Partners coming together to ensure justice for victims of crime during the pandemic
03 March 2021
To mark national Justice Week, members of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Criminal Justice Board are sharing their views on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the all parts of system including policing, the crown prosecution service, defence and probation.
Members of the LCJB including the Chief Constable, Chief Crown Prosecutor, local Defence Solicitor and Head of South Central Operations of the National Probation Service share their insights into the last year through a series of blogs. They highlight the challenges the pandemic has placed the system, how organisations have adapted and changed the way they work and praise the exceptional efforts of staff who have worked tirelessly across the system to progress justice for victims.
Enzo Riglia, Deputy Chief Executive and Criminal Justice Lead for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner Hampshire, said, “This provides a unique insight into the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on all parts of the criminal justice system during the last year and the added pressure on all of the partners. What is very clear is how partners quickly came together to tackle the challenges and to adapt the way they deliver their services, as well as the dedication and commitment of staff working in extraordinary circumstances. All of which has worked to ensure that victims remained at the heart of the criminal justice system during this exceptional time.”
The impact of COVID on criminal justice
The series starts with Joint Chairs of the Wessex Criminal Justice System Recovery Group giving an overview of the impact on justice system across Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset about how partners came together to collectively tackle the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with victims and witnesses being at this heart of its work.
Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Stuart Murray, Joint Chair of the Wessex Criminal Justice System Recovery Group and Deputy Chief Executive Naji Darwish, Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Joint Chair of the Wessex Criminal Justice System Recovery Group:
“The Wessex Criminal Justice System Recovery Group was set up to enable collaborative working across the system to work through and tackle the challenges faced as a result of the pandemic, with victims and witnesses at the heart of its work. The Group is committed to ensuring priority is given to high harm cases through collaborative work to ensure the most serious cases and those with vulnerable victims and witnesses are flagged and prioritised.
“A year later the Recovery Group continues to meet weekly and despite the significant pressure the pandemic continues to place on the system, staff working across all criminal justice agencies continue their unwavering hard work and determination to get justice for victims in extremely challenging times.”
Tremendous effort from criminal justice partners
Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, Chair of the Local Criminal Justice System talks about how when the pandemic hit and how policing started from the position of protecting the NHS and saving lives. She goes on to outline the importance of staff wellbeing, how the job of policing shifted with new laws and responsibilities and the impact on the wider criminal justice system:
“To balance all of the new restrictions placed on our communities during this highly uncertain time, we policed using the 4Es to engage, explain and encourage and only after these, to enforce. This stood us in good stead and really kept the confidence of our communities. This was so important to me as Chief Constable as we can only police by consent and we need our communities to trust us, even more than we ever did, once this pandemic is over. We couldn’t and didn’t want to alienate the communities we serve and needed to tread that line delicately and, from the feedback we have had from our communities, I know we have.”
Joanne Jakymec, Chief Crown Prosecutor and member of the Local Criminal Justice Board talks about the tremendous effort from all criminal justice partners to ensure that justice could continue to be delivered throughout the pandemic, and how proud she is of the dedication and flexibility of CPS staff, adding:
“The most challenging aspect has been ensuring that our prosecutors and support staff are able to attend court safely to prosecute our cases. There has been a tremendous effort from all our criminal justice partners to ensure that justice can continue to be delivered on a daily basis, whether that be via HMCTS’ Cloud Video Platform (CVP) which enables some hearings to happen remotely, or by traditional court hearings albeit with added social distancing measures in place.
“Our normal working environment has been completely turned upside down as a result of this pandemic, but I am enormously proud that my staff have been innovative, flexible, and as dedicated as ever, to delivering justice despite the challenges of balancing their personal and work responsibilities.”
Serious impact on practitioners’ health
Chloe Jay, a local Defence Solicitor outlines the challenges COVID-19 has had over the last year, in particular the difficulties in delivering defence remotely, the serious impact of the last year on defence practitioners’ health and the significant impact of the delays on victims, witnesses and defendants:
“This last year has been hugely challenging for all of us in the justice system. For those of us representing defendants we have lost much of the personal contact with our clients due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Analysing evidence and explaining the implications to our clients requires a good rapport and the ability to read through case papers together; this is difficult to do over the telephone. This is especially the case with youths, those with mental health problems and those who require the assistance of an interpreter. This has meant that we have frequently needed to attend in person with those who would otherwise be disadvantaged. This has led to a number of defence practitioners becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.”
Geoff Davis, Head of Operations from the South Central Region of the National Probation Service shares his thoughts on the impact of the last year on probation services, the rewriting of human contact and the hidden heroes in probation:
“The unknown and uncertain early progression of the virus 12 months ago took our service as much by surprise as it did the rest of the world. We quickly devised, consulted and implemented Exceptional Delivery Models at pace, with new rules for the most basic of rights – human contact – re-written and imposed.
“Whilst this period has limited the amount of face-to-face contact that’s been allowed, it has been about people – for probation staff, that’s been about caring for others in our community through the work we do with supervised individuals; it is what has united us and it’s what we all carry forward into recovery in 2021.”