Evaluation of the Street Crime Initiative: supporting victims and witnesses of street crime: a joined-up approach
3. Victim Support and Witness Service providers
- 3.1 Victim Support service providers
- 3.2 Working with other agencies
- 3.3 Implementing the service
- 3.4 Provision to victims
- 3.5 Localised provision
- 3.6 Barriers to service delivery
- 3.7 Witness service providers
- 3.8 Working with other criminal justice agencies
- 3.9 Implementing the service
- 3.10 Services and facilities in court
- 3.11 Witness Service provision
3.1 Victim Support service providers
Surveys were sent out to Victim Support Area and borough managers. Local co-ordinators within the Area structure completed the survey where they had greater knowledge and involvement in setting up the 'premium service'. The total number of completed surveys returned was 29. The sample is small; therefore any reference to the number of specific responses is given as the actual number and not as a percentage.
3.2 Working with other agencies
In the majority of cases the police 'always' (six 'always' or 11 'almost always') provided victims' details8 to Victim Support. Only two service providers reported that the police 'never' or 'almost never' gave details. Despite this low figure, it is worrying that the police are not supporting some local services in relation to referrals. Failure to supply victims' details makes early engagement impossible. And unless the victim contacts Victim Support personally, they may not be aware of, or receive, the support that is available to them.
When asked about their working relationship with other agencies and the extent to which it enhanced their ability to provide support to victims, service providers' experience was mixed. For example, more service providers found their engagement with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (six 'always', seven 'almost always') to be more frequent and reliable than with social services (seven 'never', 12 'almost never') or their local authority (three 'never', ten 'almost never').
Service providers' opinions were mixed when asked whether they thought that the SCI had encouraged and facilitated a joined-up working approach between agencies. Thirteen felt that the relationship was 'good' (one 'very good', 12 'fairly good') and eight felt it was 'poor' (five 'fairly poor', three 'very poor'). This suggests that the experience of agencies working together to promote the interests of victims and witnesses varies greatly from place to place. Some service providers feel that their work is restricted, as decisions or agreements they have made with other managers about data protection have not been effectively communicated within the agency. They feel that work needs to be done to educate other agencies about the important role Victim Support plays in delivering services, as this is not always fully understood. The emphasis placed on increasing conviction rates by other agencies was at the expense of developing and discussing victims' and witnesses' needs.
3.3 Implementing the service
Over half of the service providers who responded found the 'premium service' 'easy' (one 'very easy', nine 'fairly easy') to implement following a successful funding application. Despite this, there were several barriers which had to be overcome in order for projects to be put into practice:
- problems with data protection, particularly in getting victims' details from the police
- the initial problems experienced with funding. In some cases the protracted funding process prevented full-time project staff from being appointed
- the initial unwillingness of other agencies to engage fully with Victim Support.
3.4 Provision to victims
Types of contact and emotional support
The majority of service providers sent a leaflet relevant to the crime and a letter explaining and offering our services as the initial form of contact. Further contact with victims was offered according to individual need.
Contact by 'phone is either made as the first method of contact or following a letter. Of those who responded, 17 always made 'phone contact (four 'always', 13 'almost always') and nine 'sometimes'. No service providers reported 'never' using the 'phone as a contact method. A number of projects ensured initial contact by 'phone (if possible) to explain the service available to victims. The extra funding from the SCI enabled a number of projects to focus on early personal contact with victims, many on the same day as details from the police were received.
The trauma and distress caused by being a victim of crime will vary according to the individual. Sometimes, talking about the experience over the 'phone with a trained volunteer is enough. Other victims of crime prefer to speak to a volunteer face-to-face, either in their home or by visiting the Victim Support office. The responses by service providers reflect this as eight 'always' (three 'always', five 'almost always') undertook home visits and 18 'sometimes'. All of those who responded to this question provided home visits.
Ongoing contact is provided when requested by the victim. This may occur some time after the initial contact, for example during the days after giving evidence in court.
Practical support and information
As well as providing emotional support, Victim Support also gives practical advice and information.
Twelve service providers 'always' (five 'always' and seven 'almost always') supplied information about crime prevention and how to keep safe, 11 'sometimes' and only 1 'never'.
Usually a victim will want to be kept up-to-date about the status of the crime. The majority of service providers 'always' (three 'always', 13 'almost always') ensured that volunteers contacted the police officer dealing with the case on behalf of the victim and 11 'sometimes'. All Victim Support services 'always' or 'sometimes' contacted the police to obtain information. The victim may not always request this type of support and we can assume that contact will be made with the police if the victim has requested it.
An aim of the SCI was to promote a seamless service between Victim Support and the Witness Service. Where a case reaches court and requires the victim to give evidence9, Victim Support will provide details of the Witness Service. This includes a leaflet that goes into details of what to expect. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) should tell the Witness Service in advance, through the list of witnesses attending court (LWAC), who is going to be attending court to give evidence. The amount of time between the LWAC and the date of the trial can however vary. It is important that victims are aware of the service that exists to support them during the trial, as the thought of giving evidence is often very traumatic. This can be further compounded if the victim knows the defendant. The majority of service providers 'always' (eight 'always', eight 'almost always') offer information about the Witness Service and ten sometimes. All Victim Support services 'always' or 'sometimes' provided information about the Witness Service10.
Victims were also given other forms of practical support: information and assistance with a Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority claim; accompanying them to ID parades at police stations; and providing transport or travel facilities. This last service is not recommended by the National Office as it can put volunteers in a vulnerable position.
3.5 Localised provision
It is important for Victim Support Areas and London boroughs to develop their services to victims and witnesses in response to local need. The SCI is flexible in that, while having overarching aims that have been formalised in a set of minimum standards, it expects and encourages local variations in the type of service provided to ensure that practice is targeted at identified local need.
A number of service providers employed street crime co-ordinators or caseworkers to oversee the project, covering both Victim Support and the Witness Service. Examples are Victim Support Greater Manchester and Victim Support Islington, both of which proved successful, facilitating the smooth implementation of the project.
In the London Borough of Wandsworth, the majority of victims were aged between 10 and 19 and resources were subsequently targeted at this age group, including the employment of a youth worker. The project has letters and leaflets designed specifically for young people. It has forged links with other voluntary and community organisations together with the local authority and schools.
In Preston, a caseworker was employed to undertake a local survey of victims to gain an understanding of their needs and to focus services.
Victim Support West Midlands responded to the demand highlighted by local community services for crime prevention advice and personal safety devices. Where requested, local services provided personal alarms and information packs to victims.
As well as offering emotional support in the aftermath of the offence, Victim Support Southwark provided a lock fitting service to victims who had their house keys stolen. This was intended to prevent further victimisation, if details of the victim's address had been in the property stolen, and also to help the victim feel safer. A dedicated caseworker worked directly with the police to ensure that victims were kept up-to-date with any developments in their case and to maintain longer term contact if required.
A close working relationship was developed between the police and Victim Support West Yorkshire (Bradford and Leeds), where the police distributed customised street crime leaflets promoting the services of Victim Support.
3.6 Barriers to service delivery
Service providers were asked whether there were any specific barriers to implementing their service to victims:
- occasional problems with providing leaflets in the language required
- police not providing the correct details for the victim
- police not referring victims to Victim Support
- a shortage of volunteers, particularly to undertake face-to-face visits
- a lack of funding
- difficulties in contacting the police officer dealing with the case
- clients who were difficult to contact, particularly during the day
- the increased use of mobile 'phone numbers as people's main 'phone numbers, which has increased contact costs
- data protection complexities at local level
- some victims being initially reluctant to engage due to the number of agencies involved.
3.7 Witness Service providers
Surveys were sent out to Victim Support Area and borough managers. These were then distributed to Witness Service co-ordinators for completion. The total number of completed surveys returned was 47. For consistency, we have quoted the actual number of responses to each question, not the percentage.
3.8 Working with other criminal justice agencies
Service providers were asked about their experience, since the SCI was implemented, of working with agencies across the criminal justice system. This includes the police, court staff, judges, magistrates, defence teams and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The main focus however was on their relationship with the police and the CPS.
The CPS is the main provider of witnesses' details to the Witness Service in the form of a list of witnesses attending court (LWAC). The majority of service providers found the CPS 'always' (six 'always', 23 'almost always') supplied witnesses' details11. Despite this high number, eight 'never' (four 'almost never', four 'never') and eight 'only sometimes' received details of witnesses due to attend court. This becomes problematic as witnesses will not have the opportunity to receive the same level of service pre-trial as those who have been notified to the Witness Service in advance. Although they will come into contact with the Witness Service on the day of the trial and be offered court familiarisation and support before, during and after the trial, this comes late in the process and may not provide sufficient opportunity to discuss anxieties.
In a limited number of cases, nine out of 42, the police 'always' (three 'always', six 'almost always') provide witnesses' details, although this is not a formalised procedure.
A witness may have specific concerns about attending court, for example: the defendant may be known to them; they may have specific health needs; they may have a disability or impairment that requires appropriate measures; or they may be extremely anxious about the whole process. In such instances it is important that the Witness Service is made aware of any potential issues, and it is generally the police who are relied upon for this. Only one service provider reported 'always' being informed of witnesses' concerns by the police, nine 'almost always' and 15 'sometimes'. Although no one was 'never' informed, 15 were 'almost never' provided with this information, which is a matter for concern. In such circumstances undue pressure is placed on the Witness Service and they may find it difficult to provide the necessary intensive support a witness needs. This may affect whether or not a witness is in the right frame of mind to deliver their best evidence in court.
Service providers were asked their opinion as to whether they thought agencies were working more effectively together to promote the needs of victims and witnesses. Of the 42 service providers who responded to this question, 29 (14 'very good', 15 'fairly good') felt that overall agencies were working more effectively together since the start of the SCI. Although this is a positive move forward, the experience of nine providers was that the relationship was 'poor' (seven 'fairly poor', two 'very poor').
Barriers to working together
Witness Service providers cited very similar reasons for the lack of effective working relationships between criminal justice agencies. These included:
- lack of communication between agencies, particularly with the Witness Service
- lack of understanding of the role of the Witness Service
- information not being passed on to the Witness Service
- data protection issues with the police and CPS, meaning that witnesses' details are not being shared
- in one Area, where only two courts are designated for street crime cases, some witnesses have to travel long distances. Trials are not being fixed, resulting in only an hour's notice of the hearing being given to witnesses
- agencies having different performance indicators that are not necessarily compatible, or do not focus on the needs of witnesses
- lack of referrals from the police
- no advance warning of street crime trials
3.9 Implementing the service
When asked how easy it was to implement the 'premium service', 21 of the 33 who responded found it 'easy' (two 'very easy', 19 'fairly easy') to implement and eight 'difficult' (one 'very difficult', seven 'fairly difficult'). The majority of service providers experienced several barriers that had to be overcome in order for projects to be put into practice. These include:
- initial funding problems, very short timescales for application and no indication about further funding beyond 2003
- initial problems getting witnesses' details
- volunteers questioning whether the 'premium service' was unfair to witnesses in trials for non-street crime offences
- data protection issues
3.10 Services and facilities in court
There are a number of different facilities that can be offered to witnesses at the court, such as separate waiting areas for defence and prosecution witnesses. These measures generally rely on the court itself, with the Witness Service having little control over them.
|Service or facility at court||Provided: yes||Provided: no|
|Separate and secure waiting area for prosecution witnesses||46||1|
|Separate and secure waiting areas for defence witnesses||34||13|
|Separate entrance/exit for witnesses||40||7|
|Separate catering facilities (or suitable provision) for witnesses||33||14|
|Separate waiting areas for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses (VIWs)||43||4|
|Separate entrance for VIWs||37||10|
|Video links for VIWs||29||18|
|Screens or curtains for VIWs||42||5|
|Courtrooms set aside to process cases quickly||12||34|
Witness Service providers reported the following additional services in the courts they serve:
- panic alarms in witness rooms
- secure lockers
- security officers used as an escort
- court has specific VIW suite
- designated caseworkers and police officer to provide continuous service
- prayer room and crèche
- separate entrance available on request
- witness reception desk
- children's play area
- prosecution witness smoking room.
3.11 Witness Service provision
Types of contact and support
Contact with witnesses before the trial date allows for the offer of a pre-trial visit and for the witness to discuss their concerns with a volunteer. Providers are reliant on receiving witnesses' details from either the CPS or the police before the trial. Seventeen reported 'always' being able to do so (nine 'always', eight 'almost always') and 23 'sometimes'. A limited number were 'never' (one 'never', four 'almost never') able to contact witnesses before the trial. This is due to referrals to the Witness Service not being made in time. Although the Witness Service tries to offer witnesses, whom they come into contact with on the day of the trial, the chance to see the court before proceedings begin and support before, during and after the trial, this does not leave enough time for witnesses' fears to be addressed fully.
Pre-trial familiarisation visits are offered to all witnesses13 before the day of the trial. The majority of service providers 'always' (19 'always', six 'almost always') and a further 20 'sometimes' undertook court familiarisation visits. Those who responded 'sometimes' include instances where the witness declined the offer, or details were not known before the trial started. All service providers offered pre-trial visits provided they received witnesses' details. When a witness is particularly worried about giving evidence a volunteer may visit them at home14. 14 out of the 42 providers who responded to this question reported 'sometimes' undertaking home visits. A witness who is anxious before a trial starts may still be in contact with their Victim Support volunteer.
Contact on the day of the trial
Asked whether they make contact with those witnesses who had not been referred before the day of the trial, 43 out of 45 responded 'always' (37 'always', six 'almost always') and two 'sometimes'. There were no instances when contact was never made. This highlights how much importance the Witness Service places on offering the service to all witnesses and how successful it has been in doing so.
Support on the day of the trial
A variety of services are available to witnesses on the day of the trial. These include:
- meeting witnesses at court
- answering any questions on court procedures
- remaining with the witnesses throughout the duration of the trial
- a quiet place to wait before and during the trial. This is usually a separate room
- extra support to witnesses who have been identified as in need
- where required, putting witnesses in touch with the relevant people to answer specific questions.
Support after the trial
After the trial, the Witness Service will talk through the experience with the witness and answer any further questions they may have. Although it is not the responsibility of the Witness Service, 25 providers 'always' (23 'always', two 'almost always') and 17 'sometimes' contacted the witness to inform them of the trial outcome.
Where a witness has been distressed during the trial the Witness Service will refer them back to Victim Support or another relevant agency for further support.
Barriers to service delivery
Service providers were asked whether there were any specific barriers to carrying out particular parts of their service to victims. The main barriers are set out below:
- a lack of information from the police and CPS
- some LWACs are not sent. Where they are, the details are often incorrect, including whether the witness is a young person.
- lack of resources
- police failure to identify VIWs and a lack of knowledge and reluctance to apply for special measures
- over-reliance on other agencies to identify witnesses needing extra support
- information about court delays not always being passed on
- information not always being passed to the witness by the criminal justice unit about the services available to them. This impacts on pre-trial visits
- on the day of the trial, courtrooms not always being available and witnesses arriving at court late
- busy courts making it difficult to arrange times for pre-trial visits
- support throughout the trial depending on the number of volunteers available for that particular day
- quiet places being difficult to find on very busy trial days
- it being difficult to engage CPS staff to talk to witnesses in the day
- information about the outcome of the trial being difficult to find out.
8. Name, address and 'phone number.
9. A victim may also attend court but as a non-witness victim. Details of the Witness Service would also be given to them to support them at court if needed.
10. Service providers may have interpreted this question slightly differently. Where they have responded either 'always' or 'almost always', this is because they would always refer a victim to the Witness Service if the victim needed to attend court. The response of 'sometimes' has been used because it may not be appropriate for the victim to be referred to the Witness Service as their case has not got to court. Therefore providers may only sometimes need to refer to the Witness Service.
11. Name, address and 'phone number.
12. Forty seven respondents answered these questions.
13. Where witnesses' details have been supplied before the start of the trial.
14. This will be dependant on resources, particularly the amount of volunteer time available.