Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Inspectorate has just published its 2019-20 annual report. This report comes against a backdrop of diminished resource availability over a prolonged period and, of course, the beginning of the Covid 19 crisis. As the report highlights, where there is a “stretch” of resource there are serious implications for quality accompanied by limited evidence of “grip”.
The report covers a range of inspection topics: area performance, thematic inspections, joint inspections, corporate issues. There is one area worthy of particular mention, an area that doesn’t tend to generate a lot of interest or attention: the joint inspection undertaken with HM Inspectorate of Constabulary Fire and Rescue Services into crimes against older people. This was the first ever inspection looking specifically at crimes against older victims and safeguarding arrangements that support this type of offence.
The joint inspection report itself was published this time last year so you may wonder “why write about it now?”. Well, since then we have all had to come to terms with a new reality, the reality of the Covid 19 crisis (yes, there’s no getting away from it I’m afraid).
The inspection highlighted that often the police service had a “superficial understanding” of the nature and extent of crimes against older people and that this often resulted in a poorer service to older victims. It also identified the lack of a cohesive and focused joint strategy between the police and CPS to deal with older victims of crime.
The inspection made some recommendations: a simple definition of what constitutes an older victim; clear guidance around special measures;effective monitoring arrangements of cases involving older people. The positive response to the report from the CPS and police was encouraging.
But given that we are now living in a much changed world, one where social isolation (or distancing, call it what you will) has become the norm for many it is vital that we do not lose sight of the need to think about our responses to all those who need help and support following crime. Our recent survey of victim service providers (Survey) offers some useful insights into how victim services have had to adapt in the current crisis: more remote ways of engaging with victims, greater use of technology etc. The responses we had, as well as highlighting many challenges, also present many opportunities as we start to think about how we can learn and try to make services ever more responsive and engaging.
If we are to see services to victims (and witnesses), statutory as well as third sector, become more accessible, more effective, more inclusive we need to make sure that no one is left behind. We need to make sure that older people, their particular needs and the ways in which they could and should be engaged and supported are a key component of our considerations.
Many older people are, of course, “tech savvy” and have access to good support networks - family, friends, local community groups. But we know that there are many who do not and who are increasingly vulnerable and, sadly, seen as “easy prey” by those intent on committing crime. It’s incumbent on all of us working in the criminal justice arena to make sure we keep the needs of the most vulnerable in our society at the very core of our thinking and planning for the future.