At the heart of our criminal justice system is the legal truth that any person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty; and to be found guilty the case against them must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant does not have to prove his or her innocence and the rights of the victim cannot be enforced at the expense of the rights of the defendant.
This may seem counterintuitive to the points we have raised in our previous articles on victims’ rights. However, the Victims’ Commissioner has stated that it is not a zero-sum game and a Victims Law that reconceptualises the status of victims as participants should not undermine the rights of the defendant:
“[…] justice cannot be delivered without victims and our justice system needs to reflect this […] This does not in any way undermine the rights of the defendant and does not make [the victim] a party to proceedings, or a decision-maker, but it does confirm victims as active contributors in their own right to the criminal justice process .
This may well be the case, but the manner in which trials are run in England and Wales remains adversarial and although this may at first glance appear disproportionate or unfair to the victim, as the Secret Barrister explains: “Improving the experience of the witness by softening the edges of the adversarial process may mean that […] lies and mistakes go unexposed. And innocent people are locked up .”
It follows that, just as it is in the interests of the victim (and broader society) that the Prosecution presents its case against the accused as forcefully as it is able; equally, the Defence, has the right to challenge the Prosecution’s case with comparable vigour; this will include interrogating the testimony of the Prosecution’s main witness, and this will often be the victim.
As we have addressed in previous weeks, there are standard and special measures already in place to protect vulnerable victims and additional safeguarding provisions are in review. As we have seen in the statistics, these protections are important, not least because there is some correlation to suggest that they encourage victims to report crimes, and they allow room for some humanity in a system that often strips the victim of their voice.
However, victims’ rights can and should only go so far: robust victims’ rights are an essential part of a civilised society and a functioning criminal justice system; but they should not be a challenge to the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Our Victims’ Rights Team will be direct and unambiguous in our advice about the elements of the justice system that will, unfortunately but necessarily, be challenging to navigate; and ready to provide support throughout the process.
B P Collins’ Victims’ Rights Team has extensive experience corresponding with the police, Witness Care Unit, and courts to ensure that our clients’ rights are observed. Whether you are processing the trauma of being a victim of crime and do not have the capacity to follow up with the progress of your case, or you are simply frustrated with the time-consuming challenges of dealing with the bureaucracy of the criminal justice system, our team is here to help and be of assistance. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01753 89995
 The Secret Barrister  Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken. London: Macmillan.