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  • 2021EwinPhD

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The relationship between vulnerability and the criminal justice system

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Robert David Ewin
Publication date2021
Number of pages232
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English
Externally publishedYes


This thesis explores vulnerability, specifically in relation to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses (VIW) in criminal investigations, with a focus on investigative and legal practice. Existing research surrounding VIW’s in England and Wales has broadly focussed upon victims as participants, interviewing practices, and the effectiveness of measures to support VIW. This thesis focusses on policing and legal practitioners engaged in the process of criminal investigations and UK legal practice in relation to VIW. Three studies are triangulated to explore the concept of vulnerability at practitioner level, these are: a questionnaire, interviews, and a deliberative inquiry. The intention of this thesis is to improve practice around the identification of VIW’s and provide empirical knowledge surrounding the management and treatment of vulnerable people within current UK policing investigative practice.
The findings of this research indicate that beliefs about witness vulnerability are influenced by the type of crime being investigated, assumptions about witness credibility, and underpinned in some cases by sporadic witness assessments. Police understandings about vulnerability are mindlessly confined to case specific, polarised, and politicised concepts with the term vulnerability being over-inclusive, therefore making it unclear to Policing who is vulnerable. There are beliefs within the legal profession surrounding physical presence in courts being best during cross-examination to serve justice. These problems exist due to the lack of evidence-based approaches within policing around vulnerability assessment, and deficient practices to deal with the impacts of mindlessness and empathy fatigue. Six principals of vulnerability are proposed to improve practice: Principal 1: Co-constructed Assessment; Principal 2: Evidence-based and co-designed active organisational communication; Principal 3: Evidence-based Wellbeing Regime; Principal 4: Organisational Vulnerability Mindfulness; Principal 5: Active Vulnerability Justice; Principal 6: Evidence-based Vulnerability Training.