A Voice for the Voiceless: The Victims’ Commissioner’s Review into the Provision of Registered Intermediaries for Children and Vulnerable Victims and Witnesses
1. This review presents the findings from a research project carried out by the Victims’ Commissioner into the provision of Registered Intermediaries (RIs) through the Witness Intermediary Scheme (WIS).
2. RIs provide communication assistance, enabling vulnerable victims and witnesses to give evidence to the police and at trial. They are provided through special measures for vulnerable victims and witnesses under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.
3. Previous research has demonstrated that RIs are effective in enabling vulnerable victims and witnesses in giving complete, coherent and accurate evidence at the Achieving Best Evidence interview stage and at trial.
4. Given the impact that RIs have on enabling eligible witnesses to gain equal access to justice, this review focuses on the operation of the WIS and how this influences the provision of RIs for those who need them.
5. The review asks key questions regarding whether victims and witnesses who are eligible and would benefit from a RI are being allocated one. It looks at the management of the WIS, including recruitment, training, continuing professional development, mentoring and supervision of RIs, their pay and work conditions and how their work is quality assessed. The review covers the impact of court listings on the work of RIs. It examines awareness and understanding of the role by police officers and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Advocates, along with the training that they receive about how to engage and work with RIs. It identifies how WIS users assess the vulnerability and eligibility of victims and witnesses, and the process of matching requests with a suitably qualified and skilled RI. Supply and demand of RIs is assessed, including the availability of RIs in different geographical areas and skill sets.
6. The Office of the Victims’ Commissioner gathered the views of 122 RIs in an online survey (a response rate of approximately 92 percent). Regional focus groups were also conducted with RIs in the North West, Cambridgeshire, the South West, Yorkshire and the North East. In total, 42 RIs participated in these focus groups.
7. Qualitative interviews were carried out with 20 service users of the WIS, comprising of 9 service users from the CPS and 11 police officers.
8. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were carried out with representatives of the National Crime Agency Witness Intermediary Team; Ministry of Justice; the Registered Intermediary Registration Board; the Registered Intermediary Quality Assurance Board; the National Vulnerable Witness Advisor; the College of Policing; Her Majesties Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) Section 28 roll out team and the CPS. A written submission to the research questions was received from the Citizens Advice Witness Service.
9. Evidence from this research and a review of previous literature found that RIs are invaluable in providing communication assistance for vulnerable victims and witnesses, giving them a voice in the criminal justice system (CJS) and in turn, providing them with equality of access to justice. Police and CPS users of the WIS are positive about the impact of RIs and have supplied several case studies which demonstrate their impact in enabling the communication of vulnerable victims and witnesses. RIs are passionate about their work and have also supplied case studies in the review of their success in assisting the communication of vulnerable victims and witnesses.
10. The review found that not all vulnerable victims and witnesses who are entitled and would benefit from a RI are receiving their assistance to give evidence. Requests for RIs from police forces are disproportionate to the levels of recorded crime, so that some of the most populated areas such as London and Greater Manchester request less RIs as a proportion of recorded crime compared with areas with less crime such as Cumbria.
11. There are not enough RIs to meet the current levels of demand. The average waiting time for a request to be matched with a RI is 4 weeks. The long delay leads some police officers to go ahead and interview a vulnerable victim or witness without a RI. The delay also deters some police officers from requesting a RI in the first place. This means that the true level of potential demand is not clear. There is also a particular lack of suitably skilled RIs for older children and adults whose mental health needs impair their communication, as well as for those in some geographical areas, such as North Wales.
12. The review found inconsistency in the way in which vulnerability is assessed by Police and the CPS, also leading to variations across police forces and within them as to whether a RI will be requested. It found a lack of awareness by police and the CPS of the role of RIs, how to work with them and the preparation work that they carry out ‘behind the scenes’.
13. The review found that the organisation of court listings has a significant impact on the work of RIs and on vulnerable victims, witnesses and their families. Late bill payments and confusion over whether police or CPS pay for RI services also impacts upon the work of RIs, leaving many unable to rely on it as their main source of income, and with some avoiding working with certain police forces, such as the Metropolitan Police, altogether.
14. There is a lack of overall management and governance of the WIS. The review found particular issues relating to a lack of funded mentoring, diminished provision of continuing professional development, no funded clinical supervision, insufficient quality assurance procedures and a lack of perceived support of the WIS from the Ministry of Justice.
15. The lack of management, governance, mentoring and support has left many RIs feeling that, despite being valued by victims and the police, they are not valued by the Ministry of Justice. In this review, many RIs have called for improvements to these aspects of the WIS.
16. Taking these shortcomings into account, the review concludes that there is a systemic failure in the operation of the WIS which does not effectively manage the provision of RIs for vulnerable victims and witnesses.
17. In summary, whilst the services of RIs are invaluable in providing access to justice for some of the most vulnerable victims and witnesses in England and Wales; the WIS lacks the managerial and governance structure required to provide a professional and consistent service for all those who need it.
18. The Victims’ Commissioner has made recommendations to enhance the provision of RIs. These include:
a. The provision of RIs to vulnerable victims and witnesses in England and Wales should be undertaken by a centralised national service, situated in one agency.
b. A fast track RI service for very young children should be implemented to ensure that they are able to make their ABE statement and give evidence without delay.
c. A National Lead Registered Intermediary should be appointed to feed into the policy and practice in the provision of RIs, and to represent RIs’ interests across the CJS.
d. The National Registered Intermediary Service and National Lead Registered Intermediary should prepare an annual report for publication.
e. Inspections of how the CPS and police work with RIs should be included in regular inspections by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.
f. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service should work with judges and the parties to ensure that trials involving a RI are prioritised where possible, and that vulnerable victims and witnesses are informed more precisely of the date and time when they will give their evidence.
g. Awareness of the role of RIs should be promoted to judges, magistrates, CPS and police; in addition, training on their role and how to work them should be a mandatory part of training on special measures.
19. The Victims’ Commissioner believes that these recommendations will enhance the provision of RIs for vulnerable victims and witnesses, giving them equality of access to justice and a voice in the CJS.