Standing up for survivors of crime across the capital

25 September 2017

Anyone can be a victim of crime, but we tend to go about our daily lives thinking ‘it won’t happen to me’. Unfortunately it can - and it did happen to me. The truth is, crime can have a profound and lasting impact on victims, and too often there isn’t enough of the right help available. Time and time again, the justice system acts against victims. Last week, City Hall held its first ever Justice Matters meeting on how to improve the journey for victims, and I was there in my new role as London’s Victims’ Commissioner.

For 12 years, I was the victim of a relentless stalker and experienced first-hand how dramatically victims can be failed by our criminal justice system. It took me 18 months to pluck up the courage to report the harassment to the local Police, only for the officer I met to laugh and tell me I was ‘making a fuss and should be flattered by the attention’.  It’s these damaging perceptions that often create unnecessary barriers for victims.

During my court case, there were appalling delays, missing paperwork and last minute changes, which on one occasion led to a police officer arriving at my door at 10 o’clock at night to tell me I was due in court the following day. When my stalker was about to be released from prison I was not informed. My worst moment was when the Crown Prosecution Service dropped a key prosecution against him, stating he had the human right to continue his campaign of harassment against me. It was this final abuse by the justice system that led to me taking legal proceedings against the CPS for breaching my human rights, winning a landmark victory that pushed me to set up the campaign group Voice4Victims and help other victims of crime to access their rights and support.

My journey has now led me to becoming London’s Victims’ Commissioner - I found a way to turn my experiences into something positive.

Last year, there were 734,190 victims of crime in London recorded by the Met, but only 10 per cent of those referred for further support took up the offer. The authorities wonder why. But people don’t want to be seen as a victim or admit they can’t cope. I didn’t want to. Pursuing a case through the courts is an overwhelmingly complex process involving a bewildering number of case workers and agencies. It can leave you disillusioned, marginalised and feeling that it simply wasn’t worth the trouble of reporting the crime in the first place. Around half of trials deemed ineffective are due to the victim or witness withdrawing from the process or simply not attending – and when you have been through it yourself it is easy to understand why. Government cuts have left our criminal justice system overstretched, disjointed and struggling to deliver timely justice and support. Too many victims of crime understandably lack confidence in it, and don’t want to come forward to report crimes, act as witnesses or seek justice and support. Without the public’s faith in our justice system, it will collapse -  criminals will get away with their crimes and justice won’t be done. Our streets will be less safe as a result.

In my new independent role - created by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan – I am committed to doing everything I can to address these failings. The Mayor has committed to giving survivors more opportunities for their voices to be heard via my role and ensuring the needs of victims are met by the services on offer in the capital – including increasing the number of effective trials and bringing more criminals to justice.

In my years campaigning for reform of the justice system I have seen a terrible amount of prejudice and discrimination, creating a huge barrier to victims trying to access justice and support. Race, gender, mental health issues, the way you earn money, or language and immigration rules can have a huge impact. Women who are victims of violence can be particularly vulnerable.

I am here to stand up for survivors of crime across the capital and make sure our voices are heard and reflected in future policies, strategies and services. I want to dramatically improve the victims’ journey through our criminal justice system and ensure there is more understanding of victims’ trauma and needs - not just in the justice process but in health, housing and education too.

Last week’s meeting brought together the Ministry of Justice, the police, NHS and victims’ services and stimulated a real commitment from partners to work collaboratively and improve victim satisfaction. My first priority is to work towards developing an integrated victims service offering a single point of contact who can offer consistent guidance, information and advocacy. Many victims don’t realise they have rights and entitlements through the  Victims’ Code. Even if they do, the process of exercising those rights is confusing and overly complicated. That is why I am focusing on the Code, and have launched the first London compliance review, with full support of the justice agencies, to assess how these agencies are fulfilling their duties to victims under it. I am also developing the Mayor’s work to support victims, with a new longer-term funding settlement. This includes feeding into the Mayor’s new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls.

I am engaging in a constant, open dialogue to ensure victims’ needs and voices are heard and action is taken to make real improvements. Together, we can create a service that is transparent, easily accessible, supportive and inclusive, that we can all have faith and confidence in.

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