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The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime: CPS Legal Guidance

Content

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Victims' Code) was introduced in 2006 and sets out the minimum levels of service which victims can expect from agencies that are signatories to it. In conjunction with existing legislation and regulations, the Victims' Code is the main mechanism used to transpose the EU Victims' Directive 2012/29/EU (the Victims' Directive) into domestic legislation. The Victims' Code has also been used to transpose parts of the Human Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation EU Directives.

The Victims' Code was revised in 2013 to reflect the commitments in the EU Victims' Directive. In addition, it also introduced an enhanced level of service for victims of the most serious crime, vulnerable and/or intimidated victims and persistently targeted victims; the Victim Personal Statement scheme; and CPS commitments under the Victims' Right to Review scheme. Following a public consultation in 2015, further updates were made to the Victims' Code to complete the formal transition of the Victims' Directive into our national laws and systems.

The updated (2015) version of the Victims' Code was formally published on 22 October 2015 and came into effect on 16 November 2015, to coincide with the introduction of the Victims' Directive.

Click here to open a copy of the revised Victims' Code.

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General Principles

Victims are entitled to receive services under the Victims' Code if they have made an allegation that they have directly experienced criminal conduct to the police or had an allegation made on their behalf.

If that person has died, close relatives of the deceased are entitled to receive services as "victims of the most serious crime".
Victims who have a disability or who have been so badly injured as a result of criminal conduct that they are unable to communicate are entitled to nominate a family spokesperson to act as the single point of contact to receive services under the Victims' Code.

If the victim is under 18, the parent or guardian is entitled to receive services as well as the young person, except when investigated or charged themselves with an offence arising out of the criminal conduct complained of, or when the service provider is of the opinion that the parent/guardian does not represent the best interests of the young person.

All businesses that are victims of crime are entitled to receive services under the Victims' Code, provided they give a named point of contact for all communication between the business and the service provider. Businesses will also be entitled to make an Impact Statement outlining how a crime has affected the business (see the Additional Features section later in this guidance for further details).

A victim may opt out of receiving services under the Victims' Code, or may choose to receive services tailored to their individual need which fall below the minimum standard.

The revised Victims' Code provides for an enhanced service for victims of the most serious crime, persistently targeted victims and vulnerable or intimidated victims (see below for Definitions). Enhanced service refers to the time within which an entitlement is provided to the victim - i.e. within one working day rather than five working days.

Once a service provider has identified that a victim is eligible for enhanced services, that service provider must ensure that this information is passed on as necessary to other service providers with responsibilities under the Victims' Code and to victims' services where appropriate. Service providers must share information about the victim with each other effectively and in accordance with their obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998.

Failure to comply with the Victims' Code does not of itself give rise to any legal proceedings but can be taken into account in determining any question in any proceedings. Breaches of the Victims' Code will initially be referred to the service provider but if the complainant remains dissatisfied, the complaint can be investigated and may be the subject of a report by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

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Definitions

The previous (2013) version of the Victims' Code defined a victim as someone who suffered harm directly caused by criminal conduct, as recorded under the National Crime Recording Standards (NCRS).

In the 2015 edition, the definition of victim has been broadened to ensure compliance with the Victims' Directive, which confers rights on persons who have suffered harm caused directly by any criminal offence. This includes victims of summary only offences (such as road traffic matters and regulatory offences), which are reported to the police.

Under the revised (2015) Victims' Code, a "victim" is defined as:

  • A natural person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence;
  • A close relative of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence. "Close relative" is defined as the spouse, the partner, the relatives in direct line, the siblings and the dependants of the victim. Other family members, including guardians and carers, may be considered close relatives at the discretion of the service provider.

Businesses are not included within the definition of victim. However, (as previously), they are still entitled to services, in accordance with the provisions set out in Chapter 4 of the Victims' Code.

Impact of the extended definition

Broadening the definition of victim to align with that in the Victims' Directive will have limited impact on the way in which the CPS approaches its commitments under the Victims' Code.

At the point of giving pre-charge advice to the police or when we commence a prosecution of a police decision to charge, it is irrelevant to the CPS whether the case is an NCRS or a non-NCRS case. As a matter of principle, we should proceed on the basis that where there is an identified victim, we will apply the appropriate victim-related policy.

However, it is important to note that the extended definition of victim has not been adopted in the CPS Victims' Right to Review (VRR) scheme. Indeed, it has been agreed that this scheme will remain limited to NCRS offences.

This approach is compliant with the provisions of the Victims' Directive, as under the Directive there is no requirement to provide for review in all criminal offences, nor even for all offences which involve a victim (Article 11). Further guidance on the definitions and approach to be taken in VRR cases can be found in the guidance on VRR.

There are three enhanced categories designed to ensure that victims who are most in need will be able to access enhanced support (see Chapter 1).

Victims of the most serious crime include a close relative bereaved by criminal conduct, domestic violence victims, victims of hate crime, terrorism, sexual offences, human trafficking, attempted murder, kidnap, false imprisonment, arson with intent to endanger life and wounding or causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent. NB: The wording of the latter category (wounding or causing GBH with intent has been agreed on the basis that it will be limited to offences under section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

For bereaved relatives, existing CPS commitments to offer meetings at various stages of the criminal justice process are reflected in the revised Victims' Code. Legal guidance entitled "Homicide: CPS Service to Bereaved Families", setting out our commitments to bereaved families, can be accessed here.

Persistently targeted victims are defined as victims who have been targeted repeatedly as a direct victim of crime over a period of time, particularly if they have been deliberately targeted or are victims of a sustained campaign of harassment or stalking.

Vulnerable or intimidated victims - the definitions outlined in the revised Victims' Code are based on the criteria set out in sections 16 and 17 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.

In summary, a vulnerable victim is eligible for enhanced services under the Code:

  • If under the age of 18 at the time of the offence;
  • If the service provider considers that the quality of evidence given by the victim is likely to be diminished by reason of;

    1. suffering from mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983

    2. having a significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning

    3. having a physical disability or suffering from a physical disorder

An intimidated victim is eligible for enhanced entitlements under the Victims' Code if the service provider considers that the quality of evidence given by the victim will be affected because of fear or distress on the part of the victim about testifying in court.

When assessing whether a victim is intimidated, the service provider must take account of:

  • any behaviour towards the victim on the part of the accused, members of the family or associates of the accused, or any other person who is likely to be an accused or witness in a potential court case;
  • the nature and alleged circumstances of the offence to which a potential court case relates;
  • the age of the victim; and
  • if relevant, the victim's social and cultural background, religious beliefs or political opinions, ethnic origin, domestic and employment circumstances.

It is important to remember that under the Victims' Code victims of a sexual offence or human trafficking are automatically considered to be intimidated (paragraph 1.12). They must receive enhanced services unless they inform the service provider that they do not wish to do so.

Victims may be entitled to enhanced services under more than one category at the same time, for example, a domestic violence victim is eligible as a "victim of the most serious crime" but may also qualify as a vulnerable or intimidated victim.

All service providers have the discretion to offer an enhanced service to any other victim of crime as appropriate.

The final decision on whether a victim falls in to one or more of the three categories is the responsibility of the relevant service provider.

A victim's needs may change during the course of the investigation. The victim's status should therefore be reviewed if their circumstances change.

All businesses which are victims of crime are entitled to receive services under the revised Victims' Code. This includes businesses or enterprises (such as charities) but not public sector bodies, their agencies or other subsidiary organisations.

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Additional Features

Victim Personal Statements

The Victim Personal Statement (VPS) scheme is embedded in the revised Victims' Code.

The victims' entitlement to make a VPS and the duties on service providers are set out as follows:

  • Chapter 2 (Adult Victims) - Part A - paragraphs 1.12 - 1.13 set out the victim's entitlements
  • Chapter 2 (Adult Victims) - Part B - paragraphs 1.7 - 1.14 set out the duties on the service providers
  • Chapter 3 (Children and Young People) - Parts A and B - the entitlements and duties in respect of the VPS are set out in Parts A and B respectively with reference back to the adult section.

In addition to the entitlement to make a VPS (paragraph 1.12), victims are also entitled to say whether they would like to read their VPS aloud or whether they would like it to be read aloud by someone else - paragraph 1.13 , Chapter 2 Part A.

The police are responsible for informing the CPS of the victim's preference (paragraph 1.11, Chapter 2 Part B).

There is a duty on the CPS not only to serve the VPS on the court but also to notify the court in a timely manner of the victim's preference (paragraph 1.12, Chapter 2 Part B). It will then be for the court to decide whether or not to allow the victim to read their VPS to the court.

The court is responsible for notifying the Witness Care Unit (WCU) of the court's decision about whether, and what sections of the VPS should be read aloud and who will read it (paragraph 1.13, Chapter 2 Part B).

There is an additional obligation on the WCU which must, wherever possible, notify the victim of the court's decision so that the victim can make arrangements to attend court if necessary (paragraph 1.14, Chapter 2 Part B).

Click here to open the legal guidance on the revised VPS scheme.

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Impact Statement for Businesses (ISB)

Entitlements in respect of businesses are outlined in Chapter 4.

Businesses of all sizes who are victims of crime have been included in the revised Victims' Code, enabling them to make an Impact Statement (in accordance with section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967) setting out how the crime has affected the business. This may be offered at the same time as a witness statement (if appropriate), or by self-completion by post or by e-mail.

The police will refer a business to guidance on how to self-complete the ISB and are responsible for forwarding a completed statement to the CPS (Chapter 4, paragraph 1.6).

Making an ISB does not prevent an individual victim making a separate VPS. Indeed, notwithstanding the provisions of Chapter 4, it is important to recognise that in any case involving a business, there may also be an individual victim (for example, the owner, manager, or an employee). Whether or not this individual acts as the "named point of contact" for the business, they are also entitled to receive services in accordance with Chapter 2 Part B of the revised Victims' Code.

As with other victims, the business can indicate whether they would like to have the ISB read out in court but will not be given the opportunity to read it out in person.

The CPS must ensure that an ISB is brought to the attention of the court where appropriate (Chapter 4, paragraph 1.7).

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice (RJ) is included for the first time, with the intention of raising awareness of RJ amongst victims of crime.

Complaints

To ensure that the complaints process provides a more effective means of redress for victims, the revised Victims' Code places obligations on criminal justice agencies to provide victims with information about how to complain and a substantive response to any complaint received. They will also be responsible for redirecting complaints to the right agency.

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Pre-charge Advice

Duties Duties on both the police and CPS in respect of charging are outlined in section 2, Chapter 2, Part B of the revised Victims' Code, which does not create any additional responsibilities for either the police or CPS.

Paragraph 2.1 - the police will continue to inform victims of all decisions to prosecute or to give the suspect an out of court disposal, including police cautions.

Paragraph 2.3 - where the CPS decides not to prosecute during a charging consultation (this includes face-to-face meetings, Area consultations, telephone and digital consultations held in accordance with the DPP's guidance), the police must inform the victim of the decision, how they can access further information about the decision from the CPS and how they can seek a review of the decision if they are dissatisfied with it under the Victims' Right to Review (VRR) scheme.

Paragraph 2.7 - the CPS must provide information on CPS prosecution decisions to the police so they can inform victims of the decision.

Paragraph 2.8 - where the CPS does not hold a charging consultation, the CPS is responsible for informing the victim of any decision not to prosecute, how they can access further information about the decision and how they can seek a review of the decision if they are dissatisfied with it under VRR.

Victims of the most serious crime, persistently targeted victims and vulnerable or intimidated victims must be provided with the information within one working day of the decision. All other victims must be provided with this information within 5 working days of the decision.

Paragraph 2.10 - where the CPS is responsible for informing the victim of a decision not to prosecute, the CPS must also offer a meeting in the following cases to further explain the decision, unless the prosecutor concludes that in all the circumstances a meeting should not take place:

  • Cases involving a death
  • Child abuse cases
  • Sexual offences
  • Racially and religiously aggravated offences
  • Offences with a homophobic or transphobic element
  • Offences aggravated by hostility based on disability
  • Cases motivated by hostility based on age.

Any decision not to offer a meeting must be recorded and explained to the victim.

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Post-charge decisions

The revised Victims' Code does not create any additional obligations for the CPS in respect of commitments under the Direct Communication with Victims (DCV) scheme. However, the creation of two additional categories of victim entitled to an enhanced service, means that Areas will be required to communicate with a greater number of victims within one working day of the decision being made.

CPS duties are outlined in section 2, Chapter 2, Part B of the revised Victims' Code. The main features are set out below:

Paragraph 2.12 - the CPS must inform victims of and give reasons for decisions to:

  • Discontinue a charge and proceed on another
  • Substantially alter a charge
  • Discontinue all proceedings 
  • Offer no evidence in all proceedings.

Paragraph 2.13 - where the CPS discontinues or offers no evidence in all proceedings, the CPS must also inform the victim how they can access further information about the decision and how they can seek a review of the decision if they are dissatisfied with it. This reflects the process under the Victims' Right to Review (VRR) scheme.

Paragraph 2.15 - in cases where the CPS decides that it is inappropriate or unnecessary to notify the victim, or that only a limited explanation of the tests in the Code for Crown Prosecutors can be given, the reasons must be recorded by the prosecutor.

Victims of the most serious crime, persistently targeted victims and vulnerable or intimidated victims must be provided with the information within one working day of the decision. All other victims must be provided with this information within 5 working days of the decision.

Paragraph 2.16 - where the CPS is responsible for informing the victim of decisions to discontinue or alter charges (as outlined in paragraph 2.12 above), the CPS must also offer a meeting in the following cases to further explain the decision, unless the prosecutor concludes that in all the circumstances a meeting should not take place:

  • Cases involving a death 
  • Child abuse cases 
  • Sexual offences
  • Racially and religiously aggravated offences
  • Offences with a homophobic or transphobic element 
  • Offences aggravated by hostility based on disability
  • Cases motivated by hostility based on age.

Any decision not to offer a meeting must be recorded and explained to the victim.

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Case Management

There are several Victims' Code obligations that affect the way we make decisions and progress cases. They require early consideration and prompt action. These obligations are set out in Chapter 2, Part B as follows.

Obligations in respect of the Victim Personal Statement (VPS) scheme

Paragraph 1.12 - the CPS must ensure that the VPS and information about the victim's preference (see earlier) is served on the court in a timely manner to enable the court to consider whether, and what sections of the VPS should be read aloud or played, and who will read it.

This is unless the case is not proceeding on the charges to which the VPS relates, in which case the VPS remains unused material.

The court is responsible for notifying the Witness Care Unit (WCU) of the court's decision about whether, and what sections of the VPS should be read aloud and who will read it. There is an additional obligation on the WCU which must, wherever possible, notify the victim of the court's decision so that the victim can make arrangements to attend court if necessary (paragraph 1.14).

Paragraph 2.20 - the CPS must provide Witness Care Units (WCUs) with the list of witnesses attending court (LWAC) as soon as it is finalised so that the WCUs can inform victims who are required to give evidence.

This obligation is intended to ensure that the victim is informed as soon as possible whether they will be required to attend court and the date. It is dependent upon timely consideration by the CPS of which witnesses are required and the entry of these details into CMS.

Where there is a need to consult counsel, a realistic but short timescale should be agreed and any delay followed up.

Paragraph 2.20 - the CPS must, as appropriate, consider making a special measures application to the court (taking in to account any views expressed by the victim) and record the outcome of that consideration.

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Advocacy

The Victims' Code obligations in relation to advocacy reflect existing CPS guidance and good practice. CPS duties set out in Chapter 2, Part B are as follows:

Paragraph 3.1 - the CPS must, where circumstances permit, introduce themselves to victims, answer any questions they have on the court process and, where possible, indicate how long victims may have to wait before giving evidence.

The work of the Witness Service volunteer does not remove the obligation of the prosecutor, whether employed by CPS or member of the independent bar, or the paralegal officer to introduce him or herself to the victim at court. Meeting the victim at court and keeping him/her informed should be viewed as a common courtesy.

Paragraph 3.1 - wherever possible, the CPS must explain any delay in proceedings and tell the victim how long the wait is likely to be.

Paragraph 3.2 - the CPS will treat victims who are witnesses in court respectfully and, where appropriate, will seek the court's intervention where cross examination is considered by the prosecutor in all the circumstances of the case to be inappropriate or aggressive.

The CPS has an additional duty in respect of the Impact Statement for Business (ISB) set out in Chapter 4:

Paragraph 1. 8 - The CPS must ensure that an Impact Statement is brought to the attention of the court where appropriate.

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Appeals

The duties on service providers in respect of appeals are set out in Chapter 2 Part B Section 5. This includes duties on the CPS Appeals and Review Unit with regard to appeals to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. In particular,

Paragraph 5.4 - The CPS must ensure wherever possible that they identify the correct WCU for the Criminal Appeal Office within 5 working days of receipt of a request to do so.

[NB: There is a reciprocal duty on WCUs to provide the CPS and the police with their contact details or the receipt point for notifications. In addition, they must notify the CPS and the police of any changes to this information.]

In accordance with existing CPS policy, following notification that the appellant has been given leave to appeal, the CPS must offer bereaved close relatives in all qualifying cases, (see glossary), a meeting to explain the nature of the appeal and the court processes (paragraph 5.5).

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Additional CPS Obligations

These obligations are set out in Chapter 2, Part B as follows:

Paragraph 3.6 - the CPS must pay any expenses the CPS has decided are due to the victim not later than 10 working days after receiving the correctly completed claim form.

Full guidance on the subject of payment of witness expenses.

The Witness Care Units (WCUs) must notify victims of the sentence given to the offender which must include a short explanation about the meaning and effect of the sentence (paragraph 4.2). If WCUs cannot answer the questions asked by the victim, they should refer the victim to the CPS (paragraph 4.3).

Paragraph 4.4 - the CPS must answer any questions the victim has about the sentence if referred to the CPS by the WCU.

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