Week 8: Victim rights (future)

This week we look at recent debates related to victim rights, and explore new ideas being tested in different jurisdictions.

In some jurisdictions, dogs are being used in court to support vulnerable victims and witnesses. Image: Louise Grove CC BY 4.0
In some jurisdictions, dogs are being used in court to support vulnerable victims and witnesses. Image: Louise Grove CC BY 4.0

Are changes needed?

The 2002 British Crime Survey found that whilst 77% of the public are confident that the criminal justice system respects the rights of the accused and treats them fairly, only 32% are confident that the system meets the needs of victims: Defendants rights perceived as having priority

Gaps between policy and practice e.g. special measures are often applied for late which reduces the chance of vulnerable and intimidated victims and witnesses being able to make the most of these options.

There are inconsistencies with the ways victims are treated in different countries

There is political enthusiasm for victim rights agenda. Walklate (2012) suggests this is to enable continued legitimacy of criminal justice system (we rely on victims coming forward or justice does not happen) and because of populist pressures. Jackson (2003) is more critical, and says that victim centred policies are often used as a cover for punitive policies.

The 2002 White Paper ‘Justice for All’ suggested the idea of rebalancing the criminal justice system – we often hear about the concept of putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. This is a key discussion point within Victimology.

What rights?

Jackson (2003) suggests that rights can be viewed as outcome related e.g. improving the conviction rate for certain crime types or process related e.g. allowing victims to visit the court room before the trial so that they know what to expect. Outcome measures arguably draw more attention, yet risk making the system unfair to defendants.

European directive for crime victims

The EU directive on minimum standards will ensure that across all 27 EU countries, victims of crime:

  • are treated with respect and police, prosecutors and judges are trained to properly deal with them
  • get information on their rights and their case in a way they understand
  • have access to victim support in every member state
  • can participate in proceedings if they want and are helped to attend the trial
  • are protected while police investigate the crime and during court proceedings
  • and vulnerable victims (such as children, victims of rape, or those with disabilities) are identified and are properly protected

(European Commission, 2012)

Member states should ensure they comply with this directive by November 2014.

Police and Crime Commissioners

We have had PCCs in place since November 2012. They are responsible for funding choices for victim services. This may work in the favour of victims, with more money being directed to services. However, it may result in a postcode lottery for victims, with support varying depending on the area they live, or were a victims – this is something seen in other jurisdictions such as the USA. It may also risk decisions being made on political or financial grounds, rather than what is best for victims.

Innovative options: Courthouse dogs

If you want to read more, take a look at courthousedogs.com – but remember the information on this website is not necessarily an unbiased source on effectiveness.

The future…

We often look at a scenario of Defendant vs. victim – this is not a great way of looking at the issues. It is not a ‘zero sum’ issue – we should be focused on the right outcome in terms of justice.

Key issues to consider in the future are:

  • Reducing delays in implementing measures for victims (e.g. the long gap between Victims’ Commissioners)
  • Earlier help for victims (e.g. identifying perpetrator)
  • Greater support for repeat victims

[gdoc link=”https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1QaqkX_kqu8LJ55uOKhUBCb3QUfkKv9l1EEHpGTVJa6M/pub?start=false&loop=false&delayms=3000″ size=”medium”]

You may also access the slides directly here

Relevant links:
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