The role and rights of victims of crime in adversarial criminal justice systems: Recommendations for reform in England and Wales
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Authors: Jane Gordon, Alison Gordon – Sisters For Change
This report compares best practice in the treatment of victims across five countries and finds England and Wales lag behind in providing substantive victim participatory rights. The report argues that it is time to acknowledge the special position of victims of crime in the criminal justice system and designate them ‘participants’, so that their rights and interests are recognised by criminal justice agencies.
The report analyses the development of international and regional standards on the rights of victims of crime and provides an international comparative review of different legislative models for the protection of victims’ rights across 5 adversarial jurisdictions: England & Wales, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States were selected for comparison with England & Wales because each of their adversarial justice systems is grounded on the English common law and each country has either fairly recently reformed its criminal justice system to strengthen (to varying degrees) the rights of victims of crime, or has completed consultations, inquiries or reviews to inform intended criminal justice reforms. Each, therefore, has relevant lessons and examples of good practice for England & Wales.
Through this analysis, it identifies effective legislative and policy measures that promote the role of victims within the criminal trial process whilst not undermining the status of the adversarial justice system. These are set out under the following headings:
- Legal recognition of victims as participants in the criminal justice process.
- Enhancing procedural justice for victims of crime: giving victims a voice.
- Independent legal representation for victims in applications for disclosure of confidential information.
- Strengthening enforcement of victims’ rights.
- Accountability for victims’ rights: independent oversight to monitor compliance.
Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales said:
“If we are to successfully tackle falling confidence in the criminal justice system, we only need to look to some of our international peers. The criminal justice system cannot function without victims, yet victims in England & Wales continue to feel marginalised and peripheral to the criminal trial process. We need to see victims as valued participants and support them accordingly.
Acknowledging the true position of victims as participants in the criminal justice process would prompt a long-overdue cultural change across the criminal justice system, where victims’ rights are not viewed as an optional extra, but a key part of how we deliver overall justice.
Victims’ rights are not a challenge to the defence, nor should they be a challenge to deliver. They include help to understand the process, updates on their case, respectful treatment, procedural justice and support as and when it is needed – and a voice when it matters.
I thank Sisters for Change for this immensely stimulating work, which will influence the design of outcomes for victims for many years ahead.”