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Chapter 2: Improving oversight and driving better performance

In this section, you will find the Victims' Commissioner's full response to the questions as set out in Chapter 2 of the Victims' Law consultation.

In this chapter the government seek views on:

  • oversight mechanisms and structures, examining how effectively the current system
    oversees victims’ experiences and what an improved system might look like.
  • ensuring delivery of a quality service, examining how we can better incentivise
    delivery of a quality service and ensure that action is taken to drive improvements, as
    well as imposing consequences if it is not.
  • embedding the victim’s voice, examining how we can better collect local and national
    data about victims so that we can monitor and assess how victims are treated within
    the system, and use this to drive improved performance.
  • complaints about the application of the Code, examining how to make it easier for
    victims to complain when things go wrong.

Note: for some responses, questions have been grouped together.

View and respond to the full government consultation online.

List of questions

The full list of questions in this chapter follows below. You can find the Victims' Commissioner's full response in the sections on this page.

Oversight mechanisms and structures

  • Question 9:
    • a) Local-level partnership working is vital to ensuring the delivery of a quality service to victims. How can agencies better collaborate locally to deliver and monitor compliance with the Code?
    • b) How could agencies be encouraged to consistently share data at local and national levels to support monitoring of Code compliance and drive improvements?
  • Question 10: What should the role of PCCs be in relation to the delivery of a quality service and commissioning victims’ support services, and what levers could be given to PCCs to deliver this role and enhance victims' experiences of the criminal justice system at a local level?
  • Question 11:
    • a) Do you think the current inspectorate frameworks and programmes adequately focus on and prioritise victims’ issues and experiences and collaborate effectively across the criminal justice system to do so?
    • b) Could inspectorates be reinforced further in relation to victims?
  • Question 12: Do you think that the current inspectorate arrangements allow sufficient collation of, and reporting on, victims’ data and issues across the criminal justice system? Could they be utilised further for this?
  • Question 13: What are the most critical functions to enable an effective Victims’ Commissioner?

Ensuring delivery of victim support

  • Question 14: Are there any oversight mechanisms, measures or powers used in other sectors (for example by the CQC, Ofsted, and FCA) which would be beneficial and appropriate to be used within the criminal justice system to ensure that victims receive a high-quality service?
  • Question 15: Would a more standardised and consistent approach to oversight, and to incentivising and supporting agencies in relation to delivery of a quality service for victims across the criminal justice system, be beneficial?
  • Question 16: What should the consequences be for significant failures in relation to delivering a quality service for victims, including complaints relating to the Victims’ Code? Should those consequences be directed at criminal justice agencies as a whole and/or individuals responsible for the failure(s)?

Embedding the victim's voice

  • Question 17: What do you consider to be the best ways for ensuring that victims’ voices, including those of children and young people, are heard by criminal justice agencies?
  • Question 18:
    • a) What data should criminal justice agencies collect about victims’ experiences, and at what key points in the process?
    • b) Can you provide any examples – in the UK or elsewhere – of this being done effectively?
  • Question 19: How might victims provide immediate feedback on the service they receive and its quality (such as text message, online surveys etc.)?

Complaints about the application of the Code

  • Question 20: How do you think we could simplify the existing complaints processes to make them more transparent and easier for victims to use? How could we secure a swifter resolution while allowing for a more consistent approach?
  • Question 21: What more can be done to improve oversight of complaints handling, including where victims are dissatisfied with the outcome of the complaint process?
  • Question 22: What more might agencies do to embed complaints relating to the Victims’ Code into their operational and performance management processes?

Introduction

Note: this section was updated on 1 February 2022 to reflect light stylistic changes.

Introduction to the Victims’ Commissioner’s response to Chapter 2 of the Consultation

This chapter is asking for ideas for a structural framework that needs to be put in place to consolidate the victims’ position as participants in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) and better deliver the 12 rights of the Victims’ Code.  The Bill would then put the building blocks of this into legislation.

The framework needs to:

  • Specify processes and responsible agencies for monitoring compliance with the Victims’ Code.
  • Specify feedback loops whereby learnings in one part of the system can be fed through to influence actions and change in another part of the system.
  • Incorporate a process dedicated to accepting, investigating resolving complaints solely concerning breaches of the Victims’ Code (currently no single agency has responsibility for complaints of breaches of the Code and breaches of the Victims Code are frequently ill fitted to be dealt with by the agencies’ own complaints systems).
  • Work as far as possible within agencies and structures that are already in place (not least for pragmatic reasons like time and cost).
  • Strengthen accountability and drive improvement.
  • And it needs to work across multiple geographic levels, to allow for the implementation of improvements at the national level as well as effective delivery at the local.

Figure 1 suggests such a framework, which might be adopted as a whole or in part.

In summary, we recommend that the Victims’ Commissioner who is required by statute to keep the Victims' Code under review but does not currently have the powers necessary to do that,  is given sufficient enhanced powers to oversee its operation at the national level (see answer to Q13).  The main vehicle for this would be an independent, Victims' Commissioner review of the delivery of the Victims’ Code, on the back of which she might take actions like discuss with the inspectorates specific extra inspections or recommend and lobby for changes to the Code or changes in practice around Code delivery.  Such reviews would take place annually, then when a culture of compliance begins to develop, less frequently perhaps every three years.

We recommend that Code compliance is monitored in two ways: (i) by the regular collation and publication of a core set of data by the Ministry of Justice which should be shared with the Victims' Commissioner for use in her reviews (see Q13); and (ii) by the activities of the three relevant inspectorates, which would include a rolling programme of thematic inspections on the Code, done jointly (see Q11).    

The Victims’ Commissioner’s role in promoting the Code and the needs of victims would be fulfilled at the local level by Independent Victims’ Champions (see answer to Q9), appointed by the Police and Crime Commissioner but functioning at arm’s length to:

  • promote the rights of victims, and seek to ensure that Criminal Justice Agencies promote these locally too;
  • receive and resolve complaints about breaches of the Victims Code with a working principle of trying actively to resolve breaches of Code rights during the currency of the case and not merely to work on the basis of pursuing remedies after the event;
  • oversee monitoring of delivery of the Code with local agencies, helping to ensure the mechanics of the process go smoothly (e.g. information and data on victims and Code compliance are collected and fed back in a timely way to the correct agencies, as well as used effectively within office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

We recommend that the Independent Victims’ Champions should become the focal point at a local level to receive seek to resolve and monitor all complaints made in relation to the Code (see answer to Q 21).

If those complaints are not satisfactorily resolved, they would be referred directly to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). The PHSO is an existing agency, in place to receive complaints not only against the Health sector but also against criminal justice agencies but, in fact, it receives few justice ones. It is the last resort after a complainant has exhausted an agency’s internal complaints system and can only be approached with the support of the complainant’s MP. However, it DOES deal with some CJS complaints and has resource and it also has powers to order redress. We see no purpose in creating another organisation to do the same. We see the PHSO as the appropriate national recipient for complaints about Code breaches that are not resolved locally.

We emphasise that we are proposing this new complaints structure – to Victims Champion and then to PHSO for complaints about breaches of the Code only. We think that a Code specific complaints system is the best route for victims. Most breaches of the Code are unlikely to fit into or be appropriate for an individual agency’s multi-level complaints systems and sometimes it is not clear which criminal justice agency bears responsibility for the breach. Complaints about the Code are likely to be victim specific, and a local victim focussed Champion with an active trouble-shooting and resolution role is best placed to pursue these rights backed by the existing national Ombudsman in default.

Where there may be other/additional complaints against an agency, they should be taken forward through the routes prescribed by those agencies with the PHSO continuing to play its current role as the last resort in those complaints.

We strongly recommend that the current requirement that complaints can only be escalated to the PHSO via their MP is removed for all complaints, – whether breaches of the Code or agency-specific complaints. We see that requirement as an unnecessary obstacle.

A framework for enacting the Victims’ Code

See Figure 1, which sets out a specific complaints process for breaches of the Victims' Code and is referenced throughout the Chapter Two consultation response.

Response to question 9

Note: this section was updated on 1 February 2022 with light stylistic changes and to expand on the Victims' Champion's role in promoting the Victims' Code locally.

  • Question 9:
    • a) Local-level partnership working is vital to ensuring the delivery of a quality service to victims. How can agencies better collaborate locally to deliver and monitor compliance with the Code?
    • b) How could agencies be encouraged to consistently share data at local and national levels to support monitoring of Code compliance and drive improvements?

Measuring Code compliance – data collection

The Victims’ Commissioner’s 2020 Victims Law Paper set out the history of how compliance with the Victims Code has been monitored to date. It states:

“The 2006 Victims’ Code was accompanied by a compliance framework, and yet, since that time, we have never had a clear picture of compliance across England and Wales. This has restricted our ability to identify problems and improve the service victims receive.

In April 2018, the National Criminal Justice Board agreed to a cross-government approach aimed at improving data and transparency on whether victims are receiving their entitlements in the Code and whether criminal justice agencies are meeting their obligations under the Code. Police and Crime Commissioners, taking responsibility for compiling performance data for their local area, would oversee a new monitoring process of measuring criminal justice partners’ compliance with key entitlements in the Code.

The new monitoring arrangements commenced in April 2019, but they have been beset with difficulties. These include: limitations in what data can be extracted from agencies’ data systems, resulting in Police and Crime Commissioners having to rely on data sampling; variable communication with criminal justice agencies on how the new monitoring system will operate; and PCCs being unable to compel other agencies to provide information.”

As we understand it, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is in the process of developing what they hope will be a clear and consistent set of metrics on Code compliance, which we welcome. We think two types of information are relevant here. Firstly, data that tells us who the victims are (so that we can, for example, ensure that different groups are getting equal access to services, and also so that we simply know the core demographics of the victim population, in a similar way to knowing the demographic composition of the offender population). For example, the age of the victim needs to be collected consistently (across agencies) via the date of birth, and ethnicity should be captured at an agreed level (e.g. ONS’ eight level classification).  A table of suggested data is appended. These need to be either easily extracted from administrative systems or collected onto these systems as an add-on.

And secondly, the metrics should include data on offer and receipt of Victims’ Code rights (e.g. victim has made a Victim Personal Statement; victim choice of special measures). It may be appropriate to use a dip sampling approach for some aspects of Code compliance, but the sampling criteria need to be carefully specified by MoJ so a proper random sample is obtained, and the information needs to be available in case files.  

This information needs to be augmented by qualitative data (we hear that many PCCs carry out regular surveys of victims and collate case studies, and the insights from these should also be used at the national level). Our response to questions 17-19 considers research methods in further detail.

It feels appropriate for day to day monitoring of Code compliance to sit with Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), who chair local criminal justice boards, have local responsibility for delivery of victims’ services and specifically hold local policing to account. However, in order to do the job effectively and avoid the problems outlined above, we believe there needs to be a legal requirement for agencies listed in the code to collect this data and supply it to PCCs in accordance with agreed reporting periods and a legal requirement to forward it to the Victims’ Commissioner for the national assessment. Recommendation 20 of the Victims’ Commissioner’s Victims’ Law Policy Paper stated that PCCs should be given the statutory duty to monitor compliance with the Victims’ Code at the local level and be given the statutory power to request data from CJS agencies as listed in the Code, in order to fulfil this duty. This is important because, as experience since 2006 has shown if hard-pressed agencies are not legally obliged to provide data, there is a high chance they will not.

Introducing the Independent Victims’ Champion

Some PCCs (The Deputy Mayor for London, PCC for Durham and PCC for West Midlands) have appointed Victims’ Champions, who can act as another lever for promoting the Code and facilitating delivery across agencies.  We recommend a requirement for all Police and Crime Commissioners to appoint a local Independent Victims’ Champion within three months of taking office – someone who is independent of all criminal justice agencies and accountable to the Police and Crime Commissioner but operating at arm’s length from the PCC (Recommendation 23 in the Victims’ Law Policy Paper).

This person would be responsible for providing local scrutiny of the police and other criminal justice agencies in relation to victims, as well as being a point of contact when victims are dissatisfied with local services, as set out above. The amount of resource allocated could be proportionate to the size of the area, as we believe it to be in the three force areas where they have been appointed so far. The Independent Victims’ Champion would play a role in encouraging collaboration across local agencies and reviewing the compliance data, helping to iron out issues with data provision, and encouraging action where compliance is shown to be below par. They would promote the Code locally, seeking to ensure, for example, that local criminal justice agencies were making all victims fully aware of their rights under the Code (which should include the dissemination of nationally-produced communication materials, accessible to all groups). The Independent Victims’ Champion would be the victims’ voice on the Local Criminal Justice Board, with a standing agenda item at those meetings. They would be a key local point of contact for the Victims’ Commissioner, a link between her national priorities and the position for victims at the local level.

Publishing data

We recommend that this monitoring data is published. The publication of monitoring data would encourage co-operation and provision of data, as those collecting the data would then understand precisely what it is used for and would have a stake in driving up the accuracy of reporting and also ensuring that their local-level metrics are as good as they can be. We, therefore, recommend that there is a statutory requirement that these locally collected metrics should be published, perhaps as part of PCCs annually reporting requirements or centrally, by MOJ (perhaps in tandem with the Home Office).

Response to question 10

Note: this section was updated on 1 February 2022 with light stylistic revisions.

  • Question 10: What should the role of PCCs be in relation to the delivery of a quality service and commissioning victims’ support services, and what levers could be given to PCCs to deliver this role and enhance victims' experiences of the criminal justice system at a local level?

The Victims' Commissioner's Victims’ Law Policy Paper (2020) made a number of recommendations relevant to this question, including the appointment of Independent Victims’ Champions and giving PCCs statutory responsibility for local monitoring of Code compliance, discussed above in Q9.

Local accountability – PCC plans for victim services

In addition, the paper made the point that there needs to be local accountability. In 2015 responsibility for providing the bulk of victim support services was devolved to Police and Crime Commissioners. Currently, it is not clear how their local electorate might be expected to hold them to account for their delivery of victim services. Consistent with the Conservative Party manifesto commitment to make PCCs more accountable, we recommend there should be a statutory requirement to publish their plans for devolved victim services. This requirement should form part of their Police and Crime Plans which is a basis for more effective local scrutiny of the delivery of local victim services.

Local accountability – commissioning and a duty to promote the Victims’ Code

Police and Crime Commissioners are uniquely placed to hold the police to account and can scrutinise a force’s activities, set targets, confer responsibilities.  They chair the Local Criminal Justice Boards, which brings CJS agencies together at the local level. We recommend that PCCs are legally required to incorporate effective promotion of the Code into the commissioning of services – making sure, for example, that services incorporate the Victims’ Code into their training, induction and practice. This would raise the profile of the Code within victim service agencies and help ensure they promote it adequately to victims. 

Local accountability – commissioning and the Public Sector Equality Duty

To ensure service delivery caters for all demographic groups equally, we recommend PCCs are required to set out within their Police and Crime Plan how they intend to meet their public sector equality duty (PSED) in relation to victims services and delivery of the Victims’ Code.  The collection of a robust set of demographic data (see Q9) will be critical to this function.

Response to question 11

  • Question 11:
    • a) Do you think the current inspectorate frameworks and programmes adequately focus on and prioritise victims’ issues and experiences and collaborate effectively across the criminal justice system to do so?

No, we do not. Our reasons are explained below.

Insufficient focus on victims’ issues in existing inspections

Inspection is, alongside monitoring, the best way of enforcing Code compliance. The inspectorates are independent, and they can announce their findings to the media – an important lever for change. Having an inspection programme that focuses on victims sends a wider message that the victim is a participant in the system and the way victims are treated is a priority for the criminal justice system.

We do not believe the current inspectorate’s programmes adequately focus on victims’ issues. For example, in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue (HMICFRS) PEEL inspections, the first set of questions (out of 12) is ‘how good is the force’s service for victims of crime?’. This is about call handling, deployment of resources, crime recording, proportionate investigation, and outcomes assigned. There is one mention of the Victims’ Code (‘1.5.2 The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime is adhered to’) and this appears to be a qualitative assessment based on an agreed level of contact and appropriate victim care and engagement. There is, for example, no systematic examination of whether key information is provided to the victim within the five working day window the Code currently stipulates, or one working day for those with enhanced rights.  We suggest these are concrete rights that are not difficult to inspect and should be incorporated into PEEL inspections going forward. We recommend that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), HM Inspectors of Probation (HMIP)  and HMCrown Prosecution Inspectorate (HMCPSI), as the bodies which inspect the CJS, are legally required to consult the Victims’ Commissioner annually on how the victim’s experiences are incorporated into their ongoing programme of inspections.

No Victims’ Code inspections

HMICFRS has produced few thematic reports which focus on victim issues in recent years, although the super-complaints programme has done so to some extent and can provide an effective vehicle for investigating police treatment of victims where shortcomings are believed to be systemic.

Likewise, HMCPSI reports only on a few narrow victim or Victims Code-related criteria: for example, the appropriateness and timeliness of Special Measures applications, and thematic reports on communication with victims (e.g. CPS letters).

Importantly, there are is currently no inspection activity that deals directly with Code compliance nor that looks at the system from the victims’ perspective.

  • Question 11:
    • b) Could inspectorates be reinforced further in relation to victims?

Yes.

We are clear that inspectorate activity should be more victim-focused, which may require the inspectorates to be resourced to do this and will require them to appoint staff with a remit over victim issues. We make recommendations about a programme of inspectorate work focused on the Code at Q12, below.  One notable omission is that none of the current inspectorates covers the courts – and since some of the Code rights involve the court system or the provision of information by the court system (for example, Rights 7, 8 and 9, all of which are concerned with trials) this may be an area where the inspectorates’ functions and coverage may need to be reviewed. However, we understand that some residual powers were retained when the former Courts Inspectorate was discontinued and can be exercised by the current inspectorates, though we are not clear whether they are actively in use or how extensive they are

As discussed above (see ‘a’) we recommend that the inspectorates are required to consult with the Victims’ Commissioner on their programme of inspections, annually. For every relevant inspection, a reference or advisory group made up of victims and/or representatives from the victim services sector should be appointed in consultation with the Victims Commissioner.  These reference groups will provide valuable input into the issues, problems and what the inspection criteria should be. The sector has considerable knowledge about what’s working and what is not working for victims, and this needs to be harnessed to help direct the compliance work on Code delivery and compliance.


Response to question 12

Note: this section was updated on 1 February 2022 to include requirements for the inspectorates to consult with the Victims’ Commissioner.

  • Question 12: Do you think that the current inspectorate arrangements allow sufficient collation of, and reporting on, victims’ data and issues across the criminal justice system? Could they be utilised further for this?

Improving PEEL inspections

As discussed above in Q11, neither PEEL inspections nor HMCPSI area inspections take account of Code compliance and, resources permitting, this element of force inspection reports could be improved.  For example, it would seem feasible to capture (from casefiles) whether victims are told of key developments in their case within agreed timescales.  On the basis of this and other relevant measures, forces and CPS areas should then be rated on Code delivery as a sub-criterion of effectiveness according to the five-point scale that is currently in use (outstanding, good, adequate etc.)  This would triangulate with the data collected from the police by the PCCs.

Introducing a new rolling programme of joint inspections on the Victims’ Code

We recommend that there should be an additional rolling programme of joint inspections specifically on the whole of the CJS’s delivery of the Victims’ Code. Because responsibility for the Code is dispersed, such a programme of inspections would necessitate joint working between HMICFRS, Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP). HMIP would be specifically concerned with Right 11, to be given information about the offender following conviction.

Such inspections would examine all 12 rights or a sub-set of these at an appropriate level of local geography (e.g. police force area, CPS area or HMCTS area, depending on how these map onto each other and the level of granularity that is feasible).  It would use a transparent system of ratings (this is something the bodies discussed later in the consultation, like Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, have in common, and the rating scales they use are all very similar – see Q. 14). We would envisage that such a programme would lead to inspections of Police forces or groups of forces, CPS and HMCTS regions (or parts of CPS and HMCTS regions) around once every 3 years. Although infrequent, we believe that the anticipation of such inspection will drive up standards of delivery around the Code (as they seem to do in other sectors, like schools and care), as will the possibility of negative media attention for local criminal justice agencies that are found to be inadequate in their treatment of victims.

While HMICFRS does not have the power to mandate change, it does sometimes carry out follow up activity following thematic inspections. For example, in August 2021 it published a spotlight report on fraud as a follow-up to the recommendations from Fraud: Time to choose – an inspection of the police response to fraud, published in April 2019.  We believe this is a useful mechanism to help effect change which should be adopted when the compliance with the Code is inspected.

We also recommend that the Victims’ Commissioner should be able to request that the inspectors inspect a geographical area or theme where compliance is shown to be weaker or failing. As discussed above and below, we recommend that the work of the Victims’ Commissioner interfaces with the work of the inspectorates in key ways: the inspectorates are required to consult with the Victims’ Commissioner annually on their programme of inspections; inspectorate findings (in particular the joint inspections on Code compliance) constitute a key source of data for the Victim Commissioner’s annual review of compliance, and we also recommend that the Victims’ Commissioner should be able to request that the inspectors inspect a geographical area or theme where compliance is shown to be weaker or failing. In this way, the Victims’ Commissioner would help to set the direction of inspectorate activity in relation to the Code and would ensure that inspection findings were systematically incorporated into her oversight of Code compliance.

We also recommend that the Urgent Notification process currently used only where the Chief Inspector of Prisons finds that prisons are dramatically underperforming to trigger the involvement of the minister is spread to the other inspectorates. We understand that this provides an incentive to raise the general standard of prisons as governors do not want to fall below this level. It could also be symbolically important that underperformance in respect of victims’ rights can require ministerial intervention.

Response to question 13

Note: this section was updated on 1 February 2022 with light stylistic revisions.

  • Question 13: What are the most critical functions to enable an effective Victims’ Commissioner?

The Victims' Commissioner and her predecessor have had some significant successes in making aspects of the CJS better for victims. For example, following repeated calls by the Victims' Commissioner, the government recently agreed to amend the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to protect victim privacy, whilst ensuring fair trial rights (see here).

The Victims' Commissioner’s 2020 report, Constitutional Powers of the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, examined the functions and current powers of the VC in comparison to those of the other commissioners and the criminal justice inspectorates in England and Wales.

It concluded that there are significant gaps in the powers of the Victims' Commissioner in relation to the Victims’ Code and that, at present, the Code is neither enforceable in law nor subject to effective review. It identified changes that could be made to close those gaps and enable the Commissioner to better fulfil her statutory duties, which are: to promote the interest of victims and witnesses; to encourage good practice in the treatment of victims and witnesses; to keep under review the operation of the Code (an obligation which cannot be fulfilled at all the moment); publish an annual report; and give advice to ministers on particular issues when asked to do so. In particular, the Victim's Commissioner does not, at the moment, have the power in statute to undertake the review of the Code, and this needs to be addressed in the legislation.

Keeping the operation of the Code under review

The Victims' Commissioner is established to be “a promoter, an encourager, and a reviewer of operational practice, and is [importantly] the only statutory public body with these overarching duties in relation to victims” (p.13). Hence the Victims' Commissioner has a singular responsibility to introduce a degree of accountability in how agencies, including central government, treat victims and witnesses.  If victims are to be given their rightful recognition as participants in the system, then their rights must be fully respected and delivered at each stage of the process in a parallel way to the respect for and delivery of rights to the defendant. A key function of an effective victims’ commissioner is therefore this oversight: not only keeping the Code under review but also monitoring its delivery and highlighting any inadequacies. While this is perhaps the most critical function of the Victims' Commissioner, it is the one where the Victims' Commissioner has the least legal power to act and we make a number of proposals to address this below.  

Making recommendations to improve the treatment of victims and witnesses

Allied to this, the Victims' Commissioner may make recommendations to an authority within its remit and has done so through a wide-range programme of reviews carried out over the last four years or so. No other statutory public body carries out a programme of research solely focused on victims, so here, again, the Victims' Commissioner’s contribution is unique. However, agencies are under no obligation to respond to the VC’s requests for information and data or to respond to the Victims' Commissioner’s recommendations. This contrasts with the powers of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, whose recommendations must be responded to. The fact that agencies don’t need to respond means the Victims' Commissioner’s recommendation tend to receive limited attention and take-up. We make proposals to strengthen the Victims' Commissioner's powers in this respect below.

Consulting with the sector and acting as a conduit between the sector and the government

In giving advice and making recommendations the Victims’ Commissioner may consult with anyone as appropriate and this is where her strong relationship with the victim service sector comes in. The Victims Law Policy paper outlined 34 many recommendations for the Victims’ Law based on a series of roundtables with the sector. These are the key changes that those who work with victims feel that victims need. The Victims' Commissioner is ideally placed to be a conduit between victim services and government and its agencies, consolidating and reflecting their views in an impartial and actionable way. Hence we see this as a critical function of the role.

Increasing the Victims' Commissioner’s powers

The Victims' Commissioner does not currently have sufficient powers to carry out her duties effectively, particular with reference to overseeing the operation of the Victims’ Code. In the report, Constitutional powers of the Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales, Cox et al., (2020) suggested a range of enhancements to the Victims' Commissioner’s powers to enable her to carry out her duties in relation to the Code, giving advice to ministers and making recommendations to criminal justice agencies. Importantly, these enhanced powers would place the Victims' Commissioner's on a par with other roles (commissioners and inspectorates), since currently, the Victims' Commissioner has the widest remit of any commissioner, but the most limited powers and the least resource. We make eight recommendations in relation to the Victims’ Commissioner’s powers:

Firstly, the powers relating to the Victims’ Code should be strengthened so the Victims’ Commissioner is empowered to undertake an effective review of the operation of the Code. This necessitates the following changes: that the Victims' Commissioner be given adequate resources to monitor and review the operation of the Code; that the Victims’ Bill places a statutory obligation on the Ministry of Justice to establish protocols for the data collection on Code compliance by agencies named in the Code. There are currently no such protocols and data collection on victims is fragmented, inconsistent and inaccessible (see Q9b); and that the Bill establishes a regulatory framework governing how the Victims' Commissioner may access relevant data and conduct a review.

Secondly, the Victims’ Commissioner should be given powers to identify weaknesses in the implementation of the Code by reviewing the operation and implementation of the Code (annually at first to establish a culture of compliance and then less frequently perhaps every three years) and reporting directly to Parliament. Cox et al suggest and we agree that the Victims' Commissioner’s ability to promote the interests of victims and witnesses is contingent on this, because, without a thorough review of how the Code is working, the Victims' Commissioner is unable to identify where rights are being left unmet and what adjustments to the Code itself might be needed. (Cox et al (2020) ibid). This is similar to the requirement for Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue to report annually to Parliament on the state of policing.

Thirdly, the Victims' Commissioner must be enabled to consult directly with victims on what constitutes good practice in the criminal justice setting.  The Victims' Commissioner should also be enabled to consult with other bodies, and there must be a legal requirement for CJS agencies listed within the Code to comply with the Victims' Commissioner’s work, including, where available, providing data on request (see Recommendation 18 from the Victims Law Policy Paper).  Currently, “the VC has no explicit legal power to consult with public authorities, voluntary bodies or individuals or classes of individuals, or to conduct training or research” ( p.30). Cox et al. (2020) note that explicit power to give advice, other than to ministers, and to conduct and fund research originally existed under the terms of the 2004 Act but were removed by the Coroners’ and Justice Act 2009.  However, the power to conduct research was partially restored and resourced during the term of the previous Victims Commissioner.

While encouraging best practice is one route to encouraging improvement, the other lever is giving advice on how to improve standards. Further, if both her advice and identification of best practice is to be well-founded, the Commissioner needs to be able to carry out research and interact in ways to which agencies are legally obliged to respond.  Hence the Victims' Commissioner must be able to rely on the cooperation of others, and, to this end, we recommend there should be a statutory obligation on public bodies named in the Code to facilitate and co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioners reviews. Relevant agencies should also be required to respond to these recommendations within a designated time period. This is a power the Domestic Abuse Commissioner (DAC) holds.

The Victims' Commissioner currently has a nominal budget for external research or running consultations and we recommend the Victims' Commissioner should be further empowered and resourced to commission research and run public consultations as part of her research function. The stipulation of a research function and funding would place the VC on a par with the DAC and Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner holds (see Table 2 on p.17 of Cox et al.’s report).

Fourth, based on the programme of research, consultation and reviewing process (see above) we recommend the Victims' Commissioner should be empowered to recommend changes to the Code if it is found to be inadequate.  Cox et al., argue that “as the body with primary responsibility for ensuring compliance with the Code the VC should have a statutory role in ensuring that the Code continues to meet the needs of victims and witnesses” (p.38). At present, there is no express duty on the Secretary of State to consult the Victims' Commissioner on changes to the Code. As the body with the best knowledge of its implementation, the Victims' Commissioner should be empowered to recommend changes to the Code to the Secretary of State and be consulted when changes are under consideration.

Cox et al. also recommend that the Victims' Commissioner is empowered to publish an annual report directly to Parliament on the activities of the Victims' Commissioner and the engagement of service providers with the Victims’ Code. The Victims' Commissioner produces an annual report, and both the 2019/20 and 2020/22 reports were laid before Parliament, but there is no statutory requirement to do so. This requirement to report directly to Parliament will better reflect the independence of the Victims' Commissioner from the government, which becomes all the more important if the Victims' Commissioner is to have a stronger oversight role over the Code. As already noted, HMCICFRS reports annually to Parliament in this way.

Lastly, Cox et al., recommend that the Victims' Commissioner be given explicit statutory power to recommend changes to the law. They argue that giving the Victims' Commissioner this explicit power is a relatively minor change that would enhance the constitutional role of the Victims' Commissioner and strengthen her ability to fulfil her duties.

Response to question 14

  • Question 14: Are there any oversight mechanisms, measures or powers used in other sectors (for example by the CQC, Ofsted, and FCA) which would be beneficial and appropriate to be used within the criminal justice system to ensure that victims receive a high-quality service?

There may be some things that we can learn from: in particular, the setting of standards, use of rating scales in relation to those standards, and standardised publication of data.

The CQC is an executive non-departmental public body of the Department of Health and Social Care. It sets out standards of care, monitors and inspects against these and regulates (‘Where we find poor care, we will use our powers to take action’). Within the Victims’ Code, the standards for some of the rights are explicit (e.g. to inform victims of developments on their cases within a specific number of days), but sometimes the standards are less clear-cut.  For example, Right 4 says, “You have the Right to be referred to services that support victims, which includes the Right to contact them directly, and to have your needs assessed so services and support can be tailored to meet your needs” (Victims’ Code, p.1). However, as far as we know there are no published standards around needs assessment (though there are models that are commonly used) and it may be that one of the bodies in Figure 1 should be responsible for specifying, for the purpose of compliance and inspection.

The CQC produces a spreadsheet with ratings of around 8,000 care settings across 8 domains (e.g. Caring, Responsive, Effective, Well-led) rated on the same five-point scale from outstanding to inadequate that HMICFRS use. The scale used by Ofsted is the same, though it is four-point, missing out ‘adequate’. To us, this uniformity in approach underscores the value not only of a transparent set of ratings, but also of the scale used.

The CQC can use different types of civil enforcement action in order to achieve its dual purposes of protecting service users from harm and holding providers and individuals to account for failures in how services are provided. These include imposing, removing or varying conditions of registration; cancelling registration; urgent procedures; and special measures. There may be enforcement procedures that are relevant to the Victims’ Code and/or to the treatment of victims, for example, the Urgent Notification process, discussed at Q12.

Response to question 15

  • Question 15: Would a more standardised and consistent approach to oversight, and to incentivising and supporting agencies in relation to delivery of a quality service for victims across the criminal justice system, be beneficial?

There is little doubt that a more standardised and consistent approach to oversight of how and how well victims’ rights are delivered would be beneficial to victims, who currently receive a patchy service from the system.  Recent data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) has indicated that victims are increasingly unhappy with the Criminal Justice Agencies, with 4 out of 10 respondents expressing dissatisfaction with the CJ agencies handling of their complaints. Sadly, too, we see from CSEW figures that those victims who are likely to be the most vulnerable have the least confidence in the system: those aged 65 and over have the least confidence of all age groups that the CJS is fair or effective,  and disabled people are far less confident than those who are not disabled (e.g. For example, just 41% of disabled victims are  confident it is fair, compared to 57% for those who are not disabled – a statistically significant difference.)  However, we know that there are many obstacles to achieving this more consistent and standardised approach to oversight, not least the lack of consistent national-level data on victims: who they are, what rights they have been offered and received, their case outcomes and actions in relation to those outcomes (e.g. reasons for withdrawal) – see Q.9.

As discussed above (Q9 and Q10) we believe the appointment of local Independent Victims’ Champions by PCC might be beneficial in supporting agencies in relation to delivering a quality service to victims. We would also like to see a statutory duty placed on agencies to tell victims about the Code and publicise it. Victims will only ask for their entitlements if they are aware of the Code, and this is an important way of holding agencies to account. Recommendation 21 in the Victims Law Policy Paper required that all listed agencies promote the Code and draw it to the attention of every victim.

A new monitoring and oversight system

The above questions outline the bare bones of a monitoring and oversight system, which will, we think, make agencies more accountable in relation to the Code and drive-up service to victims. This is sketched out in Figure 1. In sum:

  • PCCs are responsible for local level monitoring on a core set of metrics which agencies listed in the Code are legally obliged to produce. Independent Victims’ Champions have a role in overseeing the collation of this data and driving up standards where actions are found wanting. The data is published.
  • HMICFRS PEEL inspectionsHMCPSI and HMIP inspections specifically rate Code compliance/delivery and a programme of thematic inspections of Code compliance is initiated, to be carried out jointly by the inspectorates. The VC can request relevant inspectorates to inspect on aspects of Code compliance, if the VC has particular concerns.
  • The VC produces an annual report on agency compliance with the Code, based on local level monitoring data, relevant inspectorate work on the Code, and other data provided on request. This is laid before Parliament. The VC may make recommendations to change the Code.  There is a statutory duty on agencies to respond to any recommendations about changes in policy or practice to better comply with the Code.

Response to question 16

  • Question 16: What should the consequences be for significant failures in relation to delivering a quality service for victims, including complaints relating to the Victims’ Code? Should those consequences be directed at criminal justice agencies as a whole and/or individuals responsible for the failure(s)?

Researchers from the University of Nottingham have recently conducted some work in this area, looking at how to encourage take-up of the Prison and Probation Ombudsman's (PPO's) recommendations in relation to deaths in custody. The report notes that PPO investigations produce and exacerbate vicious cycles of harm and blame across stakeholder groups, including, importantly, staff.  The authors contend that seeking to fix individual staff practices in individual prisons only serves to blame staff and leave them despondent. The report concludes that the PPO needs to adopt a broader, systemic focus, examining the myriad of problems in prison that can heighten the likelihood of suicide.  This research, therefore, seems to argue for an approach that recommends systemic changes, rather than pinpoints individual or organisational-level failings. We can see the merits of this argument, which certainly argues against imposing consequences on individuals responsible for the failure(s).

We have discussed the Urgent Notification system as a lever for specific change at various points above (see Q12 in particular).  This may be one mechanism of redress that, being mindful of the findings above and so perhaps used sparingly, might yield benefits for victims.  The power in itself may incentivise compliance with the Code. However, another powerful remedial action that agencies could take is to be required to issue an apology where culpability is found following a complaint.  We find that an acknowledgement of a mistake and apology can be a powerful thing for a victim.

Response to questions 17, 18 and 19

  • Question 17: What do you consider to be the best ways for ensuring that victims’ voices, including those of children and young people, are heard by criminal justice agencies?
  • Question 18:
    • a) What data should criminal justice agencies collect about victims’ experiences, and at what key points in the process?
    • b) Can you provide any examples – in the UK or elsewhere – of this being done effectively?
  • Question 19: How might victims provide immediate feedback on the service they receive and its quality (such as text message, online surveys etc.)?

Ensuring a strategic response to collecting victims’ views

Gathering and responding to service-user feedback is essential for any healthy organisation. This is particularly important for the criminal justice system, which has an acute and ongoing impact on the lives of victims. Regular, strategic and systematic feedback is essential for providing victims with a voice, highlighting strengths and weaknesses and correcting problems.

In order to achieve this, all agencies within the criminal justice system should have a research strategy for collecting and responding to victim feedback. This should normally include a range of methodologies that proactively collect both qualitative and quantitative data including, as a minimum, victim satisfaction at key points in the system and measures of compliance with the Victims’ Code. Several criminal justice agencies, such as Police and Crime Commissioners, have requirements to consult. This should be expanded across all agencies listed in the Victims’ Code to ensure a duty to consult with victims.

Partnerships, such as Local Criminal Justice Boards, should consider developing joint strategies that avoid duplication and reduce costs whilst providing a broader range of data across organisations.

Any strategic view of victim research should include targeted exercises to specific samples (e.g. on a particular topic). It should also consider universal consultation techniques such as exit questions.

Correct methodology

Victims have diverse needs and any work to consult victims must recognise and respond to this. Furthermore, different methodologies have different strengths and a mixed methodology, considered within a research strategy, will bring the strongest results.

Large scale quantitative research will bring data from large numbers of people are able to measure key variables such as levels of satisfaction, whether victims felt kept informed and whether victims recall being offered their rights such as Victim Personal Statements. They should also include questions that are particularly important to victims, for example:

  • I felt believed/ taken seriously.
  • I was treated with respect.
  • Communication was regular, sensitively delivered easy to understand.

Where methodology and questions are consistent, this research can enable comparisons across different areas, highlighting good practise which can be used to identify and support areas with weaker performance. The government should consider setting standards for this research to ensure that they target appropriate samples of victims to deliver a representative response. We have heard concerns from academics that the previous large-scale WAVE survey excluded victims who were less likely to be satisfied such as victims of domestic abuse.

In contrast, qualitative consultation enables victims to discuss their experience in-depth, deliver rich data and consider complex questions. This data is extremely valuable and must be included in research strategies.

Every research strategy must recognise and respond to the Public Sector Equality Duty. It must recognise which groups are usually excluded and should ensure that it includes methodologies to overcome this. This must include practical considerations such as interpreters and ensuring accessibility. It should also consider how to recruit respondents and is likely to require consultations that are designed with the needs of victims in mind e.g. location, attendees, facilitator.

There is literature available from agencies such as Save the Children that provide a toolkit and principles for engaging with children. Other bodies consider the ethics and practicalities of consulting with children including the Market Research Society. These principles can be applied to criminal justice agencies.

Effective research strategies must have an appropriate mix of research methodologies. All methodologies must consider the specific needs of victims and must be trauma-informed in their design and execution and must conform to key ethical standards. They should include referral to support services following the consultations as needed.

Correct geography and sampling

It is important to ensure the victim consultation is positioned appropriately. For example, where large scale surveys take place, they should have a sufficient sample to enable analysis by relevant geographical area e.g. police force area. Samples must be as representative as possible.

Criminal justice agencies should consider where should conduct their own consultations and where they should join in partnership. For example, scrutiny sessions where members of the public dip check and report on performance are likely to be run be a single agency. In contrast, agencies may wish to consult in partnership on cross-agency issues where the victim is unlikely to be any to distinguish between one agency and another. For example, responding to complex crimes such as domestic abuse.

Regularity

Criminal justice agencies must consider the timing and regularity of consultation and include this within their research strategies.

Including usually excluded groups

It is crucial to include all groups in society in order to understand who accesses services, who faces barriers to services and, ultimately, how to overcome these so that all victims receive their Victims’ Codes rights.

We have heard from usually excluded groups who have pointed to a lack of accessible engagement methods from public services. For example, we have been told consultations for the Domestic Abuse Bill were much less accessible for many disabled victims. We understand that British Sign Language formats being made available much later than other consultation documents, meaning a considerably shorter response period for those relying on that format. We also understand that organisations representing disabled victims were invited to qualitative consultations that considered disability rather than broader topics.

The result of this is that individuals and organisations representing usually excluded groups face additional barriers in ensuring their voices are heard. This requires additional work, time and stress to respond.

We recommend that public agencies engage and consult with victims from usually excluded groups in order to ensure that their consultation and engagement is accessible and acknowledges the experiences of all victims.

Practice to learn from

Large scale surveys

There are a range of large-scale public service surveys that provide an example of the benefits of surveying service users and comparing data across areas. The Witness and Victim Experience (WAVE) Survey is an example of survey a survey in this area. However, there are similar examples across government such as the Best Value User Satisfaction Surveys that took place in local government every three years. These surveys enable large scale data collection that provides a benchmark for performance, measures this across different years and allows for comparisons. This, in turn, can highlight areas of good performance for others to learn from as well as poor performance where targeted action is needed.

Effective scrutiny panels

There are a number of examples where local scrutiny panels take place, often dip checking and commenting on specific cases. The quality of these panels can vary. Stakeholders have reported examples where scrutiny panels that involved cross-agency working and delivered good outcomes for victims e.g. reviewing and improving standard communications with victims.

However, we are also aware of examples where participants felt that panels were a ‘sham’ either because they were not conducted with enough frequency, participants were not provided with enough information or where they felt that they were not listened to. It is important that agencies, such as the CPS demonstrate that they use these panels and respond to feedback.

Furthermore, scrutiny panels must ensure that they have representatives across different communities to ensure a wide range of experiences and views are reflected. They must also ensure that they recruit members with the right expertise to advise.

Immediate feedback

There are examples of public bodies asking for immediate feedback from those that have used their services. For example, the NHS friends and family test asks patients for feedback when they are discharged from a service. This is then analysed, acted upon and reflected in ‘you said, we did’ communications. Similar consultation can take place throughout the criminal justice system.

Victims Panel and consultation with victims’ representatives

Consulting with victims’ representatives is an effective part of understanding victim feedback and needs. The Ministry of Justice has previously run meetings of its Victims’ Panel. This comprised experts and those with lived experience and advised and assisted the Ministry of Justice in its aim to support victims. However, the Panel has not met regularly, leaving some members telling us that they have felt badly treated. The Ministry of Justice should seek to re-establish these meetings and this model can be used by other criminal justice agencies.

Panels must include representatives from those who are usually excluded from such consultations and representatives must be facilitated to attend. For example, where ‘by and for’ services will be invited to attend panels, they must be funded to do so. The design of Panel methodologies must also be accessible for usually excluded groups.

Wider data collection requirements

The Victims’ Law Policy Paper outlines requirements for better data collection.

Victim demographic data

Better compliance with the Victims’ Code can only be achieved through the capture of victim data. Currently, most criminal justice system agencies do not systematically collect data on victims. We don’t know who is in the system at any one time, and we don’t know the extent to which they are receiving their entitlements under the Code. For example, to the best of our knowledge, we have no way of knowing how many vulnerable victims (e.g. children and young people under 18) are in the system or in different parts of the system at any one time. This point was raised by a number of our stakeholders.

Furthermore, stakeholders pointed out that poor data collection had hampered other efforts to achieve scrutiny and embed a victims’ voice. For example, one stakeholder told us that a scrutiny panel she had joined could not identify cases for male victims because this data could not be identified in the cases studies they were provided.

It is almost inconceivable to think this would be the case for defendants or offenders: that we would not know, for example, how many offenders were under 18 at the time they committed a crime. However, about victims, who we would argue have hugely strong interest in the criminal justice process, we can currently say almost nothing.

In order to monitor Code compliance, we first need to know who our victims are – basic information like which crimes they have been a victim of, their ages, gender and other protected characteristics, and whether they have been a victim before. Then we need to be able to link this to whether these individuals have been offered and received their entitlements under the Code through a centralised management information system across agencies, or within agency systems collating directly comparable data. The response to question nine discusses this further and links to a suggested table of data to be collected.

Data on whether victims are receiving the entitlements they are due

Attendees at the Victims’ Law roundtables repeatedly raised the important need for improved collection of monitoring data on service level provision of Code rights and related equalities information about victims and witnesses. We need to know from criminal justice agencies whether entitlements are being offered and delivered.

The Victims Strategy, published in September 2018, made a commitment to hold agencies to account for compliance with the Victims’ Code through improved reporting, monitoring and transparency. Other than the decision to devolve responsibility to Police and Crime Commissioners as from April 2019, it is not clear what further progress has been made.

Recent attempts to measure Code compliance have demonstrated the limitations of the information collected by statutory agencies and service level providers at a national and local level on management information systems.

  • In 2015, the Office of the Victims’ Commissioner and Ministry of Justice sent a questionnaire to agencies and found compliance monitoring varied greatly between agencies.
  • Currently, there are several large data projects underway across the criminal justice system. These do not have a significant focus on victims or Code data.
  • Our recent review of special measures shows very limited collection of national information about volumes of vulnerable victims or provision of special measures in courts.

Each of these examples suggest insufficiency of current data collection about Code compliance equalities information.

An independent report recently published by the Victims’ Commissioner has made similar recommendations. Our ‘Constitutional Powers’ report recommended, and now we recommend:

That a revised Code establishes protocols for data collection on Code compliance by named agencies.

If a statutory obligation is placed on public bodies named in the Code to provide access to data and information, that does not necessitate that those agencies collect information of sufficient quality or standardisation to facilitate effective review of Code compliance. First, the data needs to be collected in a standardised, analysable format. Secondly, these data need to centrally collated and scrutinised

We therefore recommend:

  • A duty on listed agencies to collect information about individual victims.
  • A duty on the Ministry of Justice to produce statutory guidance about what information should be collected about individual victims, including information on protected characteristics and the provision and receipt of Victims’ Code rights.

Data collection and victims’ services

Our response to chapter three considers the demands placed on commissioned victim support services, including smaller ‘by and for’ organisations. It is important to note that any data collection requirements are not unduly onerous on these organisations. We hear concerns that the data already requested for monitoring and evaluation is onerous and disproportionate to the size of grant they have been awarded. We strongly recommend that requests for data from these services should be limited and, to some extent, standardised.

Listening to victims’ voices at inquests

The criminal justice system can all too often focus on process and lose sight of the human element of a case. This is why we have pressed hard to ensure all victims are made aware of their right to make a Victim Personal Statement (VPS) following a conviction. The VPS is the only part of the process where the victim’s voice is heard in describing the impact of the crime. The opportunity to make a VPS can offer some catharsis to victims and help them in their recovery.

Pen portraits can have a similar effect at inquests, particularly in large-scale tragedies where there is a fear that individual victims become a case number. An inquest can be protracted, intrusive and distressing. A pen portrait can help humanise the inquest process. Families involved in the Hillsborough inquest made this point to the subsequent review undertaken by Rt Rev Bishop Jones. He concluded: “The use of pen portraits at the fresh Hillsborough inquests helped to put the families at the heart of the proceedings. The process was vital in humanising the inquest and was both important and therapeutic for the bereaved families. In my view the use of pen portraits is an important point of learning. And the Chief Coroner should ensure that families are offered the opportunity to read a pen portrait of their loved one into proceedings at all inquests.”

For this reason, we have discussed the use of pen portraits with charities who support victims of homicide. At our roundtable of these charities as part of our wider stakeholder engagement exercise, there was unanimous support for the suggestion that bereaved families following a violent death should be entitled to submit either in writing or orally a pen portrait of their loved one to an inquest. This is consistent with the view that victims are perceived as participants in the process and is a recognition that any inquiry can only be as effective as its participants, as discussed in our response to chapter one. Pen portraits encourage and enable full participation of the bereaved in the whole inquiry process and will harness their positive contribution to the quality and credibility of its outcome.

We recommend that bereaved families who have lost a loved one to a violent death to have the right to present a pen-picture of the deceased at inquest hearings.

Representation at inquests

Bereaved victims who have lost a loved one and where a public body’s accountability will be tested at inquest do not have automatic access to legal aid or other legal funding to be represented at the hearing. This was an issue discussed at length at our stakeholder roundtable for those supporting bereaved victims of homicide. In current coronial proceedings, unless they can afford to instruct a lawyer, the family members are reduced to bystanders, beholden to the coroner to ask questions they wish asked on their behalf, should the coroner agree to do so. This has been a cause of concern in several high-profile cases, including the first inquest in relation to the Hillsborough tragedy and more recently inquests following terror attacks.

Although inquests are intended to be inquisitorial not adversarial in concept, they become an arena where the accountability of the public body in question is tested. State bodies instruct legal teams and are unrestricted in the rates and quantum of funding and the level of representation.

As taxpayers, these families are likely to be contributing to funding the public bodies who may be responsible for their loved ones’ death, yet they are being denied public funding for representation for themselves. We are committed to ensuring that, in particular, victims of crime are given every assistance to ‘cope and recover’ from what has happened to them. This is the overarching aim to which governments over many years have committed funding for victims’ support services and which they have set out in the statutory Victims’ Code of Practice, the Victims Strategy and which is expected to be a central tenet of the proposed Victims Law. In order to cope and where possible, recover from the death of a loved one, it is well established that the bereaved need to know and to understand how their loved one met their death and to have all their questions answered and their doubts met.

By recognising families as ‘interested parties’ as the law does, there is a clear intention to allow them to participate. Our rapid evidence assessment, “What Works for Victims” found that procedural justice – involving being treated with decency and concern, appraised of all relevant developments, furnished with information, given skilled and professional support and allowing the fullest engagement possible in proceedings – is a key part of the restoration process required for the cope and recovery of a victim of crime. We are therefore calling for automatic, non-means tested public funding to be made available to bereaved families for legal help and at inquests at which a public authority, or private body fulfilling public functions, is to be legal represented.

Response to question 20

Note: this response was updated on 1 February 2022 to include reference to the Victims' Commissioner's 2015 review of CJS complaints systems and to strengthen the recommendations.

  • Question 20: How do you think we could simplify the existing complaints processes to make them more transparent and easier for victims to use? How could we secure a swifter resolution while allowing for a more consistent approach?

The Victims’ Code includes the entitlement to “make a complaint if you do not receive information and services you are entitled to, and to receive a full response from the relevant service provider.” However, the complaints process has been described as being an ineffective and inadequate mechanism for victims of crime, and described as “inaccessible, long, overly complex and does not provide sufficient guarantees of privacy and objectivity [or] adequate redress and remedies for victims when service providers breach their duties”(Manikis, 2012, p.149). The Victims' Commissioner reviewed the complaints systems of criminal justice agencies in 2015 and found that victims found it difficult because they did not know who to make the complaint to, how to make their complaint, or how to secure help when they needed it.  The victims’ services sector tells us that this is still the case and criminal justice agencies need to communicate their complaints procedures more clearly and effectively.

Victims of crime are required to address their complaints to the relevant individual Criminal Justice agency. Some victims may have complaints that straddle more than one agency. Each agency has its own multi-level complaint mechanism.

CPS

In order to complain, victims must:

  • Contact their local CPS Area or the member of staff involved who will try to resolve the matter.
  • If they remain dissatisfied, they can make a formal complaint, either a legal complaint or a service complaint, in writing. This will be managed via a three-stage process:
    • Stage One: formally recorded and managed by the local CPS Area who will look into the complaint and reply within 20 working days. Where it is not possible to complete the investigation, and provide a response within that timeframe, they will write to the complainant stating the date by which we hope to reply.
    • Stage Two: If dissatisfied, the complainant must escalate they complaint within one month of reply with details of why they remain dissatisfied. A senior manager will review the complaint and respond within 20 working days. Where it is not possible to complete the investigation and provide a response within that timeframe, they will write to the complainant providing the date by which they hope to reply. This will be the end of the process for complaints relating to legal decisions.
    • Stage Three Complaint refers to the way in which they have conducted themselves (a service complaint), and dissatisfied following Stages One and Two, the complainant can refer to the Independent Assessor of Complaints (IAC) within one month of the Stage Two reply. The IAC operates independently from the CPS and is responsible for reviewing complaints from members of the public in relation to the quality of the service provided by the CPS and their adherence to their published complaints procedure.

Police

  • The police complaints system, as recognised by Parliament, is complex with a number of agencies involved in resolving complaints.
  • Most complaints will be handled by the police force. Police forces are expected to deal with complaints in a reasonable and proportionate way. They may provide an explanation, apology or other information. They may also carry out an investigation into the complaint. Where a police force handles the complaint, they must write to the complainant to tell them the outcome and explain whether the complainant can request a review or appeal.
  • Some complaints must be referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). Police forces must refer most serious incidents to the IOPC, such as a member of the public being seriously injured of dying, whether a complaint is made or not. Police forces can also refer incidents to the IOPC if they have concerns, for example, on the conduct of their officers or staff.
  • Police and Crime Commissioners / Mayors handle complaints concerning their chief officer.
  • PCCs and Mayors also undertake complaint reviews, in some circumstances, when the complainant is unhappy with the way the relevant police force handled the complaint or is unhappy with the final outcome.

Courts and Judiciary

Ombudsman

  • If victims are unhappy with the outcome of any of these agencies internal complaints systems they can refer their complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. However, to do this they must gain the support from their MP.

Therefore, the complaints service includes multiple agencies that need to be negotiated in order for victims to make a complaint and it may well be the case, that the victim, looking from the outside in, simply does not know which agency is responsible for the perceived failing.  There is no single point of contact for victims to access the system. The process is laborious, complex and not suited to complaints relating to the Victims’ Code.

Complaints from victims are a key aspect to understanding how service providers are implementing and complying with the Victims’ Code. The VC’s Victims’ Law Policy Paper made a number of recommendations relevant to this question.  It noted that to make the complaints system easier for victims to navigate, a single complaints process for Victims Code breaches is desirable. The victim may well not know which agency their complaint is best directed to (e.g. the police or the CPS?). There is therefore a confusing array of avenues of complaint that victims must currently negotiate if they are dissatisfied.

In Figure 1, we have set out our recommendations for a specific complaints process for breaches of the Victims’ Code. These should go to the PCC Independent Victims’ Champion who would be tasked with the quick resolution of complaints where possible. For example, the Victims’ Champion would intervene to ensure that a victim who has been denied an interpreter receives one. If this were not delivered by the relevant criminal justice agency the Victims’ Champion would refer the complaint to the PHSO  

Currently, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman exists only as a further avenue of redress for victims dissatisfied with the outcome of their initial complaint to the various agencies. We recommend removing the requirement to engage the support of an MP to be able to make a complaint to the PHSO, for both Code-specific complaints and all other complaints relating to criminal justice agencies. This would make the service far more accessible to victims. The PHSO received, for the year ending 2020/2021, 5,330 complaints. Of these complaints, just 29 were made about the police. 

The suggestion to remove the MP filter is in line with the PHSO’s own thinking in their 2020-2021  Annual Report.

Response to question 21

  • Question 21: What more can be done to improve oversight of complaints handling, including where victims are dissatisfied with the outcome of the complaint process?

Complaints about breaches of the Code should go initially to the Independent Victims’ Champions, at the local level and then to the PHSO.  This would provide improved oversight of the handling of all complaints and failures in compliance with the Code. The Victims’ Champion would be the investigating body in relation to initial complaints relating to breaches of the Code. The PHSO, as ombudsman, would be the second tier and as now investigate situations where a criminal justice agency’s complaints process was found to be wanting.

Response to question 22

  • Question 22: What more might agencies do to embed complaints relating to the Victims’ Code into their operational and performance management processes?

We have suggested a separate complaints system for breaches of the Victims’ Code, which sits outside of each CJS agency. Analysis of the number of complaints and complaint resolution of both kinds of complaints should be part of the monitoring process and inspection regime.  It must also be part of the Victims' Commissioner’s reporting to Parliament.