Ahead of the European Day for Victims of Crime, and considering the publication of the Safe Justice discussion paper, Victim Support Europe launched a call for stories and testimonials from individuals who participated in a journey towards justice and are willing to share their positive experiences as well as the barriers and challenges they faced when dealing with the justice system.
Through support victims of crime not only find their voices but learn that they have a right to have their voice heard in the criminal justice process. With the help of Sexual Offences Legal Advisor (SOLA), many victims in Northern Ireland had someone they could trust and even when they had little faith in the process they got help to see the options open to them; so that they could make informed decisions for themselves – and to trust their own judgement.
Read the story from, kindly shared by Victim Support Northern Ireland:
They say ignorance is bliss – I can safely say that when it comes to my experience of the justice system this was my saving grace.
Had I known in 2018 what I know now about what victims face, I would have spared myself the turmoil. Yes, I had a positive outcome; my abuser pleaded guilty. Would that have happened if I left matters in the hands of the people responsible for prosecuting? I do not believe so. It is difficult to articulate the series of challenges that characterised my experience of the justice system.
The Public Prosecution Service was ultimately the biggest disappointment – they consistently got the basics very wrong. I eventually referred to myself as a thorn in their side, and as much as I used humour to get through, I was filled with dread every time I had to speak up; to highlight the failures and ask them to do better.
Making a complaint against the PPS led to a positive outcome for me, not the justice system doing its job effectively. I never expected my experience to involve a fight against the very people tasked with prosecuting the case and I reached a point of being prepared to walk away.
Victims have endured enough – yet my experience of the justice system leaves me with an image of me being a pawn on a chessboard – powerless and expendable; my
destiny left in the hands of a bigger power.
We may have wanted the same outcome, but victims should not be the collateral damage.
In my experience it often appeared that for many involved, the justice system is a lucrative business – 11th hour admissions of guilt, as in my case, can be self-serving and after tens of court appearances (and fees) for Defence counsel. Many individuals have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and it comes at a huge cost to victims – it came at a huge personal cost to me.
I paint a bleak picture – however, there were positives. I count myself very lucky to have found a beacon of light at a time when I was exasperated with the process – I came across a pilot scheme providing access to a Sexual Offences Legal Advisor (SOLA).
Through her support I not only found my voice but learned that I had a right to have my voice heard in this process.
In the SOLA I had someone I could trust and even when I had little faith in the process she helped me see the options open to me; she answered every question I had; she explained everything I needed to know about how the court system operates so that I could make informed decisions for myself –
and to trust my own judgement.
It remained a fight to be heard; the challenges remained; further mistakes were made – but I was no longer passive, I refused to be a pawn. The SOLA was a consistent presence; showing integrity and kindness in a system that often felt oppressive.
It gives me a glimmer of hope for future victims facing the arduous journey of pursuing justice. She was without a doubt the most positive part of my experience of the justice system.
Victim Support Northern Ireland
Listen to the audio here: