Police officers 'increasingly distanced from criminal justice system'
Efforts to put more police on the beat and cut form-filling means vulnerable crime victims and witnesses are being let down when they get to court, a new report has said.
Efforts to free up front-line officers and streamline bureaucracy have resulted in "a generation of police officers" likely never to have been in a courtroom, the report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) found.
The report also said that both police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) needed to eliminate the "tick-box culture", and improve their understanding of victim/witness vulnerability and how it changed as their cases progressed through the system.
Of 195 case files involving vulnerable people studied for the report, in more than a third (66) the risks to them "were not properly dealt with either by the police or prosecutors", it found.
The study, which examined how forces and the CPS dealt with case files, concluded: "The ambition to reduce bureaucracy and free up officers' time at the front end of policing has resulted in a generation of police officers who are likely never to have been inside a courtroom.
"This has had the unintended consequence of police officers being increasingly distanced from the criminal justice system for which they are the gatekeepers.
"It is essential therefore that the police have a real understanding of their role in the criminal justice process, both to ensure that justice is done and to provide vulnerable victims and witnesses with the support they require to give their best evidence.
"Our findings suggest that all too often the requirement to complete a particular set of forms in preparing case files encourages a 'tick box' culture."
The treatment of vulnerable people in the court system has been the subject of debate and calls for change since the tragic death of Frances Andrade, 48.
She was found dead at her home in Guildford, Surrey, a week after testifying in the sex abuse trial of ex-choirmaster Michael Brewer in 2013.
Brewer was later jailed for six years after he was found guilty of indecently assaulting her when she was aged 14 and 15 at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester.
The joint HMIC and HMCPSI report, Witness for the prosecution: Identifying victim and witness vulnerability in criminal case files, looked at 459 case files across the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
It also made recommendations for the College of Policing and and National Police Chiefs' Council to boost officer training and standards of case files.
Wendy Williams, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said both inspectorates had examined case file quality in the past but still saw "the same mistakes being made, with case files lacking the quality and consistency needed to ensure the best outcome for witnesses and victims".
Kevin McGinty, Chief Inspector of HMCPSI, added: "The inspection found that whilst the quality of case files was as good, or slightly better, than earlier reviews had found, those dealing with vulnerable victims and witnesses were of a poorer quality than those that did not.
"Unless the needs of victims and vulnerable witnesses are identified and provided for in proceedings, the criminal justice system is failing them.
"It is also a matter of concern that in over half of the 459 police case files reviewed by inspectors, the witness care information was often either not included on the CPS electronic case file or could not be read.
"There seems little point in the police assessing and recording witness needs if this information is not then available to prosecutors."
Mark Castle, chief executive of the charity Victim Support, said: "It is very concerning that in so many cases the police and prosecutors are failing to identify the needs of vulnerable people.
"Improvements must be made so that victims and witnesses have access to the 'special measures' that are available, to help them give their best evidence in court.
"All agencies involved in the criminal justice system need a good understanding of vulnerability and how this may impact on the support needs of victims and witnesses - they deserve to be given the very best level of support before, during and after court."