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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Final report

G.3: Improving the experience of victims

44. First published in 2005, the Victims’ Code sets out “the services and a minimum standard for these services that must be provided to victims of crime” by agencies involved in the criminal justice system.[1] It contains 12 ‘rights’ which apply from the start of the criminal process, when the crime is reported, through to the investigation and prosecution stages. These include the right to be:

  • referred to services that support victims, including support at court such as special measures;
  • provided with information about compensation and information about the investigation, prosecution and trial process; and
  • informed about the outcome of any appeal process and given information about the offender following a conviction.[2]

45. The Inquiry’s Accountability and Reparations Investigation Report noted that the Victims’ Code was not being uniformly adhered to and there was no mechanism to monitor and enforce compliance with the Code.[3] Across its work, the Inquiry encountered failures to offer victims and survivors therapy and counselling in advance of their trial.[4] Some victims and survivors were either discouraged by the police from seeking compensation through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme or were not signposted to the scheme.[5]

46. The Inquiry’s Interim Report (April 2018) therefore recommended that the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and Attorney General commission a joint inspection of compliance with the Victims’ Code in relation to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, including consulting with the Victims’ Commissioner for England and for Wales on the approach to the inspection.[6] In response, in July 2019, the government stated that the Ministry of Justice had developed and implemented a compliance framework for the Victims’ Code, with police and crime commissioners overseeing a new monitoring process. The first national compliance report was due in early 2020. However, in October 2020, the Ministry of Justice stated that the operational demands of the COVID-19 pandemic on both the Ministry of Justice and criminal justice agencies had meant that further development of the Victims’ Code compliance monitoring framework had not been possible.[7]

47. Evidence gathered suggests that the Victims’ Code is still not consistently applied and followed. Particular concerns surround the way in which the police communicate with victims, survivors and complainants.

47.1. In May 2019, the Inquiry’s Victims and Survivors Forum Consultation on the Criminal Justice System noted that, having reported the matter to the police, there was “inconsistency in how the next steps were communicated to victims and survivors”. In addition, the Forum reported that there was often uncertainty about the investigative stages, whether the perpetrator would be arrested, timescales and what support was available. In cases where the experience of the initial reporting had been positive, “these expectations were not always met because the police did not follow up in the way they described”.[8]

47.2. Poor communication was also a concern raised by children and young people who participated in the Inquiry’s project which culminated in the Engagement with Children and Young People report (June 2021). Some young people and their families stated that they were not kept up to date, while others said that the police would only communicate with parents and did not share any information with young victims and survivors in case it upset them. Children and young people stressed the importance of both being kept well informed and having a choice about the level of information given to them.[9]

47.3. The Centre for Social Justice’s report Unsafe Children (2021) noted that some victims and survivors had to “chase the police for updates”.[10]

47.4. The Victims Commissioner Victims’ Experience: Annual Survey (2021) also found that less than one-third (29 percent) of respondents were aware of the Victims’ Code and only a quarter of respondents agreed that they were kept regularly informed or received all the information they needed about the police investigation.[11] While this survey was not specific to reports of child sexual abuse, it is clear that non-adherence with the Victims’ Code is not the exclusive preserve of child sexual abuse cases.

48. There are also ongoing concerns about access to special measures. Special measures are designed to improve the quality of a witness’s evidence given in court. The measures may vary depending on whether the witness is an adult or child, but include:

  • screening a witness present in court from the accused;
  • enabling a witness to give evidence via a live link;
  • having video-recorded evidence played as the witness’s evidence in chief;[12]
  • being assisted by an intermediary to help with communicating the questions to, and answers given by, the witness;[13] and
  • more recently, pre-recording cross-examination (and re-examination) of vulnerable witnesses, which includes all child witnesses.[14] The video-recorded cross-examination takes place in advance of the trial and the jury are played the video during the trial itself.[15]

49. The pre-recording of evidence is only available for adults if the “quality of evidence … is likely to be diminished” because they have a “mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983”, or a “significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning”, or a “physical disability or … a physical disorder”.[16] Therefore an adult complainant who does not fall within this category, whether reporting sexual abuse said to have been committed when they were a child or alleging that they were sexually abused as an adult, is ineligible for this special measure. However, in June 2022, following a pilot involving adult complainants of sexual offences (and modern slavery offences), the UK government indicated that pre-recording of evidence for complainants in cases involving these offences would be rolled out nationally.[17]

50. While the use of special measures has become more common, it is clear that not every witness who is legally entitled to and needs this assistance is provided with it. A 2020 survey of 365 victims and survivors by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse found that special measures were often not offered or utilised, with two in five victims and survivors not having the opportunity to give evidence remotely or from behind a screen.[18] The Victims Commissioner’s 2021 report into special measures also noted that where special measures were granted for ‘vulnerable and intimidated witnesses’ (children and adult complainants in child sexual abuse cases fall within this category), care needed to be taken to ensure that the most appropriate special measure was adopted, including the little-used special measure of allowing a witness to give their evidence in private.[19]

51. In December 2021, the government launched a consultation on the Draft Victims Bill, describing it as “the first significant step towards a landmark ‘Victims’ Law’ – a Bill which will build on the foundations provided by the Victims’ Code to substantially improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system”.[20] In June 2022, the government responded to the consultation and undertook to “enshrine the Victims’ Code in law” and to place criminal justice agencies “under a duty to review their compliance with the Victims’ Code – using data and victim feedback to improve their performance”.[21] This includes bringing in legislation so that “criminal justice inspectorates carry out regular joint inspections on victims’ issues”.[22]

52. The Victims’ Code has been in place for nearly two decades and yet concerns still persist that it is not being fully complied with. The Inquiry’s 2018 recommendation for a joint inspection was not implemented. While the consultation on the Draft Victims Bill is welcome, any legislative change will not happen for a lengthy period of time. In the interim, greater focus is required on compliance with the Victims’ Code. The Inquiry therefore reiterates its recommendation that there should be a joint inspection regarding compliance with the Victims’ Code.

Recommendation 14: Compliance with the Victims’ Code

The Inquiry recommends (as originally stated in its Interim Report, dated April 2018) that the UK government commissions a joint inspection of compliance with the Victims’ Code in relation to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, to be undertaken by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, His Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation.


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