It’s a strange paradox that as a society we talk a lot and hear a lot about the need to reduce crime, bring offenders to account, the dreadful impact crime can have and the need to offer effective support to victims. Yet we also turn to crime as a means of light entertainment: crime novels, crime dramas on television. I’m not sure of the psychology behind this but it’s real enough.
I recently watched an old episode of Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect (I’m something of a Helen Mirren fan) and it was certainly a product of its time: there were no mobile phones or emails; many of the protagonists displayed what could (being generous) only be described as “casual” racism, sexism and a view of the world that offered a clear choice between the “wrong uns” and those upholding traditional, stable and healthy values. Of course good drama often only really works when we can see clearly delineated characters and begin to understand their defined role in the proceedings.
So I began to wonder just how much things have really changed in relation to our criminal justice system. Yes, there has been a significant improvement on so many levels (not least in the abandonment of the behaviours noted above). But, despite all the good intentions, legislation and sea of voices calling for change do we yet have a criminal justice system that listens to the voice of those often most impacted by crime: the victims?
There has been a recent and welcome call from the Victims Commissioner in London to gauge whether victims are being well served by the Victims Code of Practice by trying to measure the compliance of criminal justice agencies against the code. This, alongside much work being done by police and crime commissioners is positive. Yet I can’t help but think that we are still far short of where we need to be. That’s one of the main reasons we have developed our Victim Choice Quality Mark which looks at how well organisations actually deliver what victims need – it looks at outcomes rather than just processes and policies.
Compliance with the code has never been as robust as it should be and I suspect that any assessment of the current situation will say the same. And I wonder whether this is the result of two things: the lack of effective sanctions against agencies not complying; and the fact that culturally and systemically the victim is still not “at the heart of the criminal justice system”. That particular mantra has been used, off and on, for well over twenty years. Yet I wonder if, despite the rhetoric, plans, good intentions etc it has come anywhere near to being realised.
Without a synthesis between compliance with any code, rules, laws and enthusiastic embracing of a culture and perspective that gives victims an effective voice we will never see the real change that we all seem to profess to want. This isn’t to say we should realign the system in favour of victims at the expense of defendants; that would be equally as wrong and bad for justice. But we still have far to go down the road of a justice system that really hears the voices of victims, looks at what help they need and delivers the support they need to meet those needs.
It is not only defendants who may need some form of rehabilitation; it’s something that victims, and indeed all of us, may well need throughout our lives.
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