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Victims of Crime

Volume 490: debated on Monday 30 March 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice whether victims of crime (a) are informed and (b) have their consent requested before their details are passed to private sector firms undertaking research for his Department on levels of confidence in the criminal justice system. (252814)

There are two key Government surveys that interview victims of crime about their satisfaction with and confidence in the criminal justice system (CJS).

The Home Office conducts the British crime survey (BCS) which looks at, among other things, the effectiveness and fairness of the CJS as viewed by the public, some of whom are victims.

The BCS is a general population sample in which addresses are randomly selected from the Post Office Address File by the survey contractor. Other than the postal address, no information about the selected household is held by the contractor prior to being approached to obtain permission for them to take part in the survey.

The Office for Criminal Justice Reform on behalf of the Ministry of Justice manage the Witness and Victim Satisfaction Survey (WAVES) which is a national survey designed to measure how satisfied victims and witnesses are with the service they get from the criminal justice system (CJS).

It is permitted to share limited details without consent under the provisions of section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998, which allows certain data to be shared for research purposes, so long as certain conditions are in place. In order to obtain a large representative sample of victims and witnesses, consent is not obtained at the initial stage; however, very strict protocols are in place to ensure that these conditions are met.

The current contractor writes to all victims and witnesses identified by local criminal justice boards and selected to participate before the telephone call, giving them the option to opt out of the survey, in compliance with data protection guidelines. This gives victims and witnesses the opportunity to opt out at the first point of contact.

On calling those respondents who have not opted out, interviewers restate the purpose of the survey; to improve services to victims and witnesses in the future. Respondents are then assured that their responses will remain confidential and again asked if they are happy to participate. Reassurance is given at every stage of the interview process that responses given will remain anonymous.

The organisations undertaking both surveys are acting on behalf of the criminal justice system in order to help assess progress made at a local and national level against key CJS initiatives and to improve the future experiences of victims and witnesses. Both surveys have stringent measures in place to ensure individuals’ anonymity is maintained and responses remain confidential. Respondents are given the opportunity to opt out at point of first contact with the research organisations.