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Victim Personal Statements

Introduction

The Victim Personal Statement (VPS) gives victims an opportunity to describe the wider effects of the crime upon them, express their concerns and indicate whether or not they require any support.

Provisions relating to the making of a VPS and its use in criminal proceedings are included in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Victims' Code), which was published on 29 October 2013 and came into force on 10 December 2013. The revised CPS commitments in respect of the VPS apply to those cases submitted to the CPS on or after 10 December 2013.

A victims' entitlement to make a VPS and the duties on service providers, are set out in the Victims' Code as follows:

  • Chapter 2 (Adult Victims) - Part A - paragraphs 1.11 - 1.12 set out the victim's entitlements;
  • Chapter 2 (Adult Victims) - Part B - paragraphs 1.7 - 1.14 set out the duties on 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, victims are also entitled to say whether they would like to read their VPS aloud or whether they would like it to be played (if recorded) or read aloud for them (usually by the CPS prosecutor) - Chapter 2 Part A paragraph 1.12.

A victim can make a VPS at any time before sentence - Chapter 2 Part A paragraph 1.14.

The police are responsible for obtaining the VPS and for providing it to the CPS. They must also inform the CPS of the victim's preference (Victims' Code Chapter 2 Part B paragraph 1.11).

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

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 (Chapter 2 Part B paragraph 1.13).

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 (Chapter 2 Part B paragraph 1.14).

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Purpose

The VPS gives the victim a voice in the criminal justice process (Chapter 2 Part A paragraph 1.11).

The purpose of a VPS is to:

  • give victims a more structured opportunity to state how the crime has affected them - physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially or in any other way;
  • allow victims to express their concerns in relation to bail or the fear of intimidation by or on behalf of the defendant;
  • provide victims with a means by which they can say whether they feel that the crime was racially motivated or that their age, gender, faith, sexuality or disability played a part in the crime;
  • provide victims with the opportunity of stating whether or not they wish to claim compensation or request assistance from Victim Support or any other help agency;
  • provide the criminal justice agencies with a ready source of information on how the particular crime has affected the victim or in the cases of homicide, the family of the victim; and a practical way of ensuring that the sentencing court will consider, (in accordance with s.143 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003), "any harm which the offence caused".

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Principles

The entitlement to make a VPS is set out at Chapter 2 Part A paragraph 1.11 of the Victims' Code.
Although victims are entitled to make a VPS, they do not have to do so. Making a VPS is entirely optional and a victim can make more than one VPS. Where made, most VPS will be in addition to the usual witness statement.

In addition, 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 or played (where recorded) - see Chapter 2 Part A paragraph 1.12.

Guidance on the VPS was given by the Court of Appeal in R v Perkins; Bennett; Hall [2013] EWCA Crim 323, [2013] Crim L.R. 533 and has been included in the amended Practice Direction issued in October 2013 (amended December 2013) by the Lord Chief Justice. The Practice Direction, which also reflects the provisions of the Victims' Code, is set out in the Criminal Procedure Directions: Sentencing (at F) and is reproduced at Annex A.

It sets out the following principles:

  • The VPS and any evidence in support should be considered and taken into account by the court, prior to passing sentence.
  • The VPS must be in proper form, i.e. a witness statement made under section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 or an expert's report;
  • The VPS must be served in good time upon the defendant's solicitor or the defendant, if he is not represented;
  • At the discretion of the court, the VPS may also be read aloud or played in open court, in whole or in part, or it may be summarised. If the VPS is to be read aloud, the court should also determine who should do so. In making these decisions, the court should take account of the victim's preferences, and follow them unless there is good reason not to do so, for example if the content is inadmissible.
  • A VPS that is read aloud or played in open court in whole or in part should be considered as such, and no longer treated as a confidential document.
  • The maker of a VPS may be cross-examined on its content;
  • Court hearings should not be adjourned solely to allow the victim to attend court to read the VPS;
  • In all cases it will be appropriate for a VPS to be referred to in the course of the sentencing hearing and/or in the sentencing remarks.
  • The court must pass what it judges to be the appropriate sentence having regard to the circumstances of the offence and of the offender, taking into account, so far as the court considers it appropriate, the impact on the victim.
  • Except where inferences can properly be drawn from the nature of or circumstances surrounding the offence, a sentencing court must not make assumptions unsupported by evidence about the effects of an offence on the victim;
  • The opinions of the victim or the victim's close relatives as to what the sentence should be are not relevant, unlike the consequences of the offence on them. Victims should be advised of this. If, despite the advice, opinions as to sentence are included in the statement, the court should pay no attention to them.

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Definition of "victim"

For the purposes of the Victims' Code, a 'victim' is:

  • a person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by criminal conduct; 
  • a close relative (see glossary) of a person whose death was directly caused by criminal conduct.

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 in England and Wales, or had an allegation made on their behalf.

The term includes the parent or guardian of a victim who is under 18 years of age; the family spokesperson for bereaved relatives, for victims of crime who have a disability, or for victims who have been so badly injured as a result of criminal conduct that they are unable to communicate. It also includes businesses or enterprises (such as charities) that are victims of crime, but not public sector bodies, their agencies or other subsidiary organisations.

In addition to vulnerable or intimidated victims, the revised Victims' Code has introduced two further categories of victim who are entitled to receive enhanced services - victims of the most serious crime and persistently targeted victims (see Victims' Code Chapter 1 for further details). Victims in these categories are entitled to make a VPS to the police at any time prior to sentence, whether or not they make a witness statement about what happened.

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The form of the VPS

Where made, most VPS will be in addition to the usual witness statement. However, in some cases, the person making the VPS will not have made a witness statement. In all cases the VPS will be subject to the provisions of Section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967.

Victims are entitled to make a VPS at the same time as giving a witness statement about what happened to the police about a crime (Victims' Code Chapter 2 Part A paragraph 1.12). However, where a victim is unsure about making a VPS at the time they make a witness statement, they can choose to make a VPS at a later stage, providing this is before the suspect is sentenced.

The Victims' Code provides that a victim can make a VPS at any time before sentence.

In most cases the victim will make their VPS at the time their witness statement is taken. In such cases, the VPS may take the form of an additional section added to the end of the witness statement, lined off and clearly separate, with its own heading. Alternatively, it may be entirely discrete and recorded in a separate statement.

In cases where the witness statement has been by way of recorded interview, the VPS should follow on the same recording. There should however be a clear break between the two. This may be by dividing the two statements with a still image, for example, the police force logo. Alternatively, the interviewer may make a statement on the tape acknowledging the change from the evidential interview to the VPS.

Victims who do not make a witness statement, for example, bereaved close relatives or parents / guardians or spokespersons, will make a separate 'stand-alone' VPS.

Once the statement is completed and signed, a VPS (like any other formal statement) cannot be changed or withdrawn. However, victims can submit a further VPS to add to or clarify anything in the original VPS (Victims' Code Chapter 2 Part A paragraph 1.17.

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The contents of the VPS

As above, the VPS provides victims with an opportunity to explain in their own words how a crime has affected them, whether physically, emotionally, financially or in any other way (Victims Code Chapter 2 Part A paragraph 1.11).

The VPS may help to provide a fuller understanding of the nature and impact of the crime when passing sentence. Accordingly, the VPS should reflect what the victim wishes to say in his or her own words. However, the VPS must not include the victim's views about how the offender should be punished. That is for the court to decide.

The guidance issued to police officers expects the officer taking the statement to offer some general advice as to what the victim could include, for example, express legitimate concerns such as feeling vulnerable or intimidated.

In addition, the officer should: 

  • Provide information about the VPS and explain what it is. 
  • Explain that the VPS is optional - no one has to make one if they do not want to and it will not affect how the case is investigated. 
  • Explain that the victim can express a preference for whether they would like to read their VPS aloud or have it read out on their behalf in court if the defendant is found guilty but that the decision is at the discretion of the court. 
  • Explain that the statement still be considered by the court even if the victim does not want to read their VPS aloud or have it read aloud on their behalf. Reading the VPS aloud is optional and no pressure should be put on the victim to do this. 
  • Explain that if the victim does not to want a VPS at the same time as making the witness statement they may change their mind and make a VPS at a later date. However, some cases are dealt with by the courts very quickly and there may not be another opportunity to make a VPS before the trial. 
  • Explain to the victim that once signed, the VPS forms part of the case papers and cannot be changed or withdrawn. That the VPS will be disclosed to the defence, but the victim's contact details will not be shared with them. 
  • Explain that the victim may also make a second VPS to add to or clarify what was said in their original VPS, especially if the full impact of the crime does not become apparent until later on. 
  • Explain that the VPS may be reported on in the media and that it is possible (although rare) that the victim may be asked questions about their VPS in court.

Where the victim is a child or there are communication difficulties, the officer should consider consulting with the parent/guardian or spokesperson about whether they, the child or both of them should make the VPS.

In every case it is important that the victims' expectations about the VPS are not raised unduly with the effect that victims subsequently feel they have been misled about the purpose of the VPS in the sentencing process. Accordingly, the officer should also explain the limitations of the scheme, especially the fact that a court cannot take account of the opinions of the victim so far as sentence is concerned.

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Children

Child victims should be given the opportunity to make a VPS after completing either a video-recorded interview or a written statement. In such cases the VPS should be given in the same format as their witness statement, for example, where the evidential witness statement is video-recorded, the VPS should also be recorded on video.

It is important that child victims are given the opportunity to make the VPS themselves. Accordingly, in the first instance the officer must make every effort to explain the VPS to the child, in a way they will understand. However, there will be some circumstances when it will be appropriate for the parent or guardian to provide the statement on the child's behalf and the officer should ensure that it is made clear that their parent/guardian will be able to make a VPS if they want to.

In some cases it may be necessary to take a statement both from the victim and the parent or guardian, in order to establish a full picture of the impact of their experience. This will usually depend upon the age and level of understanding of the child.

If a further VPS is needed, unless there are exceptional circumstances, this should be taken in a written format according to Achieving Best Evidence (ABE).

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Procedure

Receipt of the VPS and information about the victim's preference

The police have an obligation under the Victims' Code to provide the CPS with the VPS and information on the victim's preference to read their VPS to the court or to have it read. The material will be included in all files submitted pre and/or post charge as appropriate, in accordance with CPS Operational Guidance on the Victim's Code.

Notwithstanding the duty on the police to provide information about the VPS, the CPS also has a duty to ensure the relevant information is provided to the court. Accordingly, where a VPS is not contained within the file, it must be chased in accordance with the CPS Operational Guidance on the Victims Code.
 
Where the CPS receives a file for charging advice without the VPS and/or the information about the victim's preference, the charging lawyer should set an action for the police, requesting the material. Where the VPS and/or information on the victim's preference are not supplied with the file post charge, CPS staff should send an e-mail to the police. The e-mail should be sent as soon as possible after receipt of the file.

If the victim does not want to make a VPS, this should be recorded by the officer, either in the witness statement or in the file.

Querying the omission of a VPS is especially important in cases of a sensitive nature where the victim may be vulnerable or intimidated or in cases where the victim is a member of a minority group. For victims from minority ethnic groups, disabled people, lesbians, gay men, bisexual and / or transgender people, and older people, the consequences of a crime may be far greater than for other victims of similar crimes. Background, language, culture and simply the personal experience and perceptions of some victims may make it more difficult for them to explain, or even speak about the effects of the crime. Prosecutors need to be alert to these factors and, where necessary, they may need to encourage the police to approach victims again in order to obtain a VPS.

Where the VPS and/or information about the victim's preference, is received after the first court hearing, staff should ensure it is forwarded to the court in accordance with CPS Operational Guidance. 

How the Crown Prosecution Service will use the VPS and the information about the victim's preference

Under the revised Victims' Code, the CPS is under a duty to provide the court with the VPS and the information about the victims preference in a timely manner (see Victims' Code Chapter 2 Part B paragraph 1.12).

In all cases, the VPS and the information about the victim's preference must be relayed to the court at the first hearing by the CPS advocate.

In cases which are adjourned for further hearing, (whether following plea or otherwise), there will be sufficient time after the first hearing, for the court to make a decision on the appropriateness of the request and for this information to be relayed back to the victim (via the WCU) so that they can attend should they wish to.

However, in some cases, (e.g. guilty plea cases where, notwithstanding the victim's views, the court decides to proceed to sentence), the victim may not be given an opportunity to attend to read out their VPS. In accordance with the court's direction, the advocate may also be required read out the VPS, in full or in part, as directed. Accordingly, it is important that the advocate considers the content of the VPS when preparing the case for court.

Key points are:

  • prosecutors should consider the VPS in the same way as any other statement when reviewing the file to establish whether the Code tests are met;
  • although the VPS ought not to contain evidence that could be used against the defendant, there will be cases where the VPS contains evidence that the prosecutor will wish to adduce. In some cases, for example where there are injuries, it may be appropriate to seek a statement from someone who can provide supporting evidence;
  • the VPS may contain information that will assist the prosecutor and the court when bail is considered.

Procedure where the VPS is contained within the body of the witness statement

In most cases the VPS will be contained within the body of the witness statement and will be disclosed to the defence when the witness statement is served.

Summary cases

The witness statement containing the VPS should be served upon the defence as part of the normal process of providing the defence with copies of statements on which we intend to rely. As with any other statement, it may be necessary to edit out any sensitive material. If a trial or Newton hearing is to be held, prosecutors should follow the following procedure:

  • if the prosecutor takes the view that the VPS contains evidence that he or she wishes to adduce at trial, he or she should inform the defence of his or her intention to lead that evidence before the trial takes place;
  • if the prosecutor considers that the contents of the VPS cannot or should not be adduced in evidence at trial, the defence should be informed that the prosecution considers the contents of the VPS to be unused material for the purposes of any trial but the contents will be placed before a court if the defendant is convicted.

Crown Court cases

Where the case is sent to the Crown Court, the witness statement containing the VPS should be included in the prosecution papers. It need not be edited unless it contains sensitive material.

Prosecutors may choose to bracket those parts of the VPS that they do not propose to adduce in evidence or they may wish to consider the position with Counsel instructed in the case.

Whichever route is taken, the defence must be informed at the earliest reasonable opportunity whether or not the prosecution proposes to lead evidence contained within the VPS.

Procedure where the VPS is stand-alone

Where there is a stand-alone VPS - for example where the victim makes a statement after making their witness statement, or the person making the VPS is not a witness (e.g. a bereaved close relative)- the following procedures should be followed:

Summary cases

  • the VPS should be served upon the defence when received. If the defendant has pleaded not guilty and the VPS contains evidence that the prosecutor wishes to adduce at the trial, it should be served on the defence under cover of the usual Section 9 Criminal Justice Act 1967 notice. The defence should be informed if the prosecutor does not intend to adduce the contents as evidence at trial with the caveat that in the event of a conviction the contents will be placed before the court.

Crown Court cases

  • if the VPS contains evidence that the prosecutor wishes to adduce at trial, it should be included within the prosecution papers or served as additional evidence, depending on the time when the statement is received;
  • where the VPS does not contain evidence the prosecutor intends to adduce at trial, it should be made clear that it is not intended to adduce the contents in evidence at trial, but it will be placed before the court upon conviction.

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General Considerations

At the point of statement taking, the police officer should complete an initial needs assessment and ask the victim whether they would like to read the VPS out in court or have it read (or played) for them, if the accused us convicted.

The aim of the initial needs assessment is to provide a snapshot of the victim's/witness's needs at the charging stage, trigger relevant support and assist the charging prosecutor's decision making. The information about the victim's preference is required if the CPS is to meet commitments under the Victims' Code.

Prosecutors should always check whether a VPS has been offered and/or taken, and advise the police to do so if appropriate. Prosecutors should also check whether the VPS is up to date and advise the police to take a further VPS as appropriate.

If the VPS is recorded, prosecutors should apply the same principles as set out for written VPS. In practice it should be very unusual to receive a further VPS which has been recorded rather than in written form. The usual undertakings should be obtained as is current practice.

Where a VPS has been provided (either within the witness statement or as a stand-alone statement), the prosecutor should, bring this to the attention of the court at the first hearing in the magistrates' court, along with the information about the victim's preference to read the VPS or have it read / played for them, as appropriate on conviction.

By providing the defence with a copy of the VPS in advance of a guilty plea, it should be possible to establish any areas of dispute before the hearing at which the defendant is sentenced. The prosecutor may have to consider whether or not evidence needs to be called to resolve the dispute; for example, if the defendant does not accept a fact contained within the VPS that is likely to affect sentence, it may be necessary to adjourn for a trial of fact following the principles set out in R v Newton 77 Cr. App. R. 13, CA and subsequent appeal court cases. On the other hand, if the dispute relates to, for example, inadmissible hearsay contained within the VPS, it will be inappropriate to refer to the relevant passage at all.

Copies of the VPS should be sent to the National Probation Service as part of the pre-sentence report package.

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Homicide Cases - CPS Service to Bereaved Families

Prosecutors will offer to meet bereaved families in homicide cases 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. At the first meeting with the bereaved family prosecutors should ensure that the family understand the purpose of the VPS, disclosure of the VPS and the relevance of the VPS in sentencing.

Where appropriate, prosecutors should also confirm whether the family spokesperson wishes to read the VPS to the court, or would like the prosecutor to read it, if the defendant is convicted. Further details regarding the CPS service to bereaved families (which is reflected in the Victims' Code), can be found at 'Homicide Cases - CPS Service to Bereaved Families'

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Annex A - CPD Sentencing F: VICTIM PERSONAL STATEMENTS 

(Amended December 2013)

F.1 Victims of crime are invited to make a statement, known as a Victim Personal Statement ('VPS'). The statement gives victims a formal opportunity to say how a crime has affected them. It may help to identify whether they have a particular need for information, support and protection. The court will take the statement into account when determining sentence. In some circumstances, it may be appropriate for relatives of a victim to make a VPS, for example where the victim has died as a result of the relevant criminal conduct. The revised Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, published on 29 October 2013 gives further information about victims' entitlements within the criminal justice system, and the duties placed on criminal justice agencies when dealing with victims of crime.

F.2 When a police officer takes a statement from a victim, the victim should be told about the scheme and given the chance to make a VPS. The decision about whether or not to make a VPS is entirely a matter for the victim; no pressure should be brought to bear on their decision, and no conclusion should be drawn if they choose not to make such a statement. A VPS or a further VPS may be made (in proper s.9 form, see below) at any time prior to the disposal of the case. It will not normally be appropriate for a VPS to be made after the disposal of the case; there may be rare occasions between sentence and appeal when a further VPS may be necessary, for example, when the victim was injured and the final prognosis was not available at the date of sentence. However, VPS after disposal should be confined to presenting up to date factual material, such as medical information, and should be used sparingly.

F.3 If the court is presented with a VPS the following approach, subject to the further guidance given by the Court of Appeal in R v Perkins; Bennett; Hall [2013] EWCA Crim 323, [2013] Crim L.R. 533, should be adopted:

a)   The VPS and any evidence in support should be considered and taken into account by the court, prior to passing sentence.

b)  Evidence of the effects of an offence on the victim contained in the VPS or other statement, must be in proper form, that is a witness statement made under section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 or an expert's report; and served in good time upon the defendant's solicitor or the defendant, if he or she is not represented. Except where inferences can properly be drawn from the nature of or circumstances surrounding the offence, a sentencing court must not make assumptions unsupported by evidence about the effects of an offence on the victim. The maker of a VPS may be cross-examined on its content.

c)   At the discretion of the court, the VPS may also be read aloud or played in open court, in whole or in part, or it may be summarised. If the VPS is to be read aloud, the court should also determine who should do so. In making these decisions, the court should take account of the victim's preferences, and follow them unless there is good reason not to do so;

examples of this include the inadmissibility of the content or the potentially harmful consequences for the victim or others. Court hearings should not be adjourned solely to allow the victim to attend court to read the VPS.  For the purposes of CPD I General matters 5B: Access to information held by the court, a VPS that is read aloud or played in open court in whole or in part should be considered as such, and no longer treated as a confidential document.

d)  In all cases it will be appropriate for a VPS to be referred to in the course of the sentencing hearing and/or in the sentencing remarks.

e)   The court must pass what it judges to be the appropriate sentence having regard to the circumstances of the offence and of the offender, taking into account, so far as the court considers it appropriate, the impact on the victim. The opinions of the victim or the victim's close relatives as to what the sentence should be are therefore not relevant, unlike the consequences of the offence on them. Victims should be advised of this. If, despite the advice, opinions as to sentence are included in the statement, the court should pay no attention to them.

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