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Exploring more than 300 years of justice at the Old Bailey


A Leeds Beckett professor is exploring the history of victims’ access to justice in England over the course of three centuries in a new research collaboration.

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The new project aims to create a profile of victims who engaged in criminal trials in England between 1675 to the present. It will also track changing combinations of the rights, resources and services available to these victims and recommend ways of understanding and reducing 'justice gaps' today and in the future.

Heather Shore, Professor of History at Leeds Beckett, is a co-investigator on this £593,000 project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and led by Professor Pamela Cox at the University of Essex. The team are also working with researchers at the universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield.

The project will analyse the socio-economic profiles of, resources available to, and outcomes for, around 200,000 diverse people named as victims of a wide range of crimes prosecuted since 1675 in one of the nation's most important courts: the Old Bailey (London's Central Criminal Court).

Professor Shore said: “We are collaborating with academics from a range of disciplines (history, criminology, sociology and law) on this innovative interdisciplinary project, and we will also work with partners who work with victims in the current criminal justice system.”

The team will examine the effects of legal and other reforms shaping victims' access to justice over this period. These include the introduction of public prosecution mechanisms (1870s); legal aid (1940s); criminal injuries compensation (1960s); victim support groups (1970s); victim surveys (1980s); victim personal impact statements (2010s) and victim's code (2015).

The researchers are supported by an advisory board involving key national agencies working with victims, including the Victims' Commissioner, the National Policing Lead for Victims and Witnesses, Victim Support research officers, and Witness Service Leads within Citizens Advice. They will engage with archivists and other curators of historical crime data through links with The National Archives and the Old Bailey Online to improve our understanding of past patterns of victimisation.

The project will be completed in August 2020.

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