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Care and Treatment of Victims and Witnesses

Principle

The CPS acts in the public interest and not just in the interests of any one individual. The interests of the victim are nonetheless important when deciding where the public interest lies and the CPS will take into account the consequences for the victim of the decision whether or not to prosecute and will consider any views expressed by the victim or victim's family.

The Human Rights Act 1998 requires public authorities to act in ways that are compatible with the human rights of victims and witnesses. They must be respected and balanced against those of the defendant by the police, the CPS and the courts at all times throughout the court process.

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Guidance

Review

If the evidence is sufficient to justify a prosecution, the interests of the victim are an important consideration when deciding whether a prosecution is needed in the public interest. Many of the factors in favour of prosecution flow directly from the impact of the offence on the victim. The relationship between the interests of the victim and the wider public interest are dealt with at paragraph 4.12(c) of the Code for Crown Prosecutors which is set out below.

"What are the circumstances of and the harm caused to the victim?

"The circumstances of the victim are highly relevant. The greater the vulnerability of the victim, the more likely it is that a prosecution is required. This includes where a position of trust or authority exists between the suspect and the victim.

"A prosecution is also more likely if the offence has been committed against a victim who was at the time a person serving the public.

"Prosecutors must also have regard to whether the offence was motivated by any form of discrimination against the victim's ethnic or national origin, gender, disability, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation or gender identity; or the suspect demonstrated hostility towards the victim based on any of those characteristics. The presence of any motivation or hostility will mean that it is more likely that prosecution is required.

"In deciding whether a prosecution is required in the public interest, prosecutors should take into account the views expressed by the victim about the impact that the offence has had. In appropriate cases, this may also include the views of the victim's family.

"Prosecutors also need to consider if a prosecution is likely to have an adverse effect on the victim's physical or mental health, always bearing in mind the seriousness of the offence. If there is evidence that prosecution is likely to have an adverse impact on the victim's health it may make a prosecution less likely, taking into account the victim's views.

"However, the CPS does not act for victims or their families in the same way as solicitors act for their clients, and prosecutors must form an overall view of the public interest."

The CPS Casework Quality Standards at Standard 1 covers CPS responsibilities in respect of victims, witnesses and communities and sets out the benchmarks of quality as follows:

  • treating victims and witnesses with respect and understanding;
  • prosecuting in a way that is fair to all and reflects the wider public interest;
  • taking account of the rights, interests and needs of victims and witnesses;
  • taking necessary steps to secure victim participation, where appropriate and protecting their rights in the court process;
  • consulting, where it is appropriate to do so, in order to make properly informed decisions;
  • making correct, properly reasoned decisions which can be explained to and understood by those affected;
  • communicating effectively so that victims, witnesses and communities are given the right information at the right time; and
  • challenging court decisions, including by way of appeal or review, where appropriate.

For further guidance refer to the Attorney General's Guidelines on the Acceptance of Pleas and the Prosecutor's Role in the Sentencing Exercise.

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Basic principles of Victim and Witness care

Each agency involved in the criminal justice system should, where relevant, ensure that victims and witnesses should:

  • be free of the burden of decisions relating to the offender;
  • receive timely information and explanation about the progress of their case, and have the opportunity to provide their own information about the case for use in the criminal justice process;
  • be protected in any way necessary;
  • receive compensation when appropriate;
  • receive respect, recognition and support;
  • have their fundamental human rights respected.

Victim Communication and Liaison Scheme

The Victim Communication and Liaison (VCL) scheme has replaced the old Direct Communication with Victims (DCV). The scheme reflects the CPS's approach to targeting services on those victims in greatest need and takes account of the revised Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Victims' Code).

Under the VCL scheme the CPS is responsible for communicating to victims our decisions not to prosecute (where the CPS does not hold a charging consultation in accordance with the Director's guidance), to discontinue, withdraw or to substantially alter a charge and the reasons for doing so. A meeting must be offered to the victim in the following case categories in accordance with the Victims' Code:

  • cases involving a death,
  • child abuse,
  • sexual offences,
  • the offence was aggravated by hostility based on disability,
  • racially/religiously aggravated offences,
  • cases with a homophobic, transphobic or sexual orientation element,
  • the offence was motivated by hostility based on age, OR
  • in any other case in which the reviewing Prosecutor considers it appropriate.

Victim Liaison Units are responsible for managing the VCL scheme and for communicating with victims in relation to decisions made under the scheme. However, the decision-making prosecutor remains accountable for his/her decision.

Victims' Code

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (The Victims' Code) governs the services to be provided in England and Wales by certain organisations, including the CPS, to victims of criminal conduct which occurred in England and Wales.

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Prosecutors' Pledge

The Prosecutors' Pledge articulates the level of service that victims can expect to receive from prosecutors. The Pledge underpins the Attorney General's Guidelines on the Acceptance of Pleas and the Prosecutor's Role in the Sentencing Exercise.

Victims and Witnesses at Court

The CPS is committed to treating witnesses at court with respect and sensitivity. Whenever possible we should introduce ourselves and try to put nervous or vulnerable witnesses at ease and explain court procedures.

The Speaking to Witnesses at Court guidance provides clarity to CPS advocates about what they are expected to do to in supporting witnesses to give their best evidence in court. It emphasises the need for advocates to ensure witnesses are properly assisted at court and that they are better prepared and know what to expect before they give their evidence. This includes preparing them for any cross-examination that may take place.

We should keep all victims and witnesses informed about delays and ask for them to be released as soon as possible after giving evidence. We should tackle unfair and derogatory statements in mitigation and, where necessary, invite the court to hear evidence on issues raised by the defence.

Vulnerable and Intimidated Victims and Witnesses

A vulnerable or intimidated witness will be eligible for special measures under sections 16 to 33 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. These range from giving evidence in chief by way of video to the use of screens. Once eligibility is established, prosecutors will have to consider whether or not any measure would be likely to improve the quality of the evidence given, and if so, which measure would be most appropriate. It is then for the court to consider whether a direction should be made, having regard to all the circumstances.

When considering whether to apply for a special measure: confirm the views of the witness as to the measure to be applied for; inform the witness of the measure that the court has directed; or explain to the witness why it is not appropriate to apply for a special measure. Prosecutors may consider it appropriate to hold a special measures meeting with the witness, (see Special Measures Meetings).

Consideration should always be given to the use of appropriate bail conditions if there is a fear of attack, intimidation or harassment. In court there is provision for witnesses not to have to give their name and address in open court, and to give evidence from behind a screen.

Where a statement is made by a person who is unfit to attend court through fear, the police should notify the prosecutor. Consideration can then be given as to whether to make an application under the provisions of section 116 Criminal Justice Act 2003.

The CPS must be alive to the concerns and fears of all of those involved in the prosecution process. Witnesses must be given as much notice as possible of the date and time they are required to attend court.

Priority will be accorded to preparing and listing cases involving child witnesses and those at risk of being intimidated.

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Cases involving a Death

Meetings with the prosecutor will be offered at important stages of the CJS process to explain the anticipated progress of the case, what is expected to happen at each court hearing and the possible sentences available for the offences charged. The legal guidance Homicide Cases - Guidance on CPS Service to Bereaved Families covers all aspects of our service to bereaved families, commencing with explaining the charging decision through to supporting bereaved families where cases progress to the Court of Appeal.

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Information to Victims about Court of Appeal Cases

The CPS will offer to meet with the bereaved family where a defendant is appealing to the Court of Appeal against his sentence or conviction or both. This is a statutory obligation under the (Victims' Code) (Chapter 2, Part B).

Once an appeal has been lodged, conduct of the case will pass to the central CPS Appeals Unit within Special Crime Division. The allocated Appeals Unit prosecutor will be responsible for communicating with the bereaved family and offering them the opportunity to meet the prosecutor at what he/she considers to be an appropriate stage of the proceedings.

Under the Victims' Code, there is a duty on the CPS Appeals and Review Unit to identify the correct Witness Care Unit for the Criminal Appeal Office.

If the family choose to attend the Court of Appeal hearing, they should be met at court by a CPS representative who will be on hand to assist the advocate in answering any further questions the family may have.

Further information regarding the CPS service to bereaved families can be found in the legal guidance entitled Homicide Cases - Guidance on CPS Service to Bereaved Families.

Role of Witness Care Units

The Victims' Code also imposes a duty on Witness Care Units (WCU) in notifying victims of cases heard in the Court of Appeal. In some instances, the identified single police point of contact, for example a Family Liaison Officer, may notify the victim or the victim's family.

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Procedure

Obtaining Information

When reviewing a file, prosecutors should always consider whether there is sufficient information:

  • to challenge a potentially unfair attack on a victim's or witness's character;
  • to make a compensation claim for any loss or injury;
  • to decide whether a witness would benefit from a pre-court familiarisation visit
  • to identify a vulnerable witness or a witness with special needs.

If the information is missing the police should be asked to supply it.

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Complaints

The CPS aims to deal with complaints sensitively, fairly and in confidence. Complaints about the way in which a case has been handled should be addressed to the CPS office that dealt with the case. The CPS will try and reply to the complaint within 3 working days of receipt. If a full reply cannot be sent within that time, the CPS will acknowledge the letter of complaint and aim to send a full reply within 10 working days.

Full details of the procedure for making a complaint may be found in the CPS Complaints Procedure Guidance.

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