Aren’t complainant lawyers only for inquisitorial justice systems?
No, in fact the majority of adversarial legal systems also provide some form of legal advocacy, including some of our closest neighbours. You can read more about this here.
Won’t legal advocacy for victims interfere with defendants’ rights?
No. Legal advice and advocacy for complainants seeks only to ensure that existing rules and procedures are adhered to and the complainants’ existing legal rights are given appropriate consideration throughout an investigation and legal proceedings.
Research from within England and Wales, as well as internationally, has shown that legal professionals do not consider that defendants rights are compromised by the existence of complainant legal advocacy schemes.
It sounds expensive, how much would it cost and why should the government fund it?
We estimate that a national rollout of legal advocacy for complainants would cost around £3.9 million annually in England and Wales. Widening the scope to include all sexual offences would increase the costs, however this would still be a fraction of the £12.2 billion the Home Office estimates sexual offences costs England and Wales each year.
Of this £12.2 billion, an estimated £9.8 billion is caused by the emotional consequences of both the crimes and inadequate responses to those crimes. Research shows that improved criminal justice responses (such as the provision of legal advocacy for complainants) lead to better health and employment outcomes, as well as increasing public confidence in the justice system and preventing future offending. Prosecution and conviction rates for rape are at an all-time low.
It is estimated that each rape conviction prevents up to six further sexual offences (Westmarland et al., 2015) – saving untold human costs and an estimated £197,160 per conviction even after the cost of imprisonment.
Can’t the CPS represent the complainant?
CPS lawyers represent the Crown (the public interest), they do not represent the complainants. Cases that go to court are not brought by the complainant; they are brought by the Crown. The complainant’s role is as a witness only.
This means that the CPS lawyers must balance the interests of the public, the complainant and the accused person(s). This is often interpreted as requiring access to complainants’ private data, and therefore CPS lawyers cannot impartially represent the rights of the complainants.
Read a more comprehensive explanation of why the CPS cannot represent the complainant in the full report.
Who would employ the lawyers? Would they be linked to the police or CPS?
We suggest that the advocates are situated within the specialist support organisations that already provide support to victim-survivors of sexual violence. It may be that this doesn’t feel suitable for some specialist organisations, in which case we suggest that the advocates could be located within SARCs as an alternative. The advocates are independent of the police and CPS. It is important that these advocates are actually perceived as independent by the people who use them, which is why we recommend that they are not located within criminal justice organisations.
Read a more comprehensive explanation of our proposals in the full report.
What’s the difference between legal advocacy and the role of an ISVA?
ISVAs provide emotional and practical support to victim-survivors of sexual violence regardless of whether they choose to make a report to the police. For those that do decide to report to police, ISVAs can support them throughout their whole journey, regardless of what happens with their case. Whereas, referrals to legal advocacy scheme will only be made where there are specific needs related to privacy and other legal matters.
Why can’t ISVAs help with legal advocacy?
An ISVA is not permitted to know the facts of a case and so would not be in a position to know whether requests for access to private data are proportionate or relevant. Nor do ISVAs have the legal qualifications required to provide legal advice and legal privilege.
Would the lawyers get specialist training? Would they be trauma-informed?
Yes. The advocates would be required to pass a specialist training program with a trauma-informed approach. We also believe they should have specialist training in advocacy for minoritised communities, E.g. Black, Asian, and other minoritised ethnic groups. More importantly, there should be clear steps to recruit lawyers from minoritised and/or silenced communities.
Aren’t you trying to solve a bad legal system with more law?
We understand that many victim-survivors do not want to engage with the criminal justice system and we fully support calls for increased long-term funding for independent specialist support services, particularly those ‘by and for’ minoritised communities. It is important to look at responses to sexual violence as a whole society issue, and to create more avenues for justice and ‘recovery’ away from deeply unequal legal systems.
However, victim-survivors who do want to engage with the criminal justice system should be able to do so with confidence that they will not be giving up their rights. Legal advocacy and representation for victim-survivors of rape and sexual offences is one part of a bigger picture of reform that is needed.