Who’s looking after victims?
This is a blog written by our Director, Lucy Jaffé.
The HMICFRS inspectorate report on the Metropolitan Police released last week has called on the force to ‘get better’ at responding to the public, as inspectors found that victims’ decisions and wishes are not being properly recorded by officers.
The report noted that the force was not correctly documenting the decisions of victims to withdraw from an investigation or to accept an Out of Court Disposal (OOCD), such as a community resolution or caution.
“The force should record a victim’s decision to withdraw support for an investigation or to support an out-of-court disposal or caution, as well as their reasons,” Inspector Matt Parr stated in his opening letter to the inspection. “Recording victims’ wishes is vital to support the criminal justice process and to understand what is stopping victims from being able to complete the investigation process”.
The failure to routinely record victims’ choices means that opportunities to consider OOCDs are missed because there is little data about when a victim may or may not take this route, and whether the intervention was successful.
The current backlog of court cases is just under 300,000 for Magistrates’ courts and 58,271 for Crown Courts. Every one of those cases affects the people who have been accused and awaiting a trial, and all the victims of those crimes, who number many 100s of thousands. Given the delay and trauma that victims frequently experience during the court process, many victims may prefer to consider an OOCD, but may not be given the opportunity without the proper evidence base that comes with proper recording.
It is proven that victims benefit from being consulted on their preferred outcome – this is consistent with findings in the Why me? paper Restorative Justice – An important tool in the Government’s “Smarter Approach to Sentencing”.
Lower-level crimes have the greatest likelihood of being dealt with through an Out of Court Disposal, for which Restorative Justice (RJ) can be offered as part of the disposal. If the Police are not rigorously recording victims’ wishes, including their views on participating in RJ, then we are all in the dark about what victims want and cannot adapt services and messaging about RJ to meet their needs. This failure is also concerning as, combined with the poor support for vulnerable victims, it could lead to vulnerable victims being coerced or further traumatised by the use of RJ in the disposal of a crime.
If the Metropolitan Police were Victims’ Code compliant, they would be equipped with information and intelligence to lead to improved investigations. Despite the Victims’ Code of Practice being redrafted last year in anticipation of a Victim Law, the implementation and scrutiny mechanisms are weak – and this is not unique to the Met Police but is replicated across England and Wales. This is compounded by the lack of a national accountability framework and clear powers to enforce compliance. It is hoped that the Victims Bill will remedy this.
The issues raised in this latest inspection of the Metropolitan Police are so important to get right.
At Why me? we know there are dedicated officers and individual teams across England and Wales who work hard to get it right for victims because we are in contact with many of them, however, in London right now, the public will be rightly questioning whether they are getting fair and full justice.