Lobby the Government to sponsor a pilot Victims' Lawyer scheme
This commitment was set at a time when it was anticipated that a Victims Law would progress through Parliament and potentially facilitate victim representation within the court room.
However, with national progress on the Victims Law having stalled, the focus of this work has switched to providing vulnerable victims with enhanced support up to the point of any court hearing to assist them in giving the most robust evidence possible and to influence criminal justice outcomes accordingly.
Upon re-election in 2016, the PCC pledged to lobby the Government to sponsor a pilot scheme in Dorset for a Victims’ Lawyer to support vulnerable victims at court. This individual would ensure victims are aware of their rights and the criminal justice process, prepare them for court, and in doing so, allow victims to give the best evidence possible, thus strengthening the prospect of a conviction.
The failure for the anticipated Victims’ Law to pass into legislation has hindered work to provide this direct support for victims within the court room. However, the PCC was determined to provide support for vulnerable victims attending court. Following careful research and consultation with criminal justice agencies, he therefore proposed to introduce a Complainant Liaison Officer (CLO) pilot in Dorset.
The PCC was successful in the bid for Home Office funding to scope and run a CLO pilot. The scoping work commenced in October 2018 and a vital part of the scoping process included taking informal legal advice from the judiciary and criminal justice agencies.
This due diligence was completed in February 2019, and has helped develop a pilot that links with existing services, is scalable, and which will address one or more of the identified ways to improve the victims’ journey.
A project was developed to pilot a CLO role, based within the court building, but outside the courtroom. The pilot started in 2019 with one CLO working between Poole Magistrates Court and Bournemouth Crown Court.
The CLO provides information relating to the criminal justice process and provides explanations of legal terminology in an easy, accessible and understandable format that the victim can understand. The CLO ensures victims are aware of and are receiving their entitlements under the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime.
This is a personal, tailored approach supporting services already available from Witness Care and the Witness Service. The vulnerable victim or witness is introduced to the CLO at the initial stage of attending court and the CLO is available onsite to answer any queries or address any concerns. As well as a face-to-face service, the CLO is also able to provide a telephone or online service that provides further accessibility.
The pilot is still in its early stages but some benefits have already been realised:
- Victims have provided feedback that the CLO should be available to all victims and witnesses attending court.
- Victims appreciated the clear and easy to understand explanations provided by the CLO.
- Victims reported they were not satisfied with the contact received by criminal justice agencies and welcomed the additional support the CLO could provide.
- A closer working relationship with criminal justice agencies has been established.
- A process has been established to manage the common issues reported by victims.
As expected with any pilot, there are still challenges to overcome. However, the project has proven to be an extremely valuable exercise in undertaking a detailed review of the current criminal justice system structures and processes in Dorset and how additional and valuable support for vulnerable victims progressing through the court system can be delivered through the CLO concept.
While it is still too early to appreciate the full impact and benefits of the introduction of a CLO in Dorset, the pilot has been well received both by criminal justice agencies and victims attending court. Early indications are also that officers and police staff appreciate the availability and benefits of the CLO.