Innovative multi-lingual personalised victim and witness website for West Yorkshire to help victims cope with the impact of crime
The Police National Legal Database (PNLD) who are based in Wakefield and provide services for the Police and other Criminal Justice Organisations throughout England, Scotland and Wales, recently partnered with the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson and Victim Support, to provide an improved Victim and Witness service throughout West Yorkshire.
The project followed the publication of the "Victims' Services Commissioning Framework" by the Ministry of Justice in May 2013, which required Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to commission personalised victim and witness services for local people - a strategic move to invest in the voluntary and community sector. Under the new framework, local PCCs can commission the services they know will best meet local needs and receive grant funding from central Government to support the services they provide.
Subsequently, PNLD were successful in obtaining funding to provide a victim and witness support website 'Help For Victims' - providing information on over 400 voluntary and third sector support agencies in West Yorkshire. The aim of the website is to primarily help victims cope with the impact of crime, and secondly to recover from the experience by providing easily accessible and understandable victims' and witnesses rights and services information.
An important part of PNLD's requirement was a controlled environment for the publication of complex information to the website, which would not only support a variety of platforms and multiple languages, but that was user friendly and accountable with full audit trails of content additions, changes and approvals.
As their technology partner, PNLD approached us to deliver their Help For Victims project having successfully delivered a number of other projects for them including the Ask the Police and Ask the Scottish Police websites. These successful websites contain national and local legally verified information - providing a valuable public service and substantially reducing the number of non-emergency calls received by the police.
Developed in partnership with PDMS, the system underpinning these websites has been developed over several years to provide a controlled publication of complex information in a simple format, supporting a variety of platforms including websites and Android and iOS Apps.
The Help for Victims website features an extensive set of questions derived from the Victims' Code and the Witness Charter covering every phase, from what happens when they report a crime to the police, to what they can expect when the offender has completed a prison sentence. There is also information on hundreds of organisations providing support to victims, witnesses and their families, and information targeted specifically at young people.
Crucially the website has the capability to provide local answers to many of the questions, personalising responses dependent on a user's location (limited at present to the West Yorkshire area). Additionally, personalised answers to questions posed to the site are generally processed within 24 working hours to provide a fast and efficient service to the local community.
As well as finding information, victims and witnesses in West Yorkshire can also use the site to refer themselves to Victim Support and so receive personalised assistance.
Aside from English the website has been translated into the five most frequently spoken languages in West Yorkshire - Gujarati, Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic and Polish, and has a responsive interface, allowing easy access on devices of all sizes - greatly increasing the accessibility of support services to victims and witnesses in West Yorkshire.
As PDMS had already developed two similar systems for PNLD, we were able to realise substantial cost savings by reusing the same Foundations platform and functionality in the development of the Help For Victims website - allowing for extra features to be implemented in a very short timescale.
By implementing multi-lingual capabilities into the back office functionality, information for translation was set up to automatically export and import between PNLD's translation partner, Capita, saving valuable manual administrative resources.
The Help For Victims project went live on 24th October 2014 and was supported by Baroness Newlove, the Victim's Commissioner at its launch event in Leeds. She praised the website for its potential to “increase information and choices for victims and to give them a genuine voice in the development of local services”.
The new website offers victims and witnesses a unique ‘one-stop shop’ for guidance and support from over 400 local agencies. The aim is to answer queries within 24 hours and, if relevant and helpful to other victims, add that answer to an existing database of 250 questions and answers, drawn from the Victims’ Code and the Witness Charter. Queries that require translating will take 72 hours to answer.
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson commented that the website now provides a single accessible source of "clear and concise advice to victims and witnesses who want to understand the criminal justice process and their rights", fulfilling the initial aim of the website to provide better victim and witness support services to West Yorkshire.
Other PCCs throughout England and Wales have already expressed an interest in investing in the benefits of the Help For Victims website, extending its coverage. As each PCC joins they will be able to add content relating to their specific area, organise self-referrals to their local Victim Support service and add additional languages based on demand - building a decentralised comprehensive victim and witness support service both on a local and national level.
It is also hoped that iPhone and Android Apps will be introduced, and that the website will be further developed to provide additional services, such as enabling victims and witnesses to monitor the progress of their case in their journey through the criminal justice system.