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One in four cases, victims withdraw support for prosecution

he increase in the percentage of victims withdrawing support for a prosecution is very worrying and should be seen as part of an ongoing trend. It tells us there is falling confidence in our justice system, either to deliver justice or to do so in a timely way.

The reasons for this are various but a major factor is delay. When victims are being told it will take months or years before their case is heard, we cannot be surprised some decide simply to walk away, preferring to get on with their lives rather than have months and months of uncertainty and anxiety whilst waiting for the case to get to court.

Delays also mean more time for victims to be subjected to threats or intimidation. We know many people are frightened to go to court in case they meet the defendant or their friends.

Delays are not the only reason why victims withdraw their support. It can also be because they feel the criminal justice system does not support them. I regularly hear that although police attend a crime quickly and engage well with victims, they fail to keep them updated on how the investigation is progressing.

All too frequently they are not referred to victim services – even though all victims of crime are entitled to this support. And only one in seven of all victims say they remember being offered a victim personal statement. So, it is hardly surprising some feel neglected and disregarded.

Breaking the data down by offence type, there are some particularly disturbing findings. For example, almost half of all victims withdraw in violence against the person offences and rape offences investigations, and one in three victims withdraw from sexual offences investigations (Source: Home Office, Crime outcomes in England and Wales, June 2015-2020). These are the most traumatising of crimes, where victims need some sense of closure so that they can recover. Extensive delays in delivering justice are denying them the closure they badly need.

We know the backlog of cases waiting to get to the Crown Court has grown as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown. Despite huge efforts to rebuild court capacity, delays will get worse before things can improve.

If we are to reverse this trend of increasing numbers of victims withdrawing their support for prosecutions, it is essential that when listing cases, we prioritise those involving vulnerable and intimidated victims. This includes expanding the use of pre-recorded cross examination (currently being rolled out across all courts and only for vulnerable victims) to a wider range of victims so that they can quickly give their evidence and move on without having to worry about giving evidence in court.