Victims are losing faith in the criminal justice system according to a new survey of victims, which suggests less than half of victims would report to the police again based on their experience of the justice system.

  • Survey finds just 43% of victims would report a crime again based on their previous experiences of the criminal justice system. Just half would attend court again, down from 67% in 2020.
  • Ethnic minorities are less likely to feel like they were treated fairly and respectfully by police.
  • 66% of victims told the Commissioner they had to wait too long before their case came to court; only 9% of victims thought the courts dealt with cases promptly.

Around 600 victims responded to a survey by the Victims’ Commissioner, which found just 43% would be likely to report to authorities in the future, with over a third (34%) saying they wouldn’t report a crime again.

Launched in the summer, the survey sought to understand victims’ priorities and gain insights into their experiences of the criminal justice system over the past three years, including during the Covid-19 pandemic. Around half of the responses were from victims who reported or had their crime investigated during the pandemic, however, there were few substantive differences in responses compared to those whose cases were dealt with earlier.

Notwithstanding the effects of the pandemic, the findings suggest a worrying picture for the justice system, with victim confidence shown to be low. Many victims expressed their disappointment with the criminal justice system, especially the court process and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS): 83% said they didn’t have confidence in the effectiveness of the CPS in prosecuting those accused of a crime.

Above all, the survey found that victims most want to be ‘treated well’ by the criminal justice system: 48% said that having the crime fully investigated was the most important or second most important factor for them, with 38% saying being treated fairly and with respect by the police was most important or second most important factor to them. Just 24% rated the perpetrator being charged with a crime as the most or second most important factor.

However, only 42% felt they had been treated fairly and with respect by the police, with many feeling their reports hadn’t been taken seriously and there was a lack of action by the police.

Responding to the survey’s findings, Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner, said: “As this survey shows, victims want to be treated with fairness and respect by the police, for the crime to be investigated and to kept informed of the progress of the case. These are hardly arduous asks – indeed, they are very clearly rights to which victims are entitled as set out in the Victims’ Code. But time and time again, the police, CPS and other justice agencies have been found wanting, with the CPS, in particular, shown to be inconsiderate of victims’ needs. All too often victims are still treated as an afterthought – a bystander to proceedings, rather than the valued participant they should be.”

There was an alarming difference in victims’ experiences with the police according to the victim’s ethnicity. Only 33% of those from an ethnic minority background felt the police treated them fairly and with respect, as opposed to 44% among those from a white background. Similarly, only 16% of ethnic minority respondents agreed with the statement, ‘victims are fully supported by the police,’ compared to 26% of those from white backgrounds.

Many victims said it was difficult to obtain information and updates at various points throughout their criminal justice journey. The impact of Covid-19 on investigation times was noticeable, with 60% of those whose cases were reported or investigated during the pandemic saying the investigation took too long, compared to 47% of those whose cases were dealt with before the pandemic. This was despite an overall drop in reported crime during the pandemic.

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.” Another: “You have no voice and are expected to put up with delays, misinformation and miscommunication.”

In a further sign that the growing courts backlog is damaging victim confidence, only 9% of victims thought the courts dealt with cases promptly. The Crown Court backlog of cases, which was further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, now stands at around 59,000 cases.

The picture didn’t improve once they reached court. Just half (50%) of those who reached court said they would attend again and over a quarter (26%) said they would not. This figure is considerably lower than the 67% who said they would attend court in the Victims’ Commissioner’s 2020 survey.

While victims of crime in England and Wales have the right to information and support and some procedural rights in the Victims’ Code, these are not currently enforceable. The government is set to consult on a long-awaited Victims Law, which they have promised will put victims’ rights on a statutory footing for the first time and ensure justice agencies are held to account for delivering them.

Reflecting on the promised Law, Dame Vera Baird said: “Far too often, victim entitlements are treated as favours rather than rights – a ‘desirable’ rather than a necessity. But justice cannot be delivered without victims and the criminal justice system has a key role to play in helping them to manage what has happened to them. The Victims Law is the government’s chance to finally tackle the dilemma that victims’ rights aren’t working, aren’t enforceable and are rights only as long as the agencies responsible want victims to have them. 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.”

Other findings:

  • Victims said they found the court process challenging. Less than 10% felt they were supported by the courts or by the CPS, with 58% feeling their needs and wishes were not considered. Many said that special measures that had been requested were not put in place.
  • There were concerns that victims’ services were under-funded, leading to long waiting lists and difficulties accessing some services.
  • A number of the survey’s responses came from serving police or prison officers. They felt that the crimes committed against them were not treated seriously by both the police and the courts and were seen more as an ‘occupational hazard’ than a true assault.
  • There were encouraging signs that victims are increasingly being offered the opportunity to make a Victim Personal Statement (VPS). 39% said they were offered the opportunity to make a VPS, rising to 51% since the pandemic. This contrasts with only 14% in Crime Survey data.
  • Only 29% of victims are aware of the Victims’ Code, suggesting more needs to be done to raise awareness of victims’ entitlements.

Download the Victims’ Commissioner’s 2021 Victim Survey (PDF).

Editors’ Notes

  • For press queries or requests for interview, please contact Tom Cracknell – 07562 431727 | cracknell@victimscommissioner.org.uk
  • The survey report is to be published on Thursday 9 September. It will be published on the Victims’ Commissioner website.
  • Survey: The Victims’ Commissioner received 587 responses to an online survey (28 May to 5 July 2021). The survey was posted on the Victims’ Commissioner’s website and social media.
    • The sample was self-selecting, having chosen to fill in the questionnaire, and cannot be viewed as representative of the population (i.e. all victims).
    • 569 respondents had reported or been a victim of crime in the last three years. Almost half of these cases had been reported or dealt with by the criminal justice system during COVID.
    • The survey asked questions related to how victims were treated by criminal justice agencies from the initial incident, through the police investigation to any subsequent court hearing.
  • Courts backlog: At the end of Q1 2021 there were 59,532 outstanding cases at the Crown Court, an increase of 45% on Q1 2020 (41,015 cases) and 4% on the previous quarter (57.047). This is the highest level of outstanding cases seen since the series began (since 2014) and continues increases seen since Q1 2019. See: Criminal Justice System Statistics Quarterly: April to June 2020 (publishing.service.gov.uk)
  • Special Measures: The survey’s findings come after 2021 research by the Victims’ Commissioner into the provision of special measures in court found that some courts were still not set up to deliver the appropriate protections.
  • Victim Personal Statement: A VPS gives victims a voice in proceedings, offering victims the opportunity to express how the crime affected them, and will be considered by the court when deciding upon an appropriate sentence. In 2019, the Victims’ Commissioner found only one in seven (14%) were offered the chance by police to make a statement.