This project examines current safeguards for vulnerable suspects and defendants who are also victims of crime.
The project will explore how vulnerability and victimisation can affect a suspect or defendant’s ability to mount an adequate defence, and how the criminal justice process may exacerbate existing vulnerabilities or result in re-victimisation. Examples of defendants who are also victims include victims of domestic abuse who kill their abusers, and those engaged in criminal conduct who are victims of modern slavery or other forms of exploitation.
This scoping project will review relevant law, policy and empirical research and will focus on criminal justice institutions beyond the police. These include the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts and Tribunals Service, and HM Prison and Probation Service. It will consider how these institutions define ‘victimhood’ and evaluate the safeguards in place for defendants who are also victims, or who are otherwise vulnerable.
One output from this project will be a scoping paper submitted to the Law Commission of England and Wales. The paper will consider whether and, if so, how a future Law Commission project might review the way the law should treat defendants who are also victims of crime. The team are grateful for the Commission’s interest in the work, which has included comments on the research questions and design for the scoping paper. The paper will feed into the Commission’s work as it considers its forthcoming programme of law reform.
More broadly, the project aims to contribute to current socio-legal and criminological debates on vulnerability, victimhood, and criminal suspects or defendants.
This research is funded by the University of York and expands on the Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre’s existing work.
The protections offered to vulnerable defendants and vulnerable non-defendant witnesses in criminal trials are inconsistent.
Existing protections for vulnerable witnesses, including defendants, focus on enabling witnesses to give their best evidence. There is less emphasis on wider support for vulnerable defendants in criminal justice processes.
Other factors contributing to vulnerability for defendants, such as a lack of legal representation or advice, and the relationship between victim status and vulnerability, remain largely unexplored in England and Wales.
This project will examine whether there is value in viewing suspects and defendants through the lens of victimhood, or whether a broader concept of vulnerability appropriately captures the barriers to justice they face. It will investigate how far the concept of victimhood should extend in respect of defendants and identify priority areas for law reform.
The project aims to analyse current safeguards for vulnerable suspects and defendants who are victims of crime and discover:
- how vulnerability and victimisation can affect a suspect or defendant’s ability to mount an adequate defence;
- and how the criminal justice process may exacerbate existing vulnerabilities or result in re-victimisation.
The project consists of a scoping review led by a Postdoctoral Research Assistant, under the supervision of both investigators and in consultation with the Law Commission.
The project team will undertake a thorough review of academic literature and analyse existing policy, legislation and case law relating to safeguards for victims, vulnerable witnesses and vulnerable suspects or defendants. The team will meet with external stakeholders to gather views and evidence to support the team in answering the key research questions.
- What vulnerabilities are present at the different stages of the criminal justice system, from arrest to conviction?
- What safeguards are there for victims and vulnerable witnesses? How do these compare to the safeguards for vulnerable suspects and defendants?
- What gaps or shortcomings are there in current safeguards? Should the law extend further safeguards to suspects or defendants?
- How far should the scope of victimhood extend in respect of suspects/defendants? What temporal limits should be placed on victim status?
- Should the needs of vulnerable suspects/defendants be addressed through the lens of victimhood, or is a broader lens of vulnerability more apt?