A victim-centred approach to criminal justice
Victims and Criminal Justice: A History
Pamela Cox, Robert Shoemaker, Heather Shore
£90, Oxford University Press
Most law books focus on the criminal and ignore those most affected by crime – the victims. Being victim-centred reveals the complex interrelationship between victims and the criminal justice system (CJS), highlighting their experiences and the challenges victims encounter when seeking justice. Not only do the authors of Victims and Criminal Justice use quantitative research from official statistics, making their argument more reliable, but also qualitative data such as case studies, adding verstehen and in-depth meaning to the victim’s viewpoint.
This book explores how, for many years, victims were excluded from the legal process, leading to alienation. The few times victims were included, they often experienced physical and psychological harm.
The victims’ rights movement of the 1970s advocated for the rights of victims within the CJS to change this unjust dynamic. For example, the restorative justice programme aimed to amend the conventional punitive approach to justice by emphasising the importance of the needs of victims, offenders and the community. The programme promoted accountability, reconciliation and consolation by discussing the best solution for both parties to provide justice. Victim inclusion can contribute to healing and recovery by empowering victims to express concerns, while restoring a sense of agency and autonomy.
The most striking exploration of experiences in the CJS, between the late 17th and 20th centuries, is the drastic difference in the treatment of rape victims, who felt re-victimised, misunderstood and disregarded by the legal process because of a lack of empathy and support. The shocking case of William Regan (1974) delves further into this.
Regan was convicted of rape but received only a four-year sentence, with the judge remarking that he ‘makes allowances for… girls who take lifts from strangers are asking for trouble’. There have been numerous similar damning judgements on victims’ characters, exacerbating the already biased judicial outcomes for rape victims. Only through gradual change, such as the 1976 Sexual Offences Bill (Amendment) Act, following protests and increased support services (for example counselling and financial compensation), was there finally improvement.
For decades, the CJS prioritised the prosecution and incarceration of offenders over the rights of victims. This book bestows on readers valuable insights into the first-hand experiences of victims, emphasising the importance of inclusion and empowerment.
The authors make a compelling case for a more receptive, objective and considerate CJS.
Haseea Khan is a student in London