Project outline

Victims’ Access to Justice through English Criminal Courts, 1675 to the present

This interdisciplinary project explores patterns of victims’ access to justice in England over three centuries using a unique combination of long-run historical and recent data to meet three research objectives:

  1. to profile victims who engaged in criminal trials in England, 1675 to the present
  2. to track changing combinations of the rights, resources and services available to these victims
  3. to use this new data to recommend ways of understanding and reducing ‘justice gaps’ today and in the future

The project, funded by the ESRC, addresses a pressing need within the current criminal justice system: to find means of securing broader public access to justice defined as the right and ability of a person to seek formal acknowledgement and redress of wrongs committed against them within a given legal system. At present, there is an uneven distribution of these rights and abilities across the population.  Victims of crime are drawn from across the social and economic spectrum but do not all enjoy equal access to justice. Further, they do not enjoy equal access to ‘effective’ justice: victim surveys indicate that ‘effectiveness’ is defined in different ways by different groups and also varies by nature of the offence experienced but, overall, they demonstrate significant concerns around under-reporting, low arrest rates, prosecution, conviction; high rates of attrition; difficulties in accessing relevant information; long delays in proceedings; and prohibitive financial and personal costs of engaging in those proceedings. Together these factors create ‘justice gaps’ – or impediments to justice for many people.

The project will analyse the socio-economic profiles of, resources available to, and outcomes for, c200,000 very diverse people named as victims of wide range of crimes prosecuted over the last three centuries in one of the nation’s most important courts: the Old Bailey (London’s Central Criminal Court). It will examine the effects of legal and other reforms shaping victims’ access to justice over this period. These include the introduction of public prosecution mechanisms (1870s); legal aid (1940s); criminal injuries compensation (1960s); victim support groups (1970s); victim surveys (1980s); victim personal impact statements (2010s) and victim’s code (2015).