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Justice Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 583-i
Taken before the Justice Committee
on Tuesday 9 November 2010
Sir Alan Beith (Chair)
Mrs Siân James
Mr Elfyn Llwyd
Examination of Witness
Witness: Louise Casey CB, Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Welcome, Ms Casey. It’s very nice to have you with us to tell us something about your role and some of the conclusions you have reached from exercising it. I wonder if I could ask you, by way of an opening question-which perhaps gives you an opportunity to say something about that role-how does the Commissioner add value to what Victim Support and the voluntary organisations do since they, in the course of their work, accumulate a lot of knowledge about the problems of victims and witnesses and, presumably, they can convey it to Government?
Louise Casey: Yes. That is indeed the case, Chairman. I think the first thing to say is that the Victims’ Commissioner is the first statutory role within the Criminal Justice System that speaks up for the rights of victims and witnesses. In that way I think it is quite different to what the voluntary sector and charities do.
Obviously, I think that the work of Victim Support, but other organisations providing support to victims, is incredibly important and it is important for Government to listen to what they have got to say, and me. But I think this role is actually partly about taking on what I see as the sort of David and Goliath between-if you look at the organisations and the constituent parts of the Criminal Justice System, frankly, Chairman, they are pretty formidable-the judiciary, the Crown Prosecution Service and the legal world. They all have both significant numbers but quite large professional groups and organisations.
I think the Victims’ Commissioner is about trying to bring some balance to making sure that-it is my job, partly because it is statutory, it is in law, to challenge the whole of the Criminal Justice System to do right by victims and witnesses. But, also, I see it as part of my job to scrutinise and look at what services are provided to victims and witnesses, including what Victim Support and others do, so that we are able to get the best service possible in a balanced and decent way to victims overall. So I think it is quite a different job to the one that, say, Victim Support or others do. I think it is doing it in a very different kind of way.
Q2 Chair: What about the Victims’ Advisory Panel, which is up for closure under the Government’s culling of organisations? What did it deliver and will it make a great deal of difference not to have it?
Louise Casey: I think it puts more pressure on the Victims’ Commissioner and her organisation to actually make sure that we get the voices of victims right and that they are able still to advise Government and others, though, in terms of what is needed for victims and witnesses. So I think it puts more pressure on me, but I think that is a good thing.
In some ways, when I think about some of the people-I have met quite a number of the people; in fact I have met all the existing members of the Victims’ Advisory Panel and they are quite excellent and formidable people-the combination of them working with me as part of the Victims’ Commissioner and us putting our views to Government but, importantly, to other parties as well, could possibly be even more powerful.
Q3 Chair: How is it possible to measure and assess how far people are adhering to the Code of Practice for Victims?
Louise Casey: It is not. I think the Victims’ Code was and remains an important development because I think it backs up a recognition that what was needed was a cultural change towards the way we treated victims and witnesses. It therefore is a first. Each of those statutory organisations in the Criminal Justice System at one level therefore has a responsibility to victims and witnesses. That is great and I think that is a very, very good thing. I would, though, say that I think not only is it not measurable but some of it just doesn't add up. It is a sort of transactional analysis.
If you don’t mind, Chairman, at this point I have to quote. First of all you have a right to the leaflet. Well, that might help or it might not help. I think it is interesting that you have a right to a leaflet is something we see as pertinent and important.
But my favourite bugbear in this is one which I feel sums up so many issues around victims and how they are the poor relation in the whole Criminal Justice System. The Code says you will be told "about court results, for example if the defendant was found guilty". Let's face it, the victim, possibly alongside the offender, has such a huge interest in that. Out of all of those participants, from the police officers, to the judges, to the lawyers, who has a vested interest in knowing the outcome of that trial? It is going to be probably the person standing in the dock and definitely the victim that the person did it to in the first place. Yet, what we say is we will tell you about the court results, for example if the defendant is found guilty, within one day of receiving the outcome from the court.
That is, in translation, the Witness Care Unit, which is part of the CPS and police. They will tell you within one day but only when they have been told by the court. Now, that means your transactional moment is the court may or may not tell them within a day, a week or a fortnight. Once they tell them, they will tell the victim. I think that is meaningless to a victim. I think it is transactional. It is a step in the right direction but, Chairman, it’s not good enough.
I have said this before and it is one of my early thoughts. We have at the moment a universal service or a universal set of entitlements to victims overall. 80% of victims clearly say they don’t want any help, yet we try and help them almost in the same way that we do the 20% of people that are waving flags at us that they need a lot of help and a lot of support, and we treat everybody the same. Those days have gone and I think that we would be better to have certain set guarantees to victims, particularly in more serious cases, where they could rely on the Criminal Justice System to deliver them rather than what I have called the "maybe" service that you may or may not get. You might end up with 30 letters because of this, but they would be general circulars, general bits of information, things that aren't specific to you or your case, or you may end up with absolutely none at all. Either way I don’t think it adds up to what we need in a modern Criminal Justice System.
Q4 Chair: So what is your mechanism for making the Ministry of Justice and its Ministers, the Crown Prosecution Service, the DPP and the Attorney aware of that, making the judiciary aware of that and the court administration, which, obviously, if it delays passing on the outcome of the case, causes a problem for the victim? What is your mechanism for making them not only aware but to make them react to that concern?
Louise Casey: I think, in a way, it goes back to your first question, which is, "What is the purpose of the Victims’ Commissioner?" I think until there was a Victims’ Commissioner, really, nobody has been able to gather and formidably put these sorts of views in a collective and systemic and formidable way to precisely those groups of individuals. Yes, of course, one will from time to time have messages for Government, but there is not one person in charge of all those different constituent parts, which means I therefore have to work with all of those parties to try and improve things.
But I wanted in a way to come back to a basic just in this opening bit, if I might, Chair, which is the reason I think this is so important and the reason why I am saying this to colleagues across the Criminal Justice System. I feel we have missed out one thing when it comes to victims and witnesses.
Of course we should help people who have been injured or hurt or who are victims of crime, but I think that what the Criminal Justice System has not necessarily recognised fully-and what I see as part of my role to promote-is that when you are a victim of crime we, in this country, believe in a justice system where we ask those people to step aside. We ask them not to take matters into their own hands, we do not condone or support retribution in any way, shape or form, but we ask them to step aside and allow the Crown to both find the perpetrator and prosecute them in a balanced, decent and proper way in a court of law.
In tandem with that, we need victims to come forward and witnesses to give evidence in cases. We need it as a society, we need it as the Crown and we need it as the Criminal Justice System, because if they don't then perpetrators-sometimes serial perpetrators of serious crimes-get away with it and, importantly therefore, they go and do it to other people.
So there are two fundamental reasons that go beyond doing good to people why we need to get the duties and responsibilities to victims and witnesses right. I call it a "deal". Therefore, as part of that deal, particularly in serious cases, I think it is incumbent upon the Criminal Justice System to make sure that it is clear in its responsibilities to victims and not treat them as the poor relation in the sideshow.
I suppose, in terms of what is my mechanism, my first mechanism was to put these thoughts together, to gather the views of victims and to make my first address in July. I have subsequently met with quite a number of Ministers but, also, the door has been open from the Lord Chief Justice, from Lord Goldring and from Keir Starmer. I have not felt doors closed to me so far where I think people are up for trying to get a decent and better service to victims that really need it rather than a universal service to those that don't.
Chair: This is getting into the areas that I know Siân James wants to ask about and I know that Yasmin Qureshi might want to follow up on that point.
Q5 Mrs James: You have spoken very eloquently about the central role and focus of the victim within the system, but in my constituency I am very concerned about victims who come to me about issues of parole and release of prisoners. You have talked about the actual information after sentencing but there are issues, I believe, around what happens to the prisoner or to the accused or to the guilty afterwards and the effect that that has on families. If we want to put victims at the heart of the system what does this mean in practice?
Louise Casey: The answer to the first question or the first part of that is that I think we need to recognise there are some families and some individuals for whom the crime that was perpetrated against them is so profound that they will have an interest in what happens to the individual probably as long as they are breathing.
I think it is therefore reasonable, in a limited number of cases, for us to respond to that. So if somebody murdered a child-I have never been through this but I have met those that have-a lot of them would want to know what is happening to the person that killed their child and they might want to know to the day they stop drawing breath themselves. I think that we need therefore to be able to respond to that in, again, a dignified and decent way.
I think sometimes where we get confused is that we potentially raise the expectations of those individuals when perhaps it comes to parole hearings or other discussions where the system is very clear that the victims in those cases do not have a say, as it were. I think we all get a little bit confused about it and I think it would be better if we were clearer with victims that, yes, they have a full right to information, that we were much better at making sure we gave information in a clear, decent and straightforward way and that, therefore, people knew where they stood. I think at the moment there is a mismatch between people knowing where they stand and what the system does or doesn't do.
The issue, for me, about this constant refrain of-I was about to say "criminals at the heart", Freudian perhaps that was, Chairman-victims at the heart of the Criminal Justice System is that I just feel they are not. In a way, when it comes to a criminal trial, they are one part of it but they are not at the heart of it. People kept saying it the whole time. It simply isn't true; they are the poor relation. Once they make their statement and if we don't need them for anything else, they are almost potentially ignored. In a number of cases people are never even told when the case is dropped.
The idea that we keep bereaved families in murder and manslaughter cases waiting-I met a woman who hadn't been able to bury her son for over a year. She had had to go through the anniversary of his death because the defence lawyers were still making up their minds whether or not they wanted to do post-mortems. Those things just are not just and I think victims and the public also have a right to a fair trial and have a right to a fair justice system.
So I reverberate against either raising people's expectations when it is not the case or not recognising that for certain victims and witnesses the stakes are incredibly high, what the offenders have done is incredibly serious and we need to get people the right help and the right support. Apart from anything, we need to make sure that witnesses are able to have a fair trial too and they are able to stand up and give evidence in an open court in a way that a judge is happy to have them. I don't think that is where we are at at the moment in those serious cases.
Q6 Mrs James: If we are going to improve that service do you think that we need to draw up a new code of conduct or a replacement code of conduct, something that is very clear for the victim and judiciary?
Louise Casey: I am nervous about letting any of the statutory providers currently off the hook about anything that is in here until it has been worked out what else needs to happen and what needs to be replaced. I was enormously heartened by a meeting-I am sure the Director of Public Prosecutions won't mind me saying that I think we share an agenda with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service where he is clear that the Crown Prosecution Service has a whole load of charters and guidance and pledges and that what is needed is some sense of bringing those together.
I think that we almost need a "less is more" situation. It would be better if we, as a society and the Crown could turn to victims, particularly in things like rape or serious assault or sexual assault or children that are bearing witness in adult cases and bereaved families, and give them a more certain and more proper service where they absolutely got what they needed.
I am struck again-I have to declare that my brother is a criminal barrister and it is perfectly normal for somebody to go to the cells at the end of a trial and pop in and see the person that you know is about to be carted away to prison. I would like it to be the absolute norm for the Crown Prosecution Service to see the families at the end of a trial. I would like them to see them before in things like murder and manslaughter. I don't think it is too much to ask in serious cases that we guarantee certain things to families. I don't think you need to do it for everyone. I have been very clear about both the money and the resources but there are some cases where the stakes are very, very high. Whatever replaces the Code-I don't know what the Government intends; I think they are intending to review it-it is part of my job to see how they review it and to what end.
But I genuinely believe that we have for too long had a universal service which is trying to reach out to people. The Justice Secretary said himself at your Committee that if his wallet were stolen or pickpocketed he didn't need somebody to give him counselling. I agree with that and therefore I think, for the child witness that we are asking to go into a court and give evidence against her stepfather, we need to make sure that we have the resources, the time and the energy to help that child rather than spending time, resources and energy on people that don't need any help. That is what I think any new code, any new charter and any new set of guarantees needs to move towards.
Q7 Chair: Have you thought of a mechanism for avoiding box-ticking activities which may satisfy some target or other but which are actually wasteful and not needed?
Louise Casey: I think that when the Ministry of Justice review the Code we need to look quite carefully at what they are doing at that stage. I haven't got the answer, "Yes, this is the mechanism that I think."
I do, though, Chairman, come from a world of understanding transactional targets and targets sometimes missing the entire point of what they were there for in the first place. I am not suggesting I have got all the answers but I do have quite a long experience of working in a world of targets that miss the point and therefore I think that we, in the Victims’ Commission, will be wise to whatever it is that is changing.
I suppose my starting point, six months in, is to try and look at two things. To establish victims and witnesses-for example, it is fantastic that I am here today. I have looked at who you have been talking to and it is so important, not for me personally but for the role of the Victims’ Commissioner and therefore the voice of victims nationally, that the Justice Select Committee has chosen to see me and give me this amount of time. That is the sort of weight that we need behind us to ask for these quite small things in the scheme of things to try and balance the scales of justice back up for victims and witnesses.
Q8 Yasmin Qureshi: Just to make a declaration, obviously. I was a practising barrister, quite a lot in criminal law, for about 15 odd years. I have worked for the Crown Prosecution Service as well as an inhouse barrister and also at the private bar. I am not saying I am an expert but I think I sort of know my way around the Criminal Justice System.
What I wanted to ask you was this. Whilst I accept that there may have been cases where things have gone wrong in the sense that victims haven't been informed fully of what has been going on, would you also accept that over the last 10 years there have been many, many changes within the Criminal Justice System which have tried to put the victims at the heart? For example, you talked about the Witness Support Service. That wasn't around until about 10 years ago.
Louise Casey: I agree.
Q9 Yasmin Qureshi: Now it has been set up in every single magistrates’ court and the Crown Court. There are people there who talk to the witnesses; they show them the courtroom. Certainly whenever I have prosecuted, I have always gone and spoken to my witnesses, given them their statement, told them what is going to happen, i.e. the procedures and everything and what is going to happen. I don't think that I am just the exception there; I think most of my colleagues would have done that. Therefore, I would say that things are a lot better.
Also, in a lot of cases, as you also know, police tend to inform people in any event if somebody has been found guilty. Certainly in most of the cases I have dealt with the officers did tell them. They said they would tell the witnesses or the victims.
Chair: Can we form this into a question, please?
Yasmin Qureshi: Yes. My question is this. You said you have been the Victims’ Commissioner for six months. Have you been speaking mostly just to victims or have you actually spoken to a lot of the legal professions, like the prosecutors and the police, about this?
Louise Casey: Yes. First of all, I think you are absolutely right to raise with me the issue that things are significantly better than they were. I think that is a completely reasonable position to take and I would take it myself. I have visited separate witness facilities in courtrooms which weren't there 10 years ago. I have seen even facilities for families and bereaved that are kept from others and so on. It is just incredible.
I have met plenty of prosecutors, and I have a lot of time for the Crown Prosecution Service and the work that they are trying to do. But I don't think you can say that, wholesale across the board, a service which is stretched beyond all reason is able to give the type of service, particularly in Crown Court cases, to victims and witnesses that I think they want to do. I think it is reasonable to say there have been massive changes.
A very senior judge said to me, "Louise, the idea that 10, 15, 20 years ago we would even meet the witnesses was just not the norm." Now, it is much more frequent. It is now the case for example, which is another thing I feel very strongly about, that in very serious cases it is right for victims to have that moment in what is otherwise a very dehumanising process for all of us, for a victim personal statement. That one moment at the end of what is quite a long and dehumanising process, I think, is an amazing development-for them to have their voice heard in an open court. So I think all of those changes are incredibly important.
I think, though, one has to recognise that you may get that service or you may not and that even though those developments are there the police may or may not treat you well as a victim; they may or may not inform you; the Crown Prosecution Service may or may not tell you the case was dropped; they may tell you in a general letter that you don't quite understand. You may or may not see a Crown Prosecutor on the day of your trial. None of these things are guaranteed in any way which means that I, as the Victims’ Commissioner, can turn to victims and witnesses and say, "No, you must believe in the Criminal Justice System. You must step aside. You must stand up and allow the Crown to prosecute this case. You must get into court." I can't guarantee it.
I do believe in the Criminal Justice System and I absolutely wholeheartedly believe that the willingness and the sea change in culture to how victims and witnesses have been treated is monumental, but it is not enough. You are not going to be surprised, as the Victims’ Commissioner, that I am sitting here today telling you that. It is not enough and it is not enough because not enough people are getting into a courtroom and being prosecuted and not enough people, as victims, are getting the service they need. It is a bit of a lottery and it is a bit of a "maybe" service.
Q10 Chair: You hinted earlier that the phrase "the victim at the heart of the system" is potentially misleading. What do you say to those who would argue that the heart of the Criminal Justice System is justice? It is establishing the truth and establishing beyond doubt whether somebody committed the crime or not and, if they did commit the crime, applying the appropriate punishment. That is not quite the same as saying the victim is the heart of the system, is it?
Louise Casey: No, it is not. It is not an unreasonable position for somebody to take though. I think the interesting thing for me is that if you accept that we need victims to pick up the phone and call the police or make a statement, if you accept that we need them to help with the burden of proof to the degree that the case could be prosecuted, that is the deal that we are doing with those individuals and you need to fulfil your responsibility to them properly. If there is a sentence of the person that did it to them, you need to communicate that sentence to the victim in a way that they can understand. That is the deal that we are nowhere near, I think, being definite about at the moment. Therefore, really, arguments about being at the heart I feel are almost rhetoric, well-intentioned, but not true. Therefore, I would rather that we were more pragmatic and take a more common sense approach to this.
A trial is looking at all sorts of things. It is looking at the burden of proof; it is a test of evidence. Yes, many victims go to those trials hoping that it is a search for the truth, but that is partly because we don't explain to them very clearly what it is about, what their role is, what their rights are in it and what is going to happen.
Q11 Chris Evans: You say you don't want to be encouraging victimhood, but would you agree that different levels of crime have different effects on people? For somebody who is, say, a nightclub bouncer who is used to getting into fights on a weekend and is the victim of an assault, to somebody who is simply walking down the street, it would have a different effect. So how would you envisage Victim Support providing support for that person? How would you envisage how the impact of different levels of crime on different people would bring it through the system?
Louise Casey: I think the first thing to say is that the evidence is clear that around 80% of victims don't want help and that what we need to do is make sure that they are offered help in all of those cases so they can make that call for themselves, whether it is your bouncer or whether it is me being burgled or having my handbag stolen.
It is my choice whether I want help or not. Call me oldfashioned but I think that could be something that the police used to do and something the police currently do. I think that Victim Support, when it was originally set up and run by Helen Reeves and run largely by volunteers, they also took and wanted referrals from the police. They were "triaged", I think the modern word is nowadays, to see what type of help they needed. So, of course, there are different ways that you can look at how people need help and what type of help they want. An old lady perhaps being burgled is in a different order of magnitude to somebody else. Somebody having their handbag stolen might push them over the edge; somebody else may cope with it by just having their cards dealt with.
I think the point I am trying to make is that, if the evidence clearly shows 80% of those don't need help, why are we spending money on paid staff to phone them three times to double check when, actually, most of what they are asking for is, "Have the police done anything with my case? Have they caught anybody? What’s going to happen?" That is not what the conversation is about. It’s, "Do you need help? Do you want this? Do you want that?" There is a mismatch there.
We are living in a world where there is no money and there is never any money for victims anyway. In terms of when the crumbs fall from the table in the Criminal Justice System, I can tell you the crumbs that fall in the world of victims are tiny. I can't, in all conscience, turn round to the children, to women and men who have been raped, to people with serious cases and say, "We are not getting you the type of help and support you need because we are making three phone calls to Ken Clarke who had his wallet stolen." That just doesn't stand up in the world that we now inhabit.
How we get there, to sort all of that out, will take a lot of goodwill and a lot of hard work from all of us to make sure we don't miss out the old lady that is knocked for six by having her handbag stolen. I accept that entirely. It should, though, not be beyond the wit of all of us to try and make sure that we get that right. That is the intention of where we need to be. There is very little money, we have got to use it to the best of effect, we’ve got to use it for the most vulnerable and we have got to get the most dangerous people into courtrooms. That's my view.
Q12 Chris Evans: How do we get there though? Do you think some sort of universal national victim service would help? You don't seem to be so keen on that sort of thing. Victim Support already has the monopoly anyway and there are smaller charities helping out, but do you think the National Victims’ Service is the wrong way to go then? Is there some other way we could go forward? Is there some place in the police training maybe we could talk about?
Louise Casey: I have agreed with the Secretary of State for Justice that as part of my role I will look at the matter, because, again, I have no vested interest in any particular organisation. Whether they are small, whether they are big, whether they are national, whether they are local, it doesn't really matter to me. What matters to me is that we don't end up in a scenario that you have described where, actually, somebody vulnerable doesn't get help when they need it but, also, where we guard the resources effectively. So he has asked me to look at that and look at it I will.
I don't have, "Yes, I tell you what: we need to do this straightaway." There are some things that cry out to me about, "Is that a good use of money?", where I wonder about making three phone calls to people who have had their handbag stolen when, actually, they have already sorted out their cards, they have probably gone and bought a new handbag, they are trying to put it all behind them and the police are never ever going to catch the person that nicked their handbag. In fact they are probably not even going to try very hard to find them. Why then am I ringing them three times on the taxpayer? So I think we've got to be very, very careful about the use of resources.
I want though, just on the record, to say I do admire the work greatly of Victim Support and I particularly admire it because of the work which your colleague mentioned about the Witness Service and about their use of volunteers. It is formidable and it is good. I would urge them and us and everybody to look at how we get this right for victims rather than try and create some division between me and other people.
We all need to get this right for victims. There is no money. We have got to make the money that is there work and that is very much where I want to be. So I am not being overly critical of Victim Support. It would be wrong of me to do so.
Q13 Chris Evans: Going back to your example of the old lady who has had her bag pinched and she is knocked for six, this seems to be a problem. Selfreferral is possible but there is a general lack of public awareness about victim support systems. How do we increase that awareness then, especially for that old lady who probably-I'm just guessing now-hasn’t got access to the internet or is not aware of the phone number? How do we make her aware that, yes, there is something there if she does need help?
Louise Casey: I think you have hit on something which I find from all of my time working in the world of crime and disorder, which is I don’t think anybody in this room would not be able to give you the top lines of a defendant's right: the right to remain silent and the right to a solicitor. Maybe we all watch too much television but we all know those off the top of our heads. There is absolutely no sense of what the equivalent is in terms of if you are a victim of crime.
This may be a pipe dream but I would hope that as we move forward it is possible to think how that lady in a situation like that might think, "I tell you what, I need that type of help now or, actually, I need to ring that type of person." That is where we need to be, I think, and we are not at the moment.
There is no sense of rights. We have the most unbelievable and complicated Code of Practice which, frankly, you would have to be quite clever to find your way around and even then it is only telling you when they might tell you something. As for complaints, it is quite hopeless the way that we deal with complaints.
So the answer to the question is I think that we need to get much better at working out, what are the rights that people have? What are those guarantees? What can they expect? Even if it is less or even if it is more than it is now, what is it? Let's make it definite and then let's start to make sure the public know what they are.
Q14 Chris Evans: Do you think some sort of victim support charter would help that the courts, the police and Victim Support would provide and there are benchmarks that they do provide? Would that help in any way?
Louise Casey: Once we have got to a point where the resources are clearer in terms of Victim Support and other voluntary organisations but, more broadly, where the resources are across the Criminal Justice System, so witness care units, what is happening in Crown Courts, all of those, I think then one can get to a point where you can see what is the definite offer we are making to victims and then how do they get hold of those.
I suppose I am nervous in a world which is already quite dehumanising, transactional, target-driven, into strategies, papers, endless trees being felled, to say, "I tell you what, we need a charter." I suppose I am quite personally nervous about that.
Q15 Chair: You have had enough of charters?
Louise Casey: I am a little tired with it all in that that hasn't really worked for the families that I meet who have been bereaved through murder or manslaughter; it has not really worked for the children and others that we ask to go into adult courts. So I would rather honestly feel that we need to get the deal right with victims and witnesses at quite a fundamental level and then we can start writing up what that is in a way that is much more simple and much more straightforward. I think that is the priority.
Q16 Chris Evans: Are there any specific examples you can think of which you think have worked and would, with a bit of money, in a perfect world, work on a wider scale, on a national roll-out? Are there any specific small projects which you have been particularly impressed with and thought, "This has worked"?
Louise Casey: There are quite a number of things around the country, but there isn't money and therefore one has to be quite clear about raising people's expectations about how things can be rolled out. I think those days are over. I suppose what is important for me is that at the moment the substantive part of the Criminal Justice System, i.e. the giants of the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and the judiciary, need to come to some sort of more definite and permanent offer guaranteed because they understand the needs of victims and witnesses. That is where we should concentrate our energy.
In relation to support services I think it is right to say that there are local, there are national and there are specialist services that I have met. So, for example, I visited the NSPCC in Devon and Cornwall. I have no doubt at all in my mind that their work, which is a tiny project-there are very few of them in the country-that supports children who have to give witness in adult cases, and their assistance to those children, to the courts and to the CPS means that those children get a fair trial, and I mean as witnesses and victims they get a fair trial. Without the NSPCC I have no doubt, as the judge himself said to me, he doesn't see how he could get that evidence into court in the right and proper way, giving the right balance of evidence.
I find it astonishing in this country that we do not have versions of that project throughout the country. I find it astonishing that not only can I sit before you today but nobody can tell you how many children we put as witnesses in cases in adult trials. We don't know how many children we ask to give evidence in an adult case, including in sexual abuse cases. We don't even count the number that go there, but we also do not provide the right type of help to those children. We also, which is one of the things the NSPCC do, deal with this ridiculous notion, which is we can't help those children in any way, shape or form until their trial has come and gone, which is also not true.
So if I was going to pick one that I feel passionately about but, also, I feel we're morally in the right position to do something about it would be better help for children giving witness in adult cases, particularly of a sexual nature.
Chair: This is actually something Siân James is going to ask you about.
Q17 Mrs James: Can I tease out a little bit more about the courts and probation? What communication have you had with the Children's Commissioner Maggie Atkinson, because I think there is quite an important link there-the protection of children and the support of children?
Louise Casey: I have got to be honest; I have not yet. I have, as you can see, been working my way through very much, as your colleague mentioned, meeting judiciary, the Crown Prosecution Service, lawyers, police officers, so on and so forth.
A piece of work that I think I will do in the New Year will be partly on the back of the visits that I have done where this issue of children kept coming up. I think it is a piece of work that I will take on in the New Year as opposed to now, although, of course, I would like to meet and get the views.
The Children’s lobby is a very powerful lobby. If I could get them squarely and fully behind making a significant change for children that have to give witness in adult cases, I think, to be honest, their power is much, much greater than the Victims’ Commissioner. So, yes, I have them in my sights but I, in fairness, haven't so far.
Q18 Mrs James: Do you think that there is a need for special measures for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses-the fact that they may be identified and what sort of support they are getting. How can the impact of special measures be assessed then if you introduce them?
Louise Casey: I should have mentioned special measures as one of the really incredible developments for victims and witnesses in recent times. The introduction of special measures and the acceptance of them for intimidated or vulnerable groups is a huge step forward. I think it has made a very, very big difference. I am really, really glad, as the Victims’ Commissioner, that they are there so that people are able to give their best evidence in a courtroom.
If I were to ask for anything more, I think the application of them sometimes, again, falls into the haphazard and "maybe". You can have a scenario where I am not entirely sure whose responsibility it is to sort it out. The police are supposed to do a kind of assessment around special measures which they sometimes do and don't do. Witness care units that are largely administrative functions are also supposed to do an assessment around special measures. Obviously the Crown Prosecution Service are keen to make sure best evidence is given in a courtroom. They may get involved in special measures. Then the judge, at the end of the day, can make the call on special measures.
It can mean, not hopefully in too many cases though, that somebody can arrive at the door of the court on the day and not know exactly whether they are or are not going to get special measures. I think if I were going to ask for anything it would be that the application of special measures is sorted out. It is not clear to me as a witness who is taking responsibility for it. I think, more broadly therefore, that fits into this thing for me, which is for the few cases that turn into trials somebody needs to take responsibility for actually making sure that we are thinking about how the witness can give best evidence in the courtroom on the day. That may be from the witness box with no special measures or it may be from the witness box with special measures. But it feels to me too much like a tick box that can or cannot happen, which is why we have cases-some of them go very high profile-where that has not been resolved for the witness. So that is my worry with it.
Q19 Mrs James: Again, related to that, on the role of Probation Trusts, they must keep victims informed etcetera. What is your assessment of their role and the progress of the Probation Trusts?
Louise Casey: Yes, that is a very important area. The Victim Liaison Officers are part of the Probation Trust Probation Service and they are the part which, post trial or post sentence, keeps a certain number of victims and in cases where people have custodial sentences for more than 12 months they give them a certain level of information.
I have visited a number of these-some spectacular ones. A colleague visited them in Manchester; they were fantastic. I myself met them in Avon and Somerset and was blown away by the commitment of those staff in terms of wanting to keep victims and witnesses informed.
However, the Probation Service overall is dominated by one thought, which is offenders. I think, therefore, that the Victim Liaison Service in many ways is the Cinderella part of the Probation Service; it is an addon and isn't necessarily central. I would argue that they themselves sometimes are standing up for victims in what is quite an offenderfocused world. I worry about that slightly; that would be my way of describing it.
Q20 Yasmin Qureshi: I have just a couple of points. First, in relation to my colleague’s comments on children, I think you were saying that for children who have been abused sexually or physically there isn't enough counselling provided for them. That is what I understood you were saying, wasn't it? Currently in the system no psychological or psychiatric involvement can be done because children have to go through the healing process. You say that isn't right.
You are right. They don't normally allow children who have been abused sexually to be seen by a psychiatrist until the case is finished because the idea is-and I just want to ask whether you agree with that-that children may well be susceptible, in the end, to the evidence they give because, if you are doing a psychoanalysis or if you are doing analysis of children, ideas can be put into their mind, they can be asked to think about things and therefore the fear is that the evidence they give at the end may well be affected by the counselling they have. That has been, as I have understood it, the rationale behind it. Do you have any sympathy with that concept at all or do you just think that is wrong?
Louise Casey: Obviously this is for me to look at in more detail in the New Year, but it strikes me that it just doesn't have to be that way. There are projects, for example what is happening in Devon and Cornwall, where the judiciary are very confident that justice is done but you don't have to talk about what happened with the child. You talk about the trauma that has happened and how do they cope with that trauma. There is a Crown Prosecution protocol with the person and the providers that are doing it, and where it is organised well I think you can help the child deal with an extraordinary situation and not prejudice their evidence.
I think that this is where it really, for me, possibly more than anything else that I have come across in the last six months, typifies that we are not thinking about the victim in the way that we should. I am not asking for that victim to be more important than the offender, but I am asking that they have a right to a fair trial, they have dignity and we fulfil our duties to them effectively. The myth is perpetuated that we cannot help people, for example women who have been raped or men who have been raped or children with the trauma that has affected them, which is a normal and understandable reaction-the same as being bereaved through crime; the trauma that you experience is a normal reaction to it. It is perfectly possible for us to help people with that trauma and not prejudice their evidence.
The reason I can say that, amazingly, not as a lawyer and not as somebody with your track record, genuinely is because I have seen these protocols and these projects around the country where the Crown Prosecution Service representing the Crown, the judiciary and others have sorted this out. That gives me great hope but I think it does show, possibly more than anything else, that we just don’t think about victims enough.
We are so desperate to prosecute a trial and we should prosecute that trial because in one case I came across the perpetrator had done it to a previous family where the children had been unable to give evidence in court because they couldn’t bring themselves to do it and nobody wanted to put themselves through it. The fact that, between the NSPCC, the CPS and the court, that person was made to be accountable for the heinous crimes they committed can only be a good thing and it will stop him going and doing it to other people. We shouldn't hide behind all of these myths as a way of not getting them help.
Q21 Chair: I want to move to another area and make sure we have got time to cover it. It is one which you dealt with in some comments and a report that you published last week. I am going ask to Mr Llwyd to deal with that.
Q22 Mr Llwyd: May I just preface my question about what was said last week with one other question, and that is, did you send anything into the consultation on court closures?
Louise Casey: I knew you would ask me about court closures. No, we have not, not so far. Do you want me to say what I think about court closures? Would that be helpful, or-
Q23 Chair: We can always send it to the Lord Chancellor when you have said it, so please do.
Mr Llwyd: Yes, go ahead.
Louise Casey: I can understand, for example in your constituency, where there is a real burning issue about court closure and I completely accept that there will be Members throughout this building and people outside that have very strong opinions about court closures.
How can I put this? I am concerned that we have so many cases clogging up Crown Courts that shouldn't be there, that we can't get a decent service to victims and witnesses in serious cases. I am concerned about value for money. I am concerned about the fact that I am looking at a scenario where I want the service to victims and witnesses to get better, not worse. Therefore, I can see that tough decisions have to be made over resources.
I am also concerned that there are some court buildings that, frankly, do not do a good job for victims and witnesses at all and can’t, because of all sorts of reasons, be made into somewhere that is okay for victims and witnesses. It has not been, if I am absolutely honest, my top priority. I would rather that victims and witnesses didn’t have to come to court on the day and have, yet again, the case adjourned. I would rather that we didn’t have to do treble listings on cases because we just are not very good at making sure victims and witnesses-I would rather that there were separate witness facilities in every courtroom. Really, for me, that is my top priority. Again, if we could guarantee a better service in fewer courtrooms I think I am probably up for that rather than dying a death over lots of courts that aren’t particularly used and possibly don’t always give the service to victims and witnesses that they need. But there are plenty of other interest groups and individuals that may not take that view. That is their prerogative and that is their right.
Q24 Mr Llwyd: Thank you. You have said very recently that defendants should not have the right to choose to be tried by a jury over something such as theft of a bicycle or stealing from a parking meter. Would you agree with me, for a person of good character, being charged with theft is a very serious matter?
Louise Casey: Yes, I would.
Q25 Mr Llwyd: Would you not agree with me that that person should be entitled to opt for jury trial if he or she decides so?
Louise Casey: No, I wouldn't.
Q26 Mr Llwyd: Whilst I appreciate that the magistrates do an excellent job, why do you believe that you should prevent people from having access to jury trial?
Louise Casey: We already have a system in this country of summary offences, either way offences and indictable only. All I am arguing for-and I am not alone in this-is that the list of summary offences is widened and that some of the offences that you have mentioned go into summary only.
I think we’ve got to be really clear here, which is I do not for one believe that magistrates are second class justice. I don't accept that and I think we wouldn’t otherwise ask them to deal with 95% of all proceedings at the moment. Some of those triable either way offences are heard in the magistrates’ court. So I don’t personally see that I am ending any kind of Magna Carta right. I think that all I am asking for is a sensible, pragmatic debate on which other people may have other views on which types of offences should or should not be in. The Magistrates’ Association themselves have put forward, I think, very pragmatic and sensible proposals about, for example, theft for less than £5,000 being a summary only.
I think that what my view-well, I don’t think. I know that something has to give here. We have people that are not getting what they need in Crown Courts. We have money problems facing us but, also, we have a service problem because, if I have to hear about another adjournment of a very serious case and we know meanwhile that somebody is being tried for stealing £24 worth of tea and biscuits when that could also be heard in a magistrates’ court, frankly I don’t think that is fair on them. So where are their rights? Where are their rights in this debate? Where are the rights of victims and witnesses to have a fair trial within a decent time period? That all has to be balanced by people that are better than me and more legally trained and possibly even politicians, but the time is right to have that debate.
Q27 Mr Llwyd: Would you not distinguish between a person who may have previous convictions for theft and somebody who has not?
Louise Casey: You have to trust magistrates more; otherwise don’t give them 95% of all of the work.
Q28 Mr Llwyd: Excuse me, I have practised in magistrates’ courts for years and also Crown Courts as a solicitor and a barrister.
Louise Casey: Right, fine.
Q29 Mr Llwyd: So I have every faith in the magistracy, but that is not relevant to the question I am putting to you. What I am putting to you again is this. If a person of previous good character is charged with theft he or she may risk everything, everything-reputation, job, everything, standing in the community, everything. So I am just putting it to you now, should you not draw a distinction between a person of good character with this charge in front of him or her and a person of previous convictions with this charge in front of him or her?
Louise Casey: Forgive me; I will answer the question directly. I think it is perfectly reasonable to ask for a new approach to summary offences and either way offences that could take account of those sorts of issues. What I am saying is that what the Magistrates’ Association have called for seems to me, at face value, a perfectly reasonable thing to suggest.
I am not a lawyer, I am not legally trained, but I do feel passionately that we are spending a lot of money in a Crown Court on people in those sorts of situations where perhaps they could have equally just justice served in a magistrates’ court.
I honestly urge you to come back to where I started. I may be wrong about some of these things because I am not legally trained but my starting point is this. No one can argue that we get the duties, in fact, to victims and witnesses right in very, very serious cases. They wait too long, they have a haphazard service and the Crown Prosecution Service are so stretched that, in fairness, they cannot always meet the people and talk to them when they should. That does happen regularly.
Something has to give in all of this and I think it is worth us having a debate. I’m not a decisionmaker; I only knock on doors. You are much more powerful than me; the judiciary are much more powerful than me; the legal industry is much more powerful than me. But I look at that money and I look at the effect it has on victims and witnesses of serious crime and I ask you simply to think about whether you really are ripping up a fundamental right or whether one is taking a pragmatic approach to justice in the 21st century. It won’t be my decision, will it? It will be somebody else’s.
Q30 Chair: There is another reason, of course, why you might be wrong, which is the lack of an evidence base for some of the things you are saying. It wasn’t apparent from your report that there was a strong evidence base and we know that, for example, figures for theft, on which you have drawn, don’t distinguish between very small thefts and very large thefts. So what was the evidence base?
Louise Casey: The evidence base is common sense, Chairman, and the fact that if you look at-
Q31 Chair: There is common sense and there is evidence. They are not the same thing.
Louise Casey: There are the powers of very, very large and vested interests that I am sure are putting together evidence on all sorts of things to come back on both what I have said but others have said in terms of looking at either way offences. I don’t think that one can write off-and I’m sure you’re not, from what you have said-the Magistrates’ Association and others in having these views.
I think that one can often hide behind the words "evidence base" in terms of trying to look at whether you need change or not. Perhaps that is a piece of work that needs to happen to see whether the evidence backs it up or not. But I find it hard to look victims in the eye and tell them that because of the vested interest of the giants of the legal system in this country I have to ask them to wait for over 12 months for a nasty trial in London because the system is saying it has to hang on to some sort of antiquated right for somebody to have £24 worth of tea and biscuits dealt with in a Crown Court. I think the time is right to have that debate. That is all I am saying. I do not think I need to have an evidence base to ask for the debate.
Q32 Chair: It is a simple evidence question, which is, is the evidence there that what is causing pressure in the Crown Courts is dealing with minor cases which are for the magistrates rather than any of a variety of other things? That is all I’m asking.
Louise Casey: Then I would ask you to look carefully at Drew Sharpling’s report from HMIC that was also published last week that also looked at efficiencies across the Criminal Justice System and to look at the Magistrates’ Association’s own representations from which I drew and which I have used in a short report I published last week where I also called for what the Director of Public Prosecutions, I think, has asked for a debate about, which is the early guilty plea as well, which is also an issue that we ought to be looking at.
Q33 Mr Llwyd: You have also said you have been told that defendants hold off from pleading guilty until the day of the trial in the Crown Courts in the hope that the witnesses won’t turn up. What is your evidence base for that, because that is a very sweeping statement, isn’t it?
Louise Casey: I think it is fair to say that the whole issue of cracked trials, as they are called, are quite complicated and the reasons for it are quite complicated. But behind what I said last week are quite a number of people that think the time is right for us to look at incentivising an early guilty plea.
Q34 Mr Llwyd: It is already in the system. It is onethird off for a plea. Onethird of your sentence off for a plea is a huge incentive.
Louise Casey: That is correct but, as the Director of Public Prosecutions has said, including a number of others, the time is right to have a debate about incentivisation of early guilty plea. From a victim’s point of view, the fact that you psych yourself up for a trial, you arrive on the day and it cracks, if you know that that person has pleaded guilty and may not have put you through that, I think it is reasonable for me as the Victims’ Commissioner to have a view on it, really.
Q35 Mr Llwyd: I accept that you should have a view on it but can I tell you that in my experience of witnesses not turning up, nine out of 10 judges would say, "This will be adjourned to the first available date next week and make sure he or she is here", and there is no getting off in terms of the defendant at that stage?
Louise Casey: My understanding of this is, and I think somebody else has written about this, that obviously we have a situation where you can't argue-I accept there are credits along the way but, actually, if they do not plead guilty until the last possible moment on the day of the trial that costs quite a lot of money in case preparation. That was my point last week.
My point mainly about these two issues, if I am honest, is I am looking at a really big problem with money for victims and witnesses. I am looking at millions of pounds that could be freed up to help people better in the Crown Court. I am looking at at least £15 million-and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary I think got their own figures that were much higher-about how you could incentivise guilty plea earlier. That is what I was saying last week and I am not the only person saying it.
Q36 Mr Llwyd: So in terms of incentivising, you are not actually saying that defendants should not be allowed to plead on the day of the trial, are you?
Louise Casey: No, not necessarily. How can I put this? A number of people have said to me-this isn’t scientific and I have not done a survey-they find it galling that they get credit on the day of the trial for pleading guilty because in their view they know they have only pleaded guilty because the witnesses or victims have turned up. That is not scientific.
I myself think the system has to find a way to get people to plead guilty at the earliest possible opportunity. I think, as a society, we need to encourage people that have done wrong to show remorse. We need to encourage them-if you are guilty, you are guilty. You should be able to say you are guilty. You should actually feel guilty, not just say you are guilty. You should feel guilty for what you have done and show remorse. If people show remorse and are guilty then they should get some credit for it.
Q37 Mr Llwyd: I am sorry, but people who appear before the Crown Courts and plead at the last minute don’t get any credit. That’s the whole point. They have been offered the credit at an earlier stage precommittal, in the magistrates.
Louise Casey: Well, put these questions to the DPP for the detail of it.
Q38 Mr Llwyd: Okay. Can I move to personal statements? How should Victim Personal Statements be used? Do you think it is appropriate for them to have a role in determining the severity of the sentence?
Louise Casey: I don’t think that they should and I will tell you for why. Apart from the fact I think that Victim Personal Statements are at the moment-I think that we need to be better and clearer about when they are used, how they are collected and in what type of cases. For example, at the moment I think the guidance somewhere will say that, if you are making a statement as a victim of crime to a police officer, you then at that point make your first Victim Personal Statement. Given that we both know that 75% of those cases are never going anywhere beyond that discussion with a police officer I kind of think we don’t necessarily need them to be taking Victim Personal Statements. I don’t want you to stop them doing that yet but it feels part of the transactional world.
When it gets, though, to quite serious cases and quite serious trials, I think there is the moment at the end of it all, in a very dehumanising process, where actually the victim or the victim’s family is able to say in open court or have the Crown say it for them the impact this has had upon them. In a way they are addressing that to the offender, to say to the offender, "This is what your actions have done to us and to our family." I think it is a humanising moment in otherwise what is a dehumanising process. I don’t necessarily think that that should translate into affecting the sentence.
In part, I worry because, for example, in a previous life I worked directly with homeless people. A lot of them, if they were killed in the street or whatever, wouldn’t necessarily have anybody standing up for them in court making the Victim Personal Statement. Some people have families that want to make statements; some don’t. Some are not able to do it; some are. Some have the CPS help them; some don’t. I think, apart from anything, this is about giving the victims, in the most serious cases, one tiny moment where they can have their say. I am not sure it is about them affecting the sentence, and I don't think judges would have it. Do I want judges to change and allow them to have them read out in court as a matter of right? Yes, I do. Do I think they should affect their sentencing decisions? No, I don't.
Q39 Mr Llwyd: You said that you are ready to stand to support Lord Justice Leveson’s work at the Sentencing Guidelines Council. Does the new presentation of sentencing guidelines meet with your approval in terms of achieving greater public understanding of the process of sentencing?
Louise Casey: The assault guidelines you are referring to?
Mr Llwyd: Yes.
Louise Casey: Having looked at them but not in a huge level of detail and having been a former magistrate as well, if I am honest, I have to say that I would still find them quite hard to translate to a member of the public. I think that it is a fraught and complicated area to translate it to the public. So obviously I think that they have their work cut out at the Sentencing Guidelines Council.
I think, though, that we have to be honest-sorry, nobody is being dishonest. I think we have to be clear that the work of the Sentencing Guidelines Council appears to me to be about consistency in sentencing and not necessarily about them making that sentence very clear to the victim or to the public more broadly.
What I would like is that judges were able to make their sentencing decision and give their reasons in a way that could almost-I think it is their responsibility, actually, to the victim as much as to the offender, to be able to hand those reasons out, possibly even in a written format in a courtroom so the victim completely understands what the decision was and why, because I think sometimes in translation in newspapers or in third parties telling people it gets confused.
Q40 Mr Llwyd: I actually think that is a very good idea which you have just mentioned there. Finally, on your proposals to pay solicitors a fixed fee in cases of guilty pleas, is there a danger of a perverse incentive for lawyers to put inappropriate pressure on clients to plead guilty early on?
Louise Casey: I think it all needs to be weighed up in the balance of that debate we were talking about earlier. There are pros and cons to both of those things. I suppose what I am saying is I am looking at millions of pounds that could be saved and ploughed into getting a better service for those children giving witness in Crown Court cases or preserving the funding to Victim Support or whatever it takes. I think it is time-and I am merely the Victims’ Commissioner; I am not the DPP or Lord Chief Justice or a Minister in the Ministry of Justice-to have a look at what might stack that up in a way which achieves the aim really. That is one idea. But I agree with you-there are pros and cons to it.
Chair: There are a couple of supplementaries I think with Siân James and Yasmin Qureshi.
Q41 Mrs James: It is going back a little bit, so I apologise for that. It is about unclogging the system really. How seriously do you think the system has been clogged by this habit or this practice of booking three cases for one space in the diary and witnesses and victims turning up ready to give evidence and then, obviously, it is not their turn?
Louise Casey: Sara Payne, in her report, dealt, I thought, really effectively with this issue of listings. I have to say that in many of the victims’ organisations I have met the word "listings" is used over and over and over as something that they feel passionately about. I think that is one of the reasons why it is incumbent upon the judiciary, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Courts Service and the police to get their act together around some of these big decisions about what we use Crown Courts for, what type of people we are trying to try in them and what type of service we are trying to offer to the victims who need to give evidence in them.
I find it interesting that listings was one of the efficiency measures in the first place. The reason you list three cases for one slot is because you know at least half of them, if not more, will crack. Therefore, as an efficiency drive, you do something that actually can make life much, much more difficult for the victim or the witness.
I have been in this job six months. I am not the brain of Britain and neither, indeed, am I a lawyer, but I think there are a lot of people that should think about how they get that right. I don’t think it is beyond the wit of all of those individuals to get it right if they want, but it may involve looking quite radically at change.
People never want to be radical. They want to keep everything the way it was and then get some more money or get some more of this or introduce new policy. We are in a world where, actually, radical change needs to occur in order to get this happening effectively. So that is my answer to that question: do right by victims. You would not list three trials on the same day. The problem there might be because we are not getting incentives to guilty right or we are clogging up the courts with either way offences. It all connects.
Q42 Mrs James: It is a big issue.
Louise Casey: It is.
Q43 Yasmin Qureshi: I just wanted to pick up on, again, a couple of things. Obviously, as you are the Victims’ Commissioner, your whole thrust is going to be from the victims’ perspective. I know it is not your remit to think about defendants or anybody else in the Criminal Justice System, but on the reason why there may be some difficulties, you seem to think they are so straightforward, but in reality that is not the case.
So, for example, we talk about either way. You are suggesting that there should be a lot more summary offences and getting rid of either way offences. We talk about theft, for example. You see, you may not think £24.10 for a biscuit is a big important thing but if I am somebody of previous good character that would ruin my complete life. It is not a case of competence of magistrates or anybody else. The idea is that for certain offences you need your peers, similar people to you, to decide the case as opposed to professional judges. Eventually, most magistrates become professionals because after they have been sitting a few times they just start to become professional judges as opposed to the lay element. That is why we have these Crown Court trials so that you are judged by your peers.
It is interesting that in some other parts of the world they are actually introducing jury systems now, so they are, in fact, coming into our system. Do you not think that the defendant, at the end of the day, starts off as being somebody who is innocent as well? I am not saying we all do, but we know the victim and the witnesses in certain cases do not tell the truth either. So you have to look at it from both-I am asking, consider it from the balancing-
Chair: Is there anything to add to your previous answer?
Louise Casey: I think the first thing to say is that of course I see that offences that are about good character are incredibly important and I feel the same as you. If somebody accused me of that it would be awful. I think though-and I maintain this-that a magistrates’ court, in the way that they do at the moment, can also do those cases.
I just want to take up something that you said. Of course I understand the position of defendants. Of course-thank God-in this country everybody is innocent until they are proven guilty and I sign up to that justice. But there are vast numbers of lobbies, professional groups and organisations that worry, worry, worry, promote, promote, promote, lobby, lobby, lobby, much more powerfully, much better funded and with much greater vested interest than the Victims’ Commissioner for the rights of defendants.
All I am saying is, can we just occasionally balance it up by thinking about the rights of victims? That is what I see as part of my job and why I am here today.
Q44 Chair: There was one other point that we intended to ask you about and haven’t and I want to give time to do it in the next three or four minutes, which is about the role of victims in restorative justice. Have you looked very much at this? Is there anything you want to say to us about that?
Louise Casey: I will keep it brief, Chair, because I appreciate your time. I am up for restorative justice where it is victim first. I think it is a much bandied-about expression. I think people see it as a panacea and I think it is a word and an expression which is often illused and doesn't express that the victim should be at the heart of a restorative justice approach. I think we just need to be a little bit careful about it being the new kid on the block and the solution to every single thing going in town.
I can only cite a case where it was put to me as a very great and a marvellous thing. As part of a presentence report they were putting together they decided to ask the defendant or the offender at that stage if he put himself forward and was prepared to cooperate with restorative justice then he would get a lesser punishment. They had that conversation with him before going to the victim. For me, that is not restorative justice.
In the same way I am looking forward to going to Northern Ireland where I think they do this very well, I understand, and I am looking forward to it. But, here, the youth justice restorative approach is not really a restorative approach that puts the victim first. In fact I think you might wish to ask somebody else, but there is the turn-out of victims who are asked if they want to be part of the restorative thing. They turn up at a panel, and yet again something that is well intentioned, that is supposed to be about the victim <?oasys [cn ?>being able to look in the eye of the perpetrator, the perpetrator apologising, making good and repairing, turns into an offender-focused thing, which, yet again, is all about the offender.
I worry about this expression "restorative justice". We just need to be a little bit careful. Where it is victim-focused and it works well, it has my vote. Many victims are into rehabilitation. They don’t want what happened to them to happen to anybody else. They are not just into punishment. They want punishment and they want rehabilitation. Restorative justice has its place but it is not the panacea to every single problem facing the Criminal Justice System.
Q45 Mr Llwyd: If it were to start with the victim, in other words you approach the victim and say, "Are you willing to take part in the scheme?", then I agree with you it would be a very good thing. But, actually, when it works, it works well for everybody: for the victim and also for the defendant.
Louise Casey: Completely.
Q46 Mr Llwyd: I was witness to a session a couple of years ago in this place where a prolific burglar had burgled this old man’s house. He had been in jail for 18 years of his life and, anyway, the victim said, "Yes, I am prepared to take part in it." It is horrible, burgling a property and he was actually in the house at the time.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the victim has got something out of it, the defendant has not reoffended for the last seven or eight years and they have become friends actually. That is not going to happen very often, but it does underline that it can be beneficial for all if it is done properly. I think you are right: it should start with the victim.
Chair: That was a helpful warning to us, though, about what happens if you don't get it right.
Louise Casey: I completely endorse the approach that the Member has mentioned there. I think that is the right way for it to be done. The evidence shows that it deals with this, "Why did it happen to me?" for the victim. So, actually, in that case the woman had been burgled and she looked to him and thought, "This spotty 17-year-old burgled me then, did he? Why me?" He was a drug addict. "Why did you do this? Why did you trash my house?" She was able to deal with all of the things that were driving her and her daughter absolutely mad. It was an amazingly positive thing and, actually, the young person has not done it again.
I just think "caution": caution around this expression when, actually, it has got nothing to do with the victim. It is yet again possibly doing good work with the offender but under a victim umbrella. I just think we need to be wary of it.
Chair: Ms Casey, thank you very much indeed for helping us this morning.