The criminal justice system in Northamptonshire is “broken”, it has been claimed this morning, following the publication of a report into the treatment of victims of crime across the county.
The alarming claim comes following a survey of more than 1,000 victims of crime in Northamptonshire, along with the publication of a series of recommendations about how to improve the failing system.
It found a lack of consistency across the criminal justice system, criticised communication between organisations and concluded that more empathy should be shown to victims.
Among the 79 recommendations, which have been made by the county’s Victims’ Commissioner, Angela Sarkis, is the creation of a “one stop” service for victims of anti-social behaviour, extra training for police officers who respond to sexual offences and the establishment of a child victim and witness programme.
Support services should be extended to encompass wider family members and friends of people involved with serious road crashes, while “further progress needs to be made” to keep victims and defendants separate while in courts.
Police should, the report states, “shift culture to be more strongly victim-focused, empathic, considerate of victims circumstances and needs, and more appreciative of the perspective of victims”.
A new victim and witness service should be created to provides a “single point of contact” designed around the needs of victims and witnesses.
The report, which was released today, comes after the UK’s first victims’ commission was launched in Northamptonshire in April with the aim of promoting the needs of victims of crime.
Ms Sarkis revealed she had received more than 1,000 responses from victims as part of a survey, while her team interviewed another 60 face-to-face.
She said the review had revealed how victims and witnesses of crimes in Northamptonshire are being systemically failed.
It found examples of victims being made to feel like “common criminals” in court, criticised a system where victims of rapes and serious sexual assaults were examined by male doctors following attacks and of criminals being treated with more sympathy in court than their victims.
The report also called for a simpler way for crimes to be reported.
Ms Sarkis said: “A lot of the victims and witnesses we spoke to actually didn’t know how to properly report that they were victims.
“Victims of anti-social behaviour don’t know where to go, they end up being referred from one agency to another, having to tell their stories several times.”
Talking about sexual assaults and rapes, she added: “We have examples, and not just one, of young women being examined by male doctors after they have reported their violation and it just made the whole thing worse when it should have been getting better.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Adam Simmonds has said the recommendations of the Victims’ Voice report will be at the centre of “everything I do for the next two and a half years”.
Mr Simmonds launched the commission earlier this year and has hailed the publication of the report as a “dramatic new beginning for victims in Northamptonshire”.
He admitted he had not been shocked by the report’s findings, which lifted the lid of a variety of failures when it came to police and other agencies dealing with witnesses and victims of crime.
Mr Simmonds labelled the criminal justice system in Northamptonshire - and elsewhere in the country - as “broken”.
He said: “We have a criminal justice system that is built for a previous century. It is creaking and it is failing. The challenge now is for agencies to get agencies to say ‘we need to do something different’.”
He added: “I want to be able to ask in 2016, maybe a bit longer, if you are a victim, what was your experience and they will be able to say that across the board things were joined up.”
Chief Constable Adrian Lee, said: “The publication of this report provides us with a unique opportunity to hear the voice of victims in Northamptonshire. The approach taken is different to anything we have done before and it’s good to see the results published. We have to take account of the views given during the research, views which I welcome. Focussing on victims has to be right.
“What is required are both cultural change and a change of mind-set enabling us to re-think how we work with victims and witnesses in the future to ensure that the excellent service that this reports demonstrates is the service that we provide all the time.
“We now have to sit down with others within the criminal justice system to see how we can move forward with the recommendations set-out in the report.”