Research assistant Aoife Reynolds’ first summary explores the book chapter by Erez, Jiang and Laster, From Cinderella to Consumer: How Crime Victims Can Go to the Ball (2020, Victimology: Research, Policy and Activism, Chapter 13). This argued that user-centred design should be used to enable victim participation in the development of policies and services.
Recent years have seen a substantial shift in the role of victims through victim campaigns and victims’ rights movements. This article argues for the introduction of user led design to advance accountability and involve victims actively in developing the capacity of victims’ services and the victim-sensitivity of the criminal justice process.
Erez et al. charge the court system with excluding victims and recommend their greater involvement in policy design as a corrective measure. The chapter thus reconceptualises victims’ role in the criminal justice system, from passive recipient of services to active consumer. It is divided into two parts. Part 1 discusses that recent developments in victims’ services are yet to create a system that fully meets victims’ needs: adversarial approaches remain dominant in criminal justice cultures and proceedings, and criminal justice perpetuates myths about victims’ needs. Part 2 reimagines victims as ‘consumers’ of the criminal justice system. It establishes a ‘user-centred design’ framework, in which victims are involved as stakeholders in service design and as ‘consumers’ of the criminal justice system, within certain parameters. This would allow for a direct connection between the public and the courts.
Victims’ rights reforms have positively affected the experience of victims in criminal justice systems, although show a separation from adversarial theory and practice. Adversarial arguments and practice retail a ‘vice grip’ on criminal justice systems, and as victims’ participatory rights are still constrained, victims remain excluded from several aspects of the criminal procedure. This has allowed the state to ‘steal’ conflicts from the conflict’s ‘owners’: in adversarial theory, crime is perceived as a harm against the state, rather than against the individual. Adversarial approaches fail to meet many victims’ needs, even raising their expectations of what the criminal justice system can achieve, before causing further disappointment. Yet, certain participatory reforms have shown promise for both courts and victims.
Victims increasingly assume a ‘master status’ within the criminal justice system, giving rise to certain stereotypes and myths about victims that permeate criminal justice proceedings. Ethnographic studies often find false preconceptions surrounding victims, perpetuated through harmful narratives. Three common myths include that victims are punitive and vindictive, partially responsible for their situation and too ‘emotional’ to participate. Participatory reforms can only work if professionals are made more conscious of the evidence-based needs of victims.
Part 2 of the article reconceptualises the victim as a consumer. A victim-friendly approach would be one that kept victims’ rights and responsibilities at the forefront, while maintaining time-honoured protections given to accused persons. As such, any reform must meet five criteria: comprehensibility, practicality, affordability, testability and accountability. Comprehensibility means that the new system must be fully understood by all subjects involved in the process and reduce the influence of bias. An element of practicality is needed to ensure that reforms can easily be implemented in a complicated process. Affordability is required to ensure that services or changes can realistically be introduced within existing fiscal parameters. The strengths and weaknesses of any new proposal must also be testable and measurable, so that the impact on victims and the system can be evaluated. Finally, the new model should hold the whole of criminal justice to account for its treatment and responsiveness to victims. Existing alternative models of victim-friendly justice include therapeutic jurisprudence and restorative justice, although these are both insufficiently radical to create change at the level needed for victims of crime.
Reimagining victims as ‘consumers of the justice system’ creates a firm link between the courts and the public. In this paradigm, the tools and techniques needed for victim engagement include victim surveys, focus groups and other methods used within the field of user-centred design. This permits users and recipients of a service to participate in co-designing developments. The healthcare sector has sought to change its conservative culture through patient-centred care, which adopts a decision-making approach involving both doctors and patients. For victims, too, participating in the design of a new system could give them more priority therein and overcome resistance from professionals with more ‘traditional’ and paternalistic attitudes towards victim participation.
In conclusion, despite legislative efforts to bring victims to the forefront of the criminal justice system, further improvements are urgently needed. Tensions remain surrounding victim participation, despite greater participation being an essential pathway to meet victims’ needs.
Empirical research suggests that more victim participation is needed throughout the whole process of decision-making, that victims’ advocates decrease the reliance on community services, that there is a need for customer care to improve victims’ experience, and that satisfaction increases when there is a grounding in procedural fairness. Framing victims as the ‘consumers’ of the criminal justice system can enable the changes needed and allow for more transparency and accountability in criminal justice systems, ensuring their legitimacy. In our current crisis of confidence in Western democracies, there has been a sharp decline in institutional trust. Current and future lawfulness and the authority of the criminal justice system depend on how the courts treat victims.