From 2004 to 2009, the Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice system brought issues surrounding women and the criminal justice system into the policy spotlight. The Commission highlighted the disadvantages faced by women throughout the criminal justice system and succeeded in prompting legislative, organisational and policy changes.

The Commission began its work in 2003 with a one year inquiry into the experiences of adult women in England and Wales. The Commission published four annual reviews which continued to highlight women’s experiences of the criminal justice system. Each of these reports examined issues for women as victims, offenders and workers and made a series of recommendations aiming to create a better and more equitable way of dealing with women in the criminal justice system.

By collecting written evidence and holding evidence sessions with high level representatives from Government, voluntary sector & criminal justice agencies the Commission brought to life for the first time the experiences of women in a criminal justice system that was designed by men for men. 

Achievements

The use of a Commission model proven particularly effective as it has enabled the work to go beyond a ‘one-off’ report and the Commission was not confined in relation to the breadth of issues which could be explored. The five year duration of the Commission allowed extensive follow-up work to be carried out in order to track progress on the recommendations by the criminal justice agencies.

Through authoritative research, high level lobbying and media interventions, the Commission created real improvements in women’s experiences of the criminal justice system. These included:

  • Successfully lobbying for the introduction of a duty on public bodies to promote gender equality. In the overarching recommendations of the original 2004 report of the Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System, the Commission recommended that legislation on gender should be brought into line with legislation on race by introducing a positive duty on public bodies to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination and to promote gender equality. This ‘gender equality duty’ was introduced in the Equality Act 2006, and came into force in April 2007.
  • Leading a change in the thinking of politicians and policymakers about the need for women-specific community provision for women offenders. The Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System recommended that there should be “gender specific community programmes that address women offenders’ multi-dimensional needs”. At the launch of One Year On, the first annual review of the Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System, the Home Secretary announced £9.15 million for pilot community initiatives specifically for women offenders. These pilots were evaluated in 2011 and although the scheme was not rolled out nationally the Together Women Project has continued the work of the pilot initiative in the Yorkshire and Humberside region.
  • Exposing the scandal of the ‘postcode lottery’ faced by women victims of violence, leading to a Government commitment to increase the number of Sexual Assault Referral Centres. For the launch of Justice and Equality, the second annual review of the Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System, the Commission released figures that demonstrated the ‘postcode lottery’ in rape conviction rates – ranging from 13.8% in one police force area to just 0.8% in another. The Government has since acted on a Commission recommendation that “a network of Sexual Assault Referral Centres should be established to cover every police force area” by pledging to “more than double the number of Sexual Assault Referral Centres to cover every part of the country” [1].
  • Improving the training given to prosecutors in cases of rape. In One Year On, the Commission recommended that “The CPS should develop accredited training that is mandatory for all rape co-ordinators and specialist prosecutors who prosecute serious sexual offences”. The CPS has developed a comprehensive manual and an e-learning package for all specialist rape prosecutors. For rape co-ordinators, there will also be a course which will deal with victim care and case building skills.

Reports Produced by the Commission

Engendering Justice – from Policy to Practice

2007 - Women and the Criminal Justice System - Third Annual Review

2006 - Review of the Women & Criminal Justice Commission Justice and Equality Second Annual review of The Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System

2005 - Women and the Criminal Justice System - One year on

2004 - Women and the Criminal Justice System

Other Relevant Reports

Provision for women offenders in the community

Links

Together Women Project


[1] Home Office,Saving Lives. Reducing Harm. Protecting the Public. An Action Plan for Tackling Violence 2008-11, 2008 http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20100413151441/http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/violent-crime-action-plan-08/violent-crime-action-plan-1802082835.pdf?view=Binary