go, but far more needs to be done to encourage victims to report crime and to improve their experience after they do.  My 17 year old daughter and her friends would only report a very serious crime indeed (murder, stabbing, rape) to the police.  I have heard her talk of friends being victim of multiple thefts, assaults (including serious sexual assault), and drug dealing, none of which is ever reported.  It’s not that they have a bad experience of the criminal justice system, or if any of them have been in trouble with the police.  It is just not part of their culture to report anything – they can’t see why they should.  Despite my many criticisms of the system, I always encourage people to report crime, but my own 50+ friends only report minor crime in order to claim on insurance.  There is widespread lack of engagement and trust in the criminal justice system across all classes, and that’s a huge problem.