A new report from the educational charity Cumberland Lodge calls on police, politicians, and policymakers to take a more joined-up approach to responding to past harms – and place the needs of victims, survivors, and their families at the heart of this.
A key recommendation in Towards Justice: Law Enforcement & Reconciliation by Martina Feilzer, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Bangor University, supports calls for the introduction of an Independent Public Advocate as a priority, to act as a single port of call for the provision of support to those affected.
The report acknowledges the complexity of the situation that victims can experience when engaging with multiple agencies and advises that lessons from the Public Advocate system used in some US states should be considered.
Towards Justice offers unique, cross-sector insight by drawing on the combined experience and expertise of police officers, academics, non-governmental organisations, policymakers, and practitioners as well as testimonies from victims, survivors and families of non-recent harms and abuses, ranging from child sexual abuse within institutions, to Hillsborough and the contaminated blood products scandal.
“Listening to those who have experienced the responses to non-recent harms – victims, their families and supporters, police and other professionals – as well as academics and a wider audience has provided unique insights into the flaws of current systems and processes. It is essential that the systems of remedy in place do not add further harm and pain to existing suffering and that we recognise the longer-term reverberations of the trauma caused by the complex harms we examined.”
Her report, which is being submitted to the Ministry of Justice in response to its consultation on delivering justice for victims, sets out practical recommendations for dealing with past harms in society in ways that are just and humane for the victims, survivors and families involved.
Growing calls for a duty of candour for serving and retired police officers, as well as other public bodies, are echoed in Professor Feilzer’s report, which notes that a lack of transparency can lead to mistrust and suspicion of cover-ups. It recommends a review of existing forms of remedy open to victims, survivors of non-recent harms and their families, to address tensions which have emerged over time and ensure that they meet the needs of those most affected.
It encourages exploration of alternative systems of remedy such as restorative justice, which has gained momentum in other areas of the criminal justice system. It also urges the relevant parties involved to recognise that non-recent harms continue to resonate in the present, and the essential need to apply learning from recent responses to non-recent harms and their relative successes and failings to continually improve the systems of remedy.
Fundamentally, the report urges those institutions responsible for responding to allegations of harm to remember that they are dealing with human beings who are facing highly charged, traumatising and emotional situations.
Dr Edmund Newell, Chief Executive of Cumberland Lodge, added:“Towards Justice adds momentum to the growing calls for improvement in the approach to responding to past harms. Underlying our report is the recognition that the passing of time is not healing for victims if injustice persists, and risks making issues more contentious, problematic – and costly – for all concerned. We hope that its publication will be an important step towards improving policy and practice.”
The Right Reverend James Jones, formerly Chair of the Hillsborough Independent Panel and a speaker at the report launch, said: “This report rightly recognises that the passing of time is not healing for victims if injustice persists. Its analysis and recommendations deal directly with how justice can be better served and echoes a number of points of learning identified in my report, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power. I am encouraged that today's publication will help prompt the Government to bring forward its response as soon as possible and to respond positively to both reports."
A copy of the report can be downloaded at: www.cumberlandlodge.ac.uk/read-watch-listen/towards-justice-law-enforcement-reconciliation-cumberland-lodge-report