When I was elected as the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire, I clearly set out my ambition to make Northamptonshire the safest place in England. A key part of my agenda has been to ensure that victims are at the heart of our criminal justice system.
I admit this seems like stating the obvious; however it was clear to me that for too long victims of crime were all too often let down and failed by an inefficient system that lacks the sort of strategic oversight to identify its shortfalls. This often resulted in making a difficult experience for many people needlessly worse.
The first action I undertook as Police and Crime Commissioner was to establish a victims’ commission, with an independent chairman, to look across the current provision of support services to victims of crime in Northamptonshire. This Commission would assess whether these services meet the needs of victims of crime, and examine how they could be improved.
The outcome of the Commission’s work was the Victims’ Voice report, which listened to victims, witnesses and professionals to find out their experiences of the criminal justice system. Over a thousand people contributed to report which contained 79 recommendations for police, CPS, Courts Service, councils and support services.
Key findings of the report included:
- A lack of consistency across the criminal justice system.
- Communication between organisations needs to be improved.
- Direct communication with victims and witnesses needs to be developed and suited to their needs.
- More empathy should be shown to victims and they should be fully listened to.
- There should be an increased awareness of the impact being a victim or witness can have on people.
The Victims’ Voice report represents a far reaching and significant piece of work, and has helped to make a real difference to victims and witnesses in Northamptonshire. Not only has it challenged the inefficiencies and weaknesses inherent within the criminal justice system, it has also informed the successful establishment of a new victims and witness service for our county.
‘Voice’ is our new support service for victims and witnesses in Northamptonshire, and it has been designed with the needs of the victims and witnesses in mind. It will help to address several of the recommendations outlined in our Victims Voice report and will significantly improve on what support is currently available for victims and witnesses.
‘Voice’ is also taking an innovative approach to managing relationships with victims and witnesses, providing information, updates and coordination and the delivery and referral of support services to ensure their needs are met. In practice, this will mean they will receive a more joined-up service with up-to-date information from the police, the court service or any other relevant external agency to ensure a seamless journey through the criminal justice system, whilst avoiding any duplication in support delivery.
The service will also play a significant role in ensuring the needs and expectations of victims and witnesses are listened to within the criminal justice system as a whole. It is important that any problems within the system can be raised and challenged appropriately to help drive forward further improvements.
“Voice” is truly a unique and ground breaking development, and represents the first such service of its type in the country. It will be fundamental to achieving my ambition of transforming, for the better, the experiences of some of the most vulnerable people in our county, and I am proud that Northamptonshire is at the forefront of modernising and improving these vital support services.
Such transformation helps to illustrate how PCCs can drive forward change and deliver real improvements on behalf of their residents. In Northamptonshire, for example we have protected officer numbers and increased the number of Special Constables. As a result, Northamptonshire Police now has the highest proportion of Special Constables of any Force in England and Wales, who contribute almost 100,000 hours on duty helping to protect local communities and supporting the work of regular officers.
In addition to this we have launched The Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice, which is a new joint venture between the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire and the University of Northampton. The Institute is now bringing together cutting-edge academic research and evidence with practice, training and development across agencies to help support the work of the Force and give us a greater understanding of how best to deal with the many complex issues facing the criminal justice system.
It is clear that delivering innovation and bringing together a disjointed and fractured system to work better and support is the very DNA of Police and Crime Commissioners. After two years, it is apparent there is great potential for PCCs to deliver real and lasting change at a time of increasing pressures and reductions in funding.”