Providing more support for disabled victims and witnesses of crime in Sussex
The Crown Prosecution Service has published an online support guide specifically for disabled victims and witnesses of crime in Sussex.
It comes as CPS South East, which is responsible for prosecutions in Sussex, puts tackling disability hate crime as one of its major priorities. This is because, although the number of disability hate crimes the CPS prosecutes is increasing, fewer cases are referred to the CPS than for other types of hate crimes, such as those motivated by race or religion.
In 2015/16, of the 338 hate crime cases dealt with by the CPS in Sussex, just 14 were recorded as disability hate crime. The full statistics can be found on the CPS South East website. The new guide is part of the CPS’s effort to increase the number of cases reported.
Jaswant Narwal from the CPS said: “The numbers of disability hate crimes being reported to the police still do not accurately reflect the levels actually experienced in the community. Victims of crime do not choose to be involved in the criminal justice system. It can be daunting for anyone if you don’t know what to expect. Everyone’s needs are different, so this guide aims to answer the important questions that we know disabled people will have.”
The guide, which the CPS produced with support from organisations that work with disabled people, can be found on the CPS website – versions will also be available in Easy Read, audio and British Sign Language. It explains the types of support available and how people can access it. It aims to remove some of the barriers disabled people can face as victims and witnesses.
It sets out the CPS’s approach to prosecuting crimes against disabled people, including what can be prosecuted as disability hate crimes. It provides a step-by-step guide to the process of reporting a crime and prosecuting a case, including where the criminal justice system can offer support along the way. It also shows what the CPS and its partners can do to ensure disabled people can give their evidence more easily. This can include an intermediary to help a witness with communication difficulties to better understand court proceedings, a visit to court before giving evidence or even in some cases the opportunity to give evidence by video link from somewhere else. The guide also tells the story of actual cases where the CPS put measures in place to support disabled victims and witnesses.
Jaswant added: “The CPS has an absolute commitment to reducing hate crime. We will play our part in removing the barriers to justice that disabled people can face. Part of our role in doing this is to take positive steps to provide an equal and fair service to victims of these offences. If making it clear what victims and witnesses can expect from us can help us prosecute more of these crimes, then we will get closer to achieving our ultimate aim. ”
Geraldine Des Moulins, Chief Officer at Possability People, is a member of the CPS South East Local Scrutiny Panel. She said:
“This new online guide from the CPS is a huge help for disabled people, as it gives them more support and information and explains what happens next if they experience a disability hate crime. I hope it will give people the confidence to report such crimes.
“We all need to be aware that impairments can be wide ranging and it’s not just about being a wheelchair user. There are so many invisible conditions, such as those faced by people with mental health issues or perhaps those who are unable to stand or walk for long periods. They are just as likely to receive abuse in public and it’s important they feel able to report this to police. We know of cases where someone who has to sit on a bus or train has been verbally abused for refusing to give up their seats.
“Any disabled person needs to feel that they can come forward and report what happens to them. Abuse is unacceptable and they need to know there are people who will listen and support them and will not judge them.”
Recent successful convictions for disability hate crime in Sussex include:
- A couple who were fined after verbally abusing a severely disabled man in Horsham. They claimed he was not disabled, after he returned home to find a car blocking his way and he could not get by in his scooter. The victim cannot walk unaided and needs crutches and the scooter to get around.
- A woman who was found guilty of theft, fraud and handling stolen goods, after obtaining £3,000 from an elderly and vulnerable woman in Hailsham, who was suffering from memory loss.
- A carer convicted of theft from an elderly and disabled man, after she stole money from him while looking after him at his home in Littlehampton.
More details of the CPS South East’s work to tackle all forms of hate crime are available on our website, which is updated monthly with the latest successful hate crime convictions.
CPS South East works closely with local community groups and our Local Scrutiny Involvement Panel is made up of community representatives and members of criminal justice agencies, who work together to improve the prosecution process and our service. We are currently looking for members of the public to join the panel, particularly those with a background in representing people affected by issues related to hate crime – disability, racial, religious, homophobic, transphobic and biphobic. If you would be interested, please email SouthEast.Communications@cps.gsi.gov.uk
Notes to Editors:
Jaswant Narwal is the Chief Crown Prosecutor of CPS South East, which is responsible for prosecuting crime in Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
Figures are taken from the CPS Hate Crime and Crimes against Older People report, 2014/15 and 2015/16. The South East figures are available on the CPS South East website.
Possability People is an organisation serving Brighton and Hove and parts of East and West Sussex and they work with disabled people, older people and young people, or anyone with an impairment or long term health condition. More information about the work they do is available on their website.