When thinking about a victim’s experience of the Criminal Justice System, we would hope that they find the process accessible, fair and supportive. We would hope that no victims of crime would find themselves in a position of needing to make a complaint, that their experience, unlike that of the crime itself, was positive and helped them on the way to cope and recover. But the reality is that problems do arise and that victims are let down; unfortunately the justice system is not perfect in all respects or on all occasions. Sadly, the truth is that victims will need, on occasion, to make a complaint because of the way the system has, or has not worked.
So when victims may be discontented with the services to which they entitled for whatever reason, Article 5 of the EU Victims directive, ‘Rights of victims when making a complaint’ sets out a definitive standard of rights for the all victims across Member States.
For victims of crime in the United Kingdom, the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, more commonly referred to as the Victims’ Code means that there is a legal requirement for all criminal justice agencies to provide a certain standard of services to all victims of crime and in serious cases their relatives also.
The Victims Code clearly sets out that;
‘1.58 You are entitled to be treated by service providers in a respectful, sensitive and professional manner without discrimination of any kind. If you do not think that you have received the services and support that you are entitled to in this Code, you can make a complaint.’
So as it stands in both England and Wales, as a victim of crime, if you have reason to believe that a support service or a criminal justice agency has not met their obligations under the Code, you can make a complaint directly to the agency in question, and a response can be expected within 10 working days,. If the issue remains unresolved then within the UK, The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman can investigate any matters further in relation to the Victims’ Code.
But we need to consider whether we have a complaints procedure that is actually accessible, transparent and easy to use. Access to the Ombudsman, for instance, can only be gained via an MP. Does this demonstrate a person centred, accessible and responsive process when things down work? In January 2015, the Victims commissioner- Baroness Helen Newlove published ‘A review of complaints and resolution for victims of crime’ and identified that victims often are not fully aware of their rights to complain about a service, and often do not feel able to do this for a number of various reasons. As well as highlighting issues surrounding complaints her report also reminds us that every victim of crime needs to feel informed and have confidence in the system, and should be able to rely on that justice system to be transparent and accessible.
The Code is most certainly a step in the right direction from the days when victims and witnesses weren’t really considered at all. It not only articulates the right to complain, but sets out the process and appropriate manner in which all complaints should be dealt with and the obligation for a quick and full response from the relevant service provider. Ultimately, this does help in creating a criminal justice system which values and respects victims of crime as individuals, having differing needs and very personal, often traumatic experiences. This ties in with the key underlying principle of the EU Directive as a whole; that ‘People falling victim to crime have a range of needs, varying from victim to victim. To meet these individual needs, it is necessary that all victims are treated individually’
Of course, with 28 Member states we have 28 non-identical criminal justice systems and not all member states currently have anything comparable to the Victims Code. This is what makes the EU Directive potentially so important, and its significance for our fellow Europeans cannot be underestimated. Perhaps all states need to consider whether it is appropriate to have a single point of contact for complaints and if this might help assure victims that they will receive the justice they are owed.
Baroness Newlove’s report can be found here- http://victimscommissioner.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/A-Review-of-Complaints-and-Resolution-for-Victims-of-Crime_January20151.pdf
 The Victims Code- Section 9: How to make a complaint p58 https://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/docs/victims_code_2013.pdf
 EU Commission- Crime victim’s needs http://ec.europa.eu/justice/criminal/victims/rights/index_en.htm