Victims losing confidence in criminal justice system, research suggests as coronavirus delays trials
Victims’ commissioner warns that bad experiences will make fewer people willing to support prosecutions
Victims are losing confidence in the criminal justice system, new research has suggested as coronavirus delays cases.
A report by the victims’ commissioner found “there is growing dissatisfaction amongst victims with how cases are handled”.
Analysis of data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales found that more than a third of victims were dissatisfied with how police handled their complaint, and 36 per cent were unhappy with the wider criminal justice system — up from 30 per cent four years before.
More than half of victims said police did not keep them well-informed about progress with their case — an issue cited as one of the factors driving down rape prosecutions.
One in five victims did not report their crime in part because they did not think the police would have investigated it.
Dame Vera Baird QC, the victims' commissioner for England and Wales, said the poor experiences recorded will “diminish the number of people willing to help the police and support cases to court”.
“There is concern about police inaction and the expectation of victims that police will not be interested their crime,” she added.
Prosecutions have fallen to a record low in England and Wales, with only 7.3 per cent of reported crimes resulting in a charge or summons.
Only 1.4 per cent of alleged rapes are now prosecuted, amid warnings that the treatment of victims — including mobile phone seizures and delayed investigations — are causing them to drop out of cases.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) says police have been referring fewer cases for consideration, while police leaders have cited the impact of budget cuts.
Recruitment of 20,000 new officers — which will not fully replace those lost through austerity measures imposed since 2010 — promised by Boris Johnson started late last year.
But the coronavirus outbreak has forced the College of Policing to shut its assessment centres for new recruits, while it searches for an online replacement.
Senior officers have warned that a “graduated withdrawal of service” will be enacted if the pandemic worsens, causing the loss of officers and increased demand from the NHS.
Emergency response, threats to life and serious crimes will be prioritised, sparking a warning that gang and drug-related violence could increase.
The prime minister has said that police will enforce new measures imposed in a UK-wide lockdown, but the Police Federation said it was “not realistic” for stretched officers to monitor compliance with all rules.
New jury trials and the majority of magistrates’ hearings have been stopped because of coronavirus, but there are fears that domestic abuse and other crime types could rise as a result of isolation.
Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, admitted that the outbreak would cause a backlog of criminal cases on Tuesday.
“My concern is the witnesses, the complainants, the victims of crime who are having to wait even longer because of what is happening,” he told the Justice Committee.
Dame Vera urged the government to ensure victims’ rights are protected.
Although a Victims’ Code is in place to ensure a minimum standard of support, including referrals to other services, the report found under a fifth of victims had heard of it.
A consultation on refreshing the code is ongoing and the government has pledged to enshrine the rights in law.
“2020 offers the potential to transform the victim landscape,” Dame Vera said.
A government spokesperson said: “We’re pleased the majority of victims have a positive experience of the criminal justice system but know there is more to be done.
“We continue drive improvements at every level, including by boosting funding for vital support services and strengthening victim’s rights through a Victims’ Law.“