Victims' access to justice through English criminal courts, 1675 to the present

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Sociology

Abstract

This interdisciplinary project examines public access to justice in England over three centuries - from the 1670s to the present. Bringing together leading criminologists and crime historians, it will assemble and analyse data on over 200,000 victims involved in trials over this period in order to enhance the rights of, and resources and services available to, victims today and in the future. It will construct a new evidence base to establish who these victims were, what relationship they had with offenders, how they came to be complainants, prosecutors or witnesses, how they made use of available legal and financial resources.

Since the 1980s, victims have been placed firmly on the criminological and public policy map. However, we know surprisingly little about past victims of crime. We do not know which victims were most likely to pursue which cases, or how prosecution outcomes (in terms of acquittal or conviction) map onto victims' profiles. We might imagine that servants lost out to their masters, women to men, workers to employers, poor neighbour to rich neighbour, migrant to long-term resident. But did they? What kinds of cases were brought to trial - by victims, by the police and by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)? How did those involved in cases not brought to trial secure access to justice? Which groups had the most effective access to justice in what circumstances and how has that changed over time?

In the past, victims drove the criminal justice system in England. For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought prosecutions as complainants, acted as their own prosecution lawyers, gave evidence as witnesses and put up personal rewards for the recovery of lost goods. Their active role declined dramatically in the later nineteenth century with their physical removal from court processes except as witnesses to be cross-examined and the rise of professionalised statutory policing and the creation of the CPS. From the 1980s on, efforts have been made on many fronts to re-centre victims within the justice system and to enhance their experience of, access to, justice.

Securing fair and effective access to justice is a priority for many states around the world. It concerns citizens' ability to seek formal acknowledgement and redress, within a given legal system, of wrongs, harms and offences committed against them. In states facing major political or economic transitions, strengthening access to justice is as a vital means of strengthening governance, resolving conflict and reducing inequalities. In England and Wales, this agenda has been driven, since the early 1990s, by efforts to promote human rights, to reduce social harms and to improve the delivery and quality of judicial services. Given recent political dialogue and debate, now is a critical moment to re-evaluate these long-term trends.

The team will draw out patterns and insights from the experiences of victims whose cases were heard in one of the nation's most important courts: the Old Bailey (London's Central Criminal Court). The results of this project will be used by national agencies working with victims, including the Victims' Commissioner, Victim Support, the National Policing Lead for Victims and Witnesses, and Witness Service leads within Citizens Advice. The research team's links with History and Policy, an organisation specialising in bringing historical evidence to bear in policy debates, will be very valuable here.

The project will make a significant contribution to wider work undertaken over the past two decades to improve access to justice and, thereby, to recommend strategies for reducing or closing 'justice gaps' where these exist. We have strong connections with criminal justice practitioners, policy makers and community groups and, in addition to our academic publications and training materials, will present our unique findings in lively and accessible formats to maximise potential impact and public engagement.

Planned Impact

Our research findings will benefit individuals from a range of sectors, including those providing services and advice to victims, policy-makers, think-tanks, rights groups, the media and the general public.

* Victims' services: We have secured letters of support - and access to data - from key national stakeholders for this project. The Office of the Victim Commissioner champions the rights of victims across the policy spectrum. The National Policing Lead for Victims and Witnesses, similarly, champions their rights across police forces. Victim Support is the UK's leading agency working to minimise victimisation and its many harms. Citizens Advice recently assumed responsibility for the Ministry of Justice-funded Witness Service and works to ensure that witnesses are more effectively supported in criminal trials and other legal arena. We have engaged these stakeholders in the design of the proposal, and will continue to work with them as members of our Advisory Board throughout the project. Our datasets and findings will be used to enhance victims' future access to justice and to improve the services offered by key stakeholders.

* Policy makers will learn about the factors that have shaped past and present patterns within public access to justice in England. They will benefit from the project's broad overview of the impacts of the introduction - and withdrawal - of specific rights, entitlements and services that have shaped victims' experiences of criminal trials over time. These include the introduction of public prosecution mechanisms (1870s); legal aid (1940s); criminal injuries compensation (1960s); victim support groups (1970s); victim surveys (1980s); victim personal impact statements (2010s) and victim's code (2015). The research team's links with History and Policy, an organisation specialising in bringing historical evidence to bear in policy debates, will be very valuable here. We will engage with our contacts at the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunal Service as well as with our key stakeholders to facilitate these discussions.

* Think-tanks and rights groups, such as Liberty, Howard League, Human Rights Lawyers Association and Demos, all have a strong interest in promoting greater public access to justice and could all benefit from the rigorous evidence generated by the study. The research will be publicized to these groups through invitations to events and through wider media coverage.

* The general public: many people have been or will be (in)direct victims of some form of crime over their life time. As a consequence, there is a high level of public interest in experiences of victimisation but very little public awareness of the longer and more complicated history of victimhood. Similarly, many people may experience the criminal justice system as consumers of a 'public service' but have less awareness of their right to access justice as citizens and the factors that have shaped that right over time. They will benefit from our proposed short film and white board animation outputs summarising the ebb and flow of public access to justice to be shared via the project website and YouTube. Further, many members of the public already use the Old Bailey Online - a free searchable site that generates thousands of hits each year. The site will be enhanced as a result of the project through improved site guides to searching for victims - as opposed to perpetrators - of crimes.

* The media: project findings (initial, mid-term and final) will be further publicized across a range of print, social and specialist media. We will issue regular media briefings and work with the media consultants employed by the British Sociological Association, British Society for Criminology and Social History Society to promote our work. We will also pitch proposals to our contacts in independent TV production companies specialising in historical/factual programming.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Submission to Ministry of Justice Consultation on Proposals for Revising the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Participation in specialist historical criminology academic workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of academic paper by Prof Cox to academic audience at specialist historical criminology workshop hosted by the University of Leeds Historical Criminology Seminar on 25 Jan 2019. The paper was entitled ''Righting a Wrong: What does it mean for a victim to access justice in a criminal trial?' and the event was entitled 'Funding Justice or Fuelling Crime? The Political Economy of Crime and Justice in Historical Perspective'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://essl.leeds.ac.uk/law/events/event/815/funding-justice-or-fuelling-crime-the-political-econom...
 
Description Presentation by Dr Lamont at the Society of Legal Scholars Conference 2019, 3-6 Sept 2019, University of Central Lancashire. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Lamont presented a paper entitled 'The Changing Status of the Victim in the Criminal Trial: Autonomy or Authority?' The audience was comprised of (socio)legal scholars who offered feedback and questions on the following:

• Appropriate terminology and time i.e. that victims were not referred to as such before the 1980s. Some suggestion that the origins of the terminology and its impact would be worth considering in more detail.
• Discussion of the substantive law changes - repeal of 'social crimes' in the 1960's and 70's and the increase in legislation from about 1990 onwards and how this means that the legal category of victim contracts and expands.
• Concern over the changes in the adversarial trial process and how it is conducted; consideration of the development of defendants' rights against the state and what that implied for the construction of the trial.
• The role of the social perception of the criminal justice system and the trial in decision-making around victims at a particular point in time. In particular there was a lot of discussion about the importance of access to justice and other forms of justice other than the trial. This was strongly emphasised by Joanne Conaghan in particular. Rape kept appearing as a particularly important crime in emphasising the differences in perception and treatment of victims over time.
• The difference between civil and criminal approaches, especially in the early period of the project, when the victim had the choice over whether to prosecute or not.

The autonomy point was not questioned and generally moving away from current characterisations of the 'victim' to try and capture the experience of justice at particular times was regarded as a helpful approach.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.slsconference.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Programme-130819D.pdf
 
Description Presentation by Prof Cox and Prof Shore at the annual conference of the national Social History Society, 10-12 June 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The presentation was attended by c40 academics and postgraduate researchers. It was discussed on twitter via @socialhistsoc and #twitterstorians, with a combined following/usage of over 15,000 people worldwide. It attracted the attention of a journalist from The Economist (online and print global circulation of 1.5 million readers per week) who interviewed/cited Prof Cox and referenced the underpinning research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://socialhistory.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2019-SHS-Conference-Programme-FINAL-2.pdf
 
Description The Economist (13 June 2019) cited Prof Cox and features our underpinning research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The Economist requested an interview with Prof Cox on the victims project based on the presentation she made with Prof Shore at the Social History Society annual conference in June 2019. Prof Cox was cited in the resulting Economist article (13 June 2019)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.economist.com/britain/2019/06/15/victims-get-a-bigger-role-in-prosecuting-those-who-wron...
 
Description Victims Project Advisory Group Workshop 1 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The activity was the initial meeting and working lunch of our project advisory group and was co-hosted by the organisation 'History and Policy' at Somerset House, Strand, London on 22 Nov 2018. The research team presented an overview of the project and progress to date. The advisory group offered feedback, questions and suggestions to the research team, particularly on the question of how 'access to justice' is addressed in their own organisations and how it might be defined and measured for the purposes of this project.

The invitation was extended to all 15 members of our advisory group (13 of whom attended):

Jonathan Allan, Head of Social Research and Criminal Insight, Insight and User Division, HMCTS
Emma Barnett, Lead on Victims and Witnesses Portfolio, National Police Chiefs Council
Jane Becker, Senior Research Officer, MoJ, Access to Justice Analytical Services
Jessamy Carlson, Senior Archivist, National Archives
Tamar Dinisman, Senior Researcher, Victim Support
Gavin Hernandez, Temporary Head of Prosecution Policy and Inclusion, CPS
Catherine Hinwood, Head of Victim and Witness Policy, MoJ
Mario Leptos, Head of Witness Service, Citizens Advice Witness Service
Hazel Robertson, Impact and Evaluation Analyst, Citizens Advice Witness Service
Elaine Wedlock, Senior Research Officer, Office of the Victims' Commissioner
Prof Betsy Stanko, Consultant, Public Sector Analytics; Chair, MoJ Data, Evidence and Science Board
Dr David Churchill, University of Leeds and History & Policy link
Prof Mike Hough, Birkbeck, University of London
Prof Louise Jackson, University of Edinburgh
David Miers, Emeritas Professor, University of Cardiff
Mike Pidd, University of Sheffield
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://esrcvictims.org/
 
Description Workshop on using big data to analyse victimisation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This invitation workshop (12 Feb 2020) was held at the University of Essex and entitled 'Using big data to analyse crime victims' experiences and (dis)satisfaction'. Presentations drew on the Crime Survey for England and Wales and other large criminal justice datasets held by three Essex-based ESRC-funded big data centres: the UK Data Archive and Service, Business and Local Government Data Research Centre, and the Institute for Social and Economic Research's Understanding Society investment.
Invited participants included senior professional practitioner and policy-making representatives from the Office of the Victims' Commissioner, Victim Support (national research team) and Essex Police Strategic Change Directorate. 30 participants attended. A wider audience was reached by social media posts from the research team and the organisations listed above.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020