The survey was conducted by the Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC as part of her submission to the Victims’ Code of Practice review

New research conducted by the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales Dame Vera Baird QC has provided a compelling insight into victims’ experience of the criminal justice system.

The findings are from a victims’ survey which was conducted online from 7 April to 5 May 2020 and formed part of the Victims’ Commissioner’s submission to the Government’s consultation on the Victims’ Code.

The Victim’s Commissioner asked anyone who had reported a crime in the last three years to respond to the survey about their experiences in the criminal justice system. More than 400 people responded with the results showing:

Interaction with Police

• Respondents placed greater importance on being treated fairly and with respect by the police than on the perpetrator being arrested, being kept informed about the police investigation or being referred to victims’ services.

• More than half of respondents felt the police investigation took too long. Only a minority agreed that they were kept regularly informed or received all the information they needed about the police investigation.

• Some respondents said the police treated their reports as ‘not a priority’. Others said that they felt they had to chase the police to get information about the investigation.

• Less than half of those asked said that they would report a crime again, based on their experience of reporting this time

Experience at Court 

• Respondents placed greater importance on having judges understand the impact of the incident on the victim than the perpetrator being convicted of the crime or being treated fairly and with respect by court staff and lawyers.

• Two thirds of respondents felt they had to wait too long for the case to start. Only a minority agreed that the sentence was clearly explained to them, that judges and magistrates take account of the impact of the incident on victims or that victims are given enough support during the court process.

The survey also gave participants the option of giving additional detail regarding their experience in free text boxes.

Anonymised quotes from victims include statements such as this from a female respondent highlight how isolating the process can be: “I felt that I was mistreated and lied to. It felt like the incident was very much the ‘CPS case’ not something that had happened to me… I felt like I was stuck on the outside, looking in to a bunch of people who didn’t care as it didn’t affect them, and there was nothing I could do to help myself.

And this from another woman: “[It was the] worst experience of my life. The system is not set up for victims and needs to be completely overhauled.”

One man who completed the survey said: “As a male victim of domestic abuse, I did not feel believed and the trauma of which I am still living with now… I am really disappointed in my experience and I don’t know whether it is just overworked/overstretched staff, but I just don’t feel that I was supported and or listened to as a victim.”

With this male participant focussing on access to support: “I wasn’t referred to any support services, but I have learned about them since and I wish I’d had support at the time, this would have made a difference.”

There were also some victims who praised elements of the process with statements such as this from a male participant who said: “It was a surprise to be as informed as I was,” and this from a female respondent: “The police officers were knowledgeable, compassionate and considerate. Despite it being a traumatic experience to go though I wasn’t rushed, and I was believed. If it was guaranteed that all victims would have this experience, I guess more would report.”

Responding to the findings Dame Vera said: “It was vitally important for me to ensure that victims’ voices formed part of my submission and their lived experience shared.

“The victim of any crime should be at the heart of the criminal justice process. But this research shows this is not how many victims perceived it.

“When respondents use descriptions such as ‘mistreated’, ‘disappointed’ and ‘the worst experience of my life’ to reflect who they felt about the process something is not right,” she said.

Continuing: “This is why this consultation on the Victims’ Code is so important. It needs to be bolstered, expanded and enforceable and the rights it creates enshrined in statute with the introduction of a Victims’ Law.

“The Government has the opportunity to make a real difference to victims’ lives and fulfil its commitment to placing them at the heart of the criminal justice system it must take it,” Dame Vera concluded.

The Victims’ Commissioner’s submission letter to Alex Chalk MP can be read here,  the annex here and the full survey results here.