Supporting Victims through the criminal justice system. the urge to place them at the heart of the criminal justice system.

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1 Supporting Victims through the criminal justice system There is some talk of giving victims a voice, indeed this seems to have replaced the urge to place them at the heart of the criminal justice system. Well our experience based on 30 years of listening to people who have been harmed by crime is that the majority already have a voice but it doesn t get listened to very often and rarely in a way that makes sense of their experience from reporting the crime right through to when the offender is released. So my challenge today is not to gift people who have been harmed by crime with the power of speech but rather to facilitate them by listening to what they have to say with emotional intelligence and respect. On a personal level from what people harmed by crime say, this would make a huge difference. In fact how people are spoken to and communicated with may be the key issue. But by listening and collating individual victim and witness experiences we can understand how the systems within Criminal Justice are actually operating not the theory but the actual practice. In 1992 Roberts stated Not only is it important to dispel the misperceptions the public hold towards crime, but it is equally important to dispel misperceptions criminal justice experts and policy makers have towards the public s opinion on punishment and crime

2 I would add to this we need to dispel some of the myths about how systems actually operate, the system cannot be judged by the existence of policies and guidelines alone. I would argue that people harmed by crime and those who have chosen to report the crime, have a right to have their views properly elicited and assimilated so that their experience is reflected upon and changes are then made to the system accordingly.this should be seen as a key element in the continuous improvement of our criminal justice system. Feedback from victims should be an essential element of overall governance in the criminal justice system. If we take the World Health Organisation s definition of clinical quality there are clear possibilities to read across into the criminal justice system. The WHO definition has four elements- Professional performance ( the technical quality)..surely as relevant for a judge as it is for a surgeon. For the police officer taking the statement as for the triage nurse in the A+E dept? Resource use ( efficiency) is the second element. All too often the things which victims complain about..like not being able to find out what is happening mask inefficiencies in the system how many letters and

3 leaflets and failed telephone calls are processed in the systems which fail to give people the information they seek? Another obvious example is what we have come to term delay and all the associated costs. The third element is Risk management ( the risk of injury or illness associated with the service provided) The parallel I would draw is the number of individuals who experience financial and /or psychological harm from having engaged with the CJS apart from the effect of the crime itself. Louise Casey recently calculated the cost to the bereaved relatives of a murder victim to be in the region of 37 K and the impact of hostile cross examination can have far reaching consequences to a victim s mental wellbeing far beyond the courtroom. The self-blaming which is a pattern in those who have experienced sexual violence can be exacerbated by the nature of questions put in cross examination. The fourth element in the world health organisation s clinical governance model is patient satisfaction with the service provided. I suspect you will assume this is where my comparison becomes unstuck. Aaha you may be thinking here we go, doesn t she understand it s not the victim s case; the criminal justice system is not FOR the victim and what about the defendants right to a fair trial you may even be expecting me to argue for a rebalancing of the system. You might even

4 be thinking that what victims think is neither here nor there because they don t understand the adversarial process; the process of law So what, if any is the argument for listening to the actual experience of victims and witnesses??? First they, as all taxpayers,are paying for the system and have every right to expect value for the investment. The recent public reaction to legal aid debate is an indication of the perceptions as to the value for money the system offers. Second they are one of the key receivers of the service if so it can be termed if you really care to understand how the system actually operates you need to hear their story. The existence of statute, policies, leaflets and websites does nothing to prove what the experience of the system actually is, indeed how much waste and inefficiency is actually built into the system will be clear when you listen to what victims asked for and the frustrations they experience in trying to get answers. In the health service unfortunately some of the biggest steps forward in clinical governance followed patients being very badly let down by the system if any of you remember the Addenbrooks scandal surely the CJS here would want to be assured of it high standards of quality and therefore

5 look for feedback from people who have experienced crime to understand how the systems are actually operating. Thirdly how victims are treated, just as how defendants are treated, impacts on the achievement of best evidence. And surely the achievement of best evidence is the absolute core business for the criminal justice system. In listening we do need to understand an important piece of context. We are all delusional, whether traumatised or not. We delude ourselves into thinking we are in control. We know bad things happen but we hold the illusion those things happen to other people other people who somehow deserved the experience. Otherwise we would live in a permanent state of heightened arousal and anxiety. We further delude ourselves that if it did happen to us we would manage it.. we would fight back, escape. Such delusions ( as framed in Lerner s just world model of thinking) enable us to function in, how we like to think, is a normal way. So when an individual experiences crime their delusions are shattered. They are forced to recognise the world is not a safe, predictable place and they and theirs are not safe. For some psychosis becomes a refuge from the overwhelming reality. For others they find a way of reinstating their delusions

6 that the world is essentially safe and the best way of achieving this is to selfblame; to find some aspect of what happened to which self-blame can be ascribed. It is not that the world is unsafe, it is my fault, if I hadn t been wearing...walking saying doing. Equally those who are associated with the person will tend to victim blame as a means of maintaining their own sense of a just world. How does this read into the Criminal Justice Systems position on collating the experience of victims and witnesses?? Do we have the whole picture end to end or a series of snapshots?? I will leave you to ponder on that. But my challenge is we need to understand the impact across the diversity of victims and not just concentrate on the most vulnerable because it is easier to feel empathy because of our individual and collective unease at the reality of the world, including the reality that sometimes victim and offender are one and the same person! There are examples in the criminal justice system s development in recent years which do directly connect to what is to be learned from the evidence victims bring from their experience in the CJS The PSNI initiative termed 4R has the potential to systematically update victims at key milestones in case progression and importantly to advise when the case will not be progressing further. Feedback from officers

7 giving the update information reinforces their own (pleasant) surprise at how much it matters to the people they contacted. The willingness of PPS to meet face to face with some of the cases we have supported in order to explain decisions in the majority of cases produces a very positive response from those who have been harmed by crime. The court service has mapped the feedback from victims and witnesses at key stages in the process and therefore produced valuable insight into not just where things could be improved but also where there is higher satisfaction outcomes which need to be standardised across NI and embedded into practice across the system. PPANI has established a victims reference group which even in it s exploratory meetings has highlighted the potential to improve communication and information provided to victims post disposal. So finally, I would like to leave you with two challenges today. First, if we do not listen to the actual experiences of individuals putting a face to the term victim then how do we know what really matters? The category of crime alone does not define the experience. What is the impression created for each person who reports whether the case progresses to court or not? It

8 is interesting to note that only 9% of self-reported victims of violence in the British crime survey favoured incarceration for their assailant. Whereas surveys across the population in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales would be around 50% favouring prison as a punishment. Shouldn t those who have had the direct experience have an influence in policy making? Second, without that feedback, feedback from those who have experienced crime and experienced the criminal justice system how can we truly judge whether, the time, money and energy which has surely been invested in recent times in changes to statute, systems, policies and procedures has actually made a difference and whether that difference is consistent across the system. Thank you..

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