UK

Crime victims treated like the 'poor relation'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionLouise Casey: "We must make sure that the most vulnerable... get the most support"

The first commissioner for victims of crime in England and Wales says the criminal justice system treats them as a poor relation and an afterthought.

Too often victims found themselves a "sideshow" as police, prisons, lawyers and the courts focused on the offender, Louise Casey said.

She said too much time was spent trying to help all crime victims, rather than focusing on those in genuine need.

Ms Casey also said victims needed clearer information on sentences.

Her post as victims and witnesses commissioner was created after an earlier critical report of services by Sara Payne, mother of Sarah Payne who was murdered by paedophile Roy Whiting.

Ms Casey said that there was a contract between the state and individuals whereby the public gave up the right to take vigilante action in return for the state delivering swift justice.

'Squeamishness'

But she said she had already met victims who were angry with the way they had been treated, some who were confused by the courts and many who did could not see that criminals had been punished.

"It's unfair to call the system broken but it's fair to say that it's not good enough," she said.

"Victims and witnesses are not at the heart of the system - if anything they are the poor relation."

The previous government had introduced a code for the treatment of victims, but research suggested that 80% of them neither needed nor wanted specialist support.

Ms Casey said the problem was that the remaining 20% were being let down by what was on offer. This included nobody official to talk to at court, no explanations of sentences and variable support in getting specialist trauma counselling.

The previous government had introduced a single official to support families of murder victims - but victims overall had "no enforceable rights" and experienced a "maybe service".

"Police may ask you if you need support, you might get a visit and you might or might not then get help," she said.

"You could receive over 30 letters [about your experiences] or you could receive none at all.

"If you have had your lawnmower stolen, you probably don't need three phone calls from Victim Support which is struggling to provide support for children who have been abused.

"The system is based on process and managing it, rather than the needs of victims and witnesses."

'Locked up'

Ms Casey said her initial priorities were to push for clearer sentencing, a recommendation made by the former "victims champion" Sara Payne.

She said that criminal justice agencies had to focus on "unclogging the system" so victims or witnesses of the most serious crimes were not left floating around in the courts because prosecutors were juggling cases.

And she added that officials had to overcome "squeamishness" about publishing what happens to criminals when they are prosecuted.

This included helping the public to see clearly when young criminals were being forced to carry out "community payback" work.

Mrs Casey said: "Victims want people punished and they want them rehabilitated. Victims will be the first to say: 'I don't want this to happen to anyone else.'

"We need to get a lot tougher on punishing people properly in the community before they even move on to where they could be locked up."

Justice Minister Nick Herbert welcomed Louise Casey's preliminary report, sayign the government was planning "radical reform of policing, probation and prisons".

It's not yet clear where the spending axe will fall in justice, but the government has already announced it wants to close 103 courts that it says are underused or no longer fit for purpose.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites