The Victims Commissioner (VC) met with the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) Victims and Witnesses Portfolio lead, T/DCC Emma Barnett(EB).
The VC and EB started the meeting by welcoming the current ongoing work in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on updating the Victims Code of Practice (the Code). The new Code needed to be clear and set out clear responsibilities for all criminal justice agencies.
They agreed the police have an important role with victims as they are the first point of contact. It was important officers showed victims courtesy and respect as this makes a significant impression on how victims view their treatment by the criminal justice system. It is important police officers display a good “bedside manner”, putting victims at their ease and . giving them confidence.
Victim Personal Statement
The VC expressed concern about whether victims were always being made an offer of a Victim Personal Statement (VPS) and referred to her report in August 2019, which showed just 14% of victims recollect being made the offer of a VPS.
EB acknowledged the challenge for the police was to make sure there were consistent practices in place when delivering Code entitlements. The Code is a national framework setting out what needed to happen, but how the entitlements are delivered is down to local forces. To achieve a more consistent practice and better compliance, EB has set up a National Governance Group, with members reporting on how they support victims and to oversee progress of the NPCC Victim and Witness Strategy of which delivery of a consistent, good quality service to victims and witnesses is a key aim.
Everyone on the Group is intent on supporting victims and between them, they were building up a national picture of how support is being delivered. The consensus within the police is that the delivery of the VPS on the part of the police is better than the report implies, although it is recognised that practice is inconsistent.
The VC asked EB if she had any data to back this up. EB replied that there was no single data source to offer a definitive picture of how the VPS was being delivered. Instead they were dip sampling, but were aware forces were doing this sampling in different ways. She felt police were delivering better performance where there was a likelihood of a criminal justice outcome. As an example, in one force recent data showed that in cases ending up in court, 82% of victims had been made a VPS offer compared to just 27% in cases where there was no criminal justice outcome. The National Governance Group would be meeting on 2 February and she would report back after that meeting.
The VC felt that the joint agency guide on the VPS issued by MoJ in 2019 was a distinct and positive attempt to make a difference in improving performance, although she remained concerned whether it was making a difference in terms of outcomes.
The VC had written to the NPCC Criminal Justice lead to suggest that agencies should work together to develop new ways of delivering the VPS, both in terms of when the offer should be made, who should be charged with making it and which victims derived the most benefit from it.
EB supported this proposal, but was keen for it to run in parallel with the work of the NPCC National Governance Group. She said it was important any pilots looked at the range of options for communicating the offer to victims, as this made a difference. It was important victims were able to choose which means of communication suited them best. It was regrettable there was no information on whether or how the VPS was then used in Court.
The VC was concerned about ongoing police communication with victims and the extent to which they were kept informed on progress in any investigation. This was very important. Many crimes were now being dealt with over the phone and the victims in these cases also deserved ongoing contact.
EB stated it was important from the outset not to create unrealistic expectations of criminal justice outcomes if they were unlikely to materialise. Equally, it was important to keep victims up-to-date when there were developments.
The VC had a strong sense that victims were just not being told what was happening. The police move quickly on to the next job and do not follow up with the victims. This was in part, a cultural issue with police officers not regarding follow up work as part of their responsibility.
EB suggested forces approach this differently but officers and staff do want to do a good job for victims, she described her own force’s approach with their leadership setting out clear expectations for frontline officers and staff and the use of technology as an enabler but acknowledged, at times, and for a variety of reasons, it didn’t always happen
The VC believed that special measures were not being dealt with properly. Magistrates and the judiciary were reporting that they were seeing victims in court who should have been entitled to special measures but had not been properly identified. The VC plans to undertake a review into special measures, how victims access them, how they are delivered and how they affect criminal justice outcomes.
The VC supported the notion of victim support staff and witness care staff working together in hubs to provide end-to-end support. This has the potential to persuade more victims to attend court and give evidence and it provided better emotional support. Often. victims not going to court was not an indication of their lack of support for the criminal justice system, but could be just an absence of an offer of special measures.
EB stated that the National Governance Group was looking at the provision of special measures and how they might get more data on delivery and more examples of good practice as supporting vulnerable victims and witnesses through the CJ system is another aim of the NPCC V&W strategy. She is conscious every force does it differently but officers do understand the importance.
Criminal Injuries Compensation
The VC raised concern about delays in police forces responding to requests for information from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. These delays impacted on victims awaiting their claim to be processed.
EB confirmed the National Governance Group was engaged with CICA to reduce the turnaround time for these requests. Performance was variable, with some responding quickly and others not. All such requests should be turned around in 30 days and progress was being made.
The VC said she believed the Victims and Witnesses Portfolio should have a stakeholder reference group, the same as other portfolios. EB agreed to consider this.