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Durham’s Victim Champion calls for victim impact assessments

Michael Banks has been in post since December 2021. He is a former DCC for the Constabulary.

Durham’s Victim Champion is calling for all criminal justice agencies to complete Victim Impact Assessments ahead of making policy decisions. 

Much in the way decision-makers would have to factor in things like compliance with the Equality Act before pushing policies through, Michael Banks says it should be mandatory for decisions to considered in the context of their subsequent impact on victims. 

The force and the OPCC have already written victim impact assessments into their governance purpose. 

“There are some things that are out of our control, because the judiciary are independent,” Michael Banks told Police Oracle. 

“To give an example, one of our judges has gone down to London to help with a case there which means we have one judge fewer. In this case, a victim impact assesment would have meant a reflection on the adjournments caused to cases as a result, which might mean x numbers of witnesses won’t be heard, so how many of those cases are sexual offences, for example.  

“It doesn’t mean you wouldn’t make the same decision anyway, but you do so with the knowledge of the impact that decision will have on victims. It’s just trying to heighten people’s awareness within the criminal justice system that the victim lens is the one you should be looking through.

“Once they’ve done that assessment, I’d also like them to come up with mitigating factors for it as well.” 

Mr Banks spent 30 years in Durham Constabulary before retiring as the DCC in 2015. His new role centres largely around speaking to victims who have been through the criminal justice system to assess their experience of it. 

He can then feed that back to the relevant agencies. 

“A victim of crime shouldn't be the victim of a criminal justice process as well,” he said. 

“Looking at case studies can reveal emerging themes which I can then test out with other agencies who have contact with victims to see whether they have spotted the same thing. 

“Those in the agencies are all hard-working professionals [with lots of things to think about]. I’m a one trick pony - I’ve got the space to always be able to champion the cause of the victim.” 

Police Oracle asked about the importance of qualitative data in this area as opposed to solely looking at metrics. 

“The qualitative bit is different,” he explained. 

“It’s about how the process is played out. So to give an example - a victim of rape said to me that when she came to give her personal statement in court, the prosecutor told her to not feel like she had to come back, and that the prosecutor could read it out for her. 

“People say things with the right intention, the prosecutor was probably thinking why put this woman through the further trauma of having to come back and read it out. But it had the opposite effect, it made that victim feel like she didn’t need to be there, that it wasn’t about her.

“I can feed that back to agencies and ask them to think about the language that they use and understand the impact that it can have, even if it’s not intended.” 

Having been in post for under a year, Mr Banks is still in the process of gathering evidence, but he’s noticed emerging themes. 

One of which is that organisations are seeing some of their clients, victims of rape and serious sexual offences, having to go to court four times before their case is heard. 

He spoke about overlisting and said he understood why it is done but that there “has to be a better way of doing it”. 

“The one thing I really want to achieve is that if you’re a victim of rape or a serious sexual offence, you attend court once and your case is heard that day. If it isn't, there's got to be an absolutely cast iron reason why it couldn't be and that should be something to do with the victim themselves.” 

Something he is looking at now is a lived experience group - not one that would meet physically, but a way of asking feedback of victims to see whether they thought certain proposals would have helped or hindered their experience. 

“A lot of people report good experiences of the way they've been spoken to, from the initial complaint from the court handling to first officer that went out and support they've been given by a support worker. 

“But because it's so personal, and sometimes so traumatic, individual points in the system that don't go well can have a massive impact.” 

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