Language Barriers in the Criminal Justice System

How does having limited English language skills affect individuals’ willingness to report crime?

How do language barriers impact individuals’ experiences of the criminal justice system – whether as victims, witnesses, suspects, defendants or convicted offenders?

The Bell Foundation has launched a research project to answer these questions through an innovative and original study. The research, beginning in April 2018 which combines a review of national policy and data with close examination of organisational practices and individual experiences in two contrasting locations. The aims of the project are to gain insight into the experiences of people with English as an additional language who are victims of crime or are otherwise in contact with the criminal justice system, and to support improvements to the way that these individuals are dealt with by the justice system.

The research will be carried out by:

  • The Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR): an institute which carries out academically-grounded, policy-oriented research on the justice system, and is based at Birkbeck, University of London;
  • Victim Support: an independent charity supporting people affected by crime or traumatic events, and the largest provider of victims’ services in England and Wales;
  • The Centre for Justice Innovation: a research and development charity which seeks to put practitioners and evidence at the heart of justice reform.

The project’s research activities include:

  • Interviews with individuals who have English as an additional language and have been crime victims and/or otherwise in contact with the criminal justice system;
  • Interviews with practitioners from a range of criminal justice agencies and from services for migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers;
  • National survey of Victim Support staff and volunteers, and analysis of Victim Support case management data;
  • Policy review and interviews with national stakeholders.

The project outputs will include a research report, a policy briefing, and toolkits setting out guidance and resources to help practitioners identify and meet English language-related needs within the criminal justice system.