A recent report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary has found that some police forces expect victims of crime to investigate their own crime.
The allegation that victims are being made to investigate their own crime is extremely worrying. It should be the police who have powers, the resources and the expertise to investigate crime. To not do so is a dereliction of the police’s duty. The police owe a duty to victims and society to adequately investigate and prevent crime. Whilst the investigation of certain crime does need to be prioritised, this is not an excuse for not sufficiently investigating less serious crime.
If ordinary people are required to find and collect evidence themselves, this may increase costs and delay later on in the criminal process. If evidence is not correctly and impartially gathered there is the risk that more time will have to be spent at trial debating the credibility and reliability of that evidence. This would lead to a completely unnecessary waste of the courts’ resources and public funds.
Roger Baker, the head of the report, further claimed that due to the lack of investigation by the police, offences such as criminal damage and crimes against cars “are on the verge of being decriminalised”.
However, in London at least, this claim seems to be an exaggeration of the factual reality. The Metropolitan Police Force states that it “has a policy that says that officers will attend all reports of crimes and incidents where a victim wishes attendance”. This presumably includes victims of criminal damage and vehicle crime and the report does not suggest that the Metropolitan Police do not fulfil their policy.
Adam Shaw, an experienced criminal defence solicitor at TV Edwards, confirmed this, “TV Edwards continues to represent a large number of clients accused of criminal damage and interference with motor cars.”
However, the key findings of the report, that the police are not investigating crimes as adequately, effectively or efficiently they should be doing are valid. Senior police officers have suggested that their forces’ performance has been hindered by the government’s cuts to their budgets.
The lack of proper investigation of some crimes leads to the very real risk that victims’ rights are not being protected. This once again highlights how the government’s austerity driven cuts risk causing great damage to the British justice system.
Earlier this year the Judicial Executive Board launched a stinging attack on the cuts to civil legal aid in relation to the family courts. They suggested that the cuts have “almost certainly” caused meritorious cases not to be brought before the courts.
The potential damage to the fairness of the criminal damage caused by cuts to criminal legal aid was exposed in R v Crawly.
Although the Court of Appeal held that the trial had been stayed too early, they acknowledged that they could not rule out case being stayed in the future due to the lack of high quality legal representation.
All of those that have to go through the justice system, whether they are defendants or victims deserve that their rights are taken seriously and are properly protected. The government’s continued programme of austerity has already seriously undermined access to justice. Unless there is a radical change of thinking to the government’s policy on justice there is the very real risk of further damage to the rule of law in the UK.