The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime - Crown Prosecution Service Operational Guidance
- General Principles
- Pre-charge advice
- Direct Communication with Victims
- Case Management
- Other CPS Obligations
The Code of Practice for Victims' of Crime (the 'Victims' Code') was introduced on 3 April 2006. The Victims' Code sets out a minimum standard of service and aims to ensure that victims of crime, as recorded under the National Crime Recording Standard, are provided with timely, accurate information about their case, at all stages of the criminal justice process.
Paragraph 2 of the Victims' Code lists the organisations, the 'service providers', required to provide services to victims of crime. The statutory obligations upon CPS are set out in paragraph 7 of the Victims' Code, and those for the joint police/CPS Witness Care Units at paragraph 6.
The Victims' Code refers only to victims of crime. The victim may also be a witness, but the Victims' Code does not set out any obligations to witnesses to criminal conduct.
A victim may opt out of receiving services under the Victims' Code, or request a modification of the services they receive. If the victim makes this decision it should be recorded by the service provider and passed on to other service providers, as appropriate.
A person who is the direct victim of criminal conduct is entitled to services under the Victims' Code. If that person has died or is incapacitated, the family spokesperson is entitled to receive services. If the victim is under 17, 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.
If the conduct complained of does not constitute a criminal offence the service provider is not required to provide services under the Victims' Code. It does not matter whether the victim is believed or that no person has been charged or convicted.
The Victims' Code provides for an enhanced service for vulnerable or intimidated victims. Victims of sexual offences or domestic abuse and relatives of those who have died as a result of criminal conduct resulting in a death have automatic eligibility for enhanced services. Enhanced service refers to the time within which information is given to the victim - usually one working day for vulnerable and intimidated victims.
All service providers have an obligation to pass to other organisations with responsibilities under the Victims' Code, details of any victim who has been identified as vulnerable or intimidated (taking into account confidentiality and safety in cases such as Domestic Violence). 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.
It is essential that the prosecutor complies with the CPS statutory obligations under the Victims' Code. The Victims' Code does not specify what form the communication with the victim should take but, where there is an obligation upon CPS to notify the victim of the decision, the principles of Direct Communication with Victims (DCV) apply. The explanation for the decision should be in writing and in accordance with DCV guidance.
The obligations that apply to charging advice are:
- 7.2 It is the duty of the CPS to ensure that victims are informed of charging decisions taken by the CPS. In cases where, following discussions between an investigating officer and a Crown Prosecutor, the decision is taken that there is insufficient evidence to bring any proceedings for a relevant criminal offence it will be the responsibility of the police to notify the victim of this fact
- 7.3 Where a Crown Prosecutor takes the decision that there is insufficient evidence to bring any proceedings following receipt of a full evidential report and other than during a discussion with the investigating officer, it will be the responsibility of the CPS to notify the victim of this fact within one working day for vulnerable or intimidated victims and within five working days for all other victims.
In the Victims' Code a "relevant criminal offence" is a recorded crime (National Crime Recording Standard).
The Victims' Code uses the definition of 'vulnerable victim' as set out at section 16 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. The date for assessment of vulnerability is at the date of offence, rather than the date of the hearing, although any assessment should be reviewed throughout the life of the case.
In summary, a vulnerable victim is eligible for enhanced services under the Code:
- If under the age of 17 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
(a) suffering from mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983
(b) having a significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning
(c) having a physical disability or suffering from a physical disorder
An intimidated victim has a wider definition than that used in the 1999 Act, although the starting point is the same.
- 4.6 For the purposes of the Code a victim of criminal conduct is eligible for an enhanced service under the Code if the service provider is satisfied that the quality of evidence given by the victim is likely to be diminished by reason of fear or distress on the part of the victim in connection with testifying in the proceedings
The Victims' Code sets out what the service provider (in this case the prosecutor) must take into account:
- the nature and circumstances of the offence
- the age of the victim
- if relevant, social and cultural background and ethnic origin, domestic and employment circumstances, religious belief or political opinion
- 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 the proceedings
It is important to remember that under the Victims' Code the victim of a sexual offence or domestic abuse and the relatives of those who have died as a result of an offence are automatically considered to be "intimidated" (paragraph 4.9). They must receive enhanced services unless they inform the service provider that they do not wish to do so.
The service provider must consider any views expressed by the victim, when determining whether a victim falls within the relevant definitions
The Victims' Code refers only to cases when there is no prosecution for evidential reasons, however, the CPS has decided that a DCV letter should also be sent in cases when the decision is on public interest grounds.
Persons entitled to receive services under the Victims' Code include a family spokesperson, if the victim has died or is unable to receive services by reason of disability. Businesses are also included (paragraph 3.7). The Victims' Code includes an obligation for CPS to write DCV letters to all businesses. Any business wishing to receive services under the Victims' Code must give the details of a named contact to the service provider.
A victim's status may change during the course of an investigation. The question of vulnerability or intimidation should be reviewed if the circumstances change.
The prosecutor who provides pre-charge advice through CPS Direct will not be required to communicate with the victim, as there will have been a telephone conversation with the investigating officer.
Direct Communication with Victims
The Victims Code places the CPS DCV obligations on a statutory footing. Separate guidance is available on the CPS Infonet about the DCV Scheme.
The Victims' Code obligations that apply to DCV are:
- 7.4 If, after an offender has been charged and following case review, the CPS takes a decision to substantially alter or drop any charge, the CPS must notify the victim within one working day for vulnerable or intimidated victims and within five working days for all other victims. In all other circumstances, the police will be responsible for notifying victims of decisions in cases.
- 7.5 The prosecutor may decide in accordance with CPS guidance that it is inappropriate or unnecessary in the particular circumstances to notify the victim, or that, for legal reasons, no explanation beyond setting out the tests in the Code for Crown prosecutors can be given. In such cases the reasons for providing no information or only limited information must be recorded.
- 7.6 The CPS has additional obligations set out in paragraph 7.7 below in relation to cases involving a death allegedly caused by criminal conduct, such as murder, manslaughter, dangerous driving or careless driving, cases of child abuse, sexual offences, racially and religiously aggravated offences and offences with a homophobic or transphobic element.
- 7.7 The CPS must offer to meet the victims of the types of cases identified in 7.6 to explain a prosecution decision in the following circumstances:
- 7.7.1 where the prosecutor decides not to bring proceedings in respect of criminal conduct following the provision of a full evidential report by the police to the CPS for a CPS decision on charge (in accordance with guidance issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and other than during face to face consultation with an investigator;
- 7.7.2 where a decision is made to drop or substantially alter charges in respect of relevant criminal conduct;
- unless the prosecutor concludes that in all the circumstances a meeting ought not to take place in which case he or she must record in writing the reason for that conclusion.
The Victims Code has introduced stringent timescales for writing DCV letters to victims entitled to an enhanced service. Prosecutors must now notify victims of decisions within one day if they are vulnerable or intimidated. The timescale for other victims is five days. The DCV guidance, suggesting that we should avoid posting DCV letters on a Friday, is still sound advice but the statutory nature of the Victims' Code must prevail when taking any decision about when to send a letter.
Witness Care Officers have a part to play in keeping victims (and witnesses) informed about what happens in their case. No Witness, No Justice Minimum Requirements expect that witnesses "will be provided with the information or letters sent by the end of the day following the court hearing". This does not affect the separate requirement that CPS will communicate these decisions to the victim. Prosecutors must work closely with the local Witness Care Unit (WCU) to improve early communication and avoid duplication. If the first communication to a vulnerable or intimidated victim is a basic notification and the full explanation is to follow, the communication can be made by the WCU. It is important that there is a good flow of information between WCU and prosecutor, and that all communications are recorded.
The Victims' Code obligations in relation to advocacy reflect existing CPS guidance and good practice.
The Victims' Code places the following obligations on the CPS with regard to advocacy:
- 7.9 The CPS must ensure that, where circumstances permit, prosecutors or, if prosecutors are unavailable, other representatives of the CPS introduce themselves to victims at court. When meeting victims, prosecutors or their representatives must answer any questions victims may have about court procedures and give an indication where possible of how long they will have to wait before giving evidence.
- 7.10 In the event of delays to criminal proceedings in respect of relevant criminal conduct, the CPS must wherever possible, explain the reason for the delay and, wherever possible, tell the victim how long the wait is likely to be.
With regard to paragraph 7.9, 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, 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.
If the prosecutor is unable to fulfil the CPS obligations personally, a CPS paralegal or other suitably experienced member of the team should ensure that the appropriate explanations are provided to the victim.
There are two Victims' Code obligations upon CPS that affect the way we make decisions and progress cases where an identifiable victim is involved, both of which require early consideration and prompt action.
- 7.8 Where a victim who is to be called as a witness in criminal proceedings in respect of relevant criminal conduct has been identified as potentially vulnerable or intimidated, the CPS must have systems in place to assist prosecutors in considering whether or not to make an application to the court for a special measures direction under Chapter 1 of Part 11 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. The outcome of that consideration must be recorded.
The systems referred to in this paragraph include the joint police/CPS Witness Care Units, which provide support for victims (and witnesses) and are able to share information about special measures with the prosecutor.
Managers will need to implement processes that work to ensure early identification of cases, early consideration of special measures and timely, well-prepared applications.
This Victims' Code obligation requires CPS to provide tailored support in the form of special measures to victims who have to give evidence in court. This is achieved by early consultation and consideration of individual need, keeping victims informed when an application is made and the outcome, and providing them with the confidence to give their best evidence.
- 7.13 The CPS must provide the joint police/CPS Witness Care Unit (WCU) with copies of the List of Witnesses Attending Court (LWAC) as soon as these are finalised to enable the joint police/CPS WCUs to notify victims if they are required to give evidence
It is the responsibility of the WCU to warn witnesses required to attend court. Where Witness Management System (WMS) is used by the WCU, once an LWAC has been dispatched in Case Management System (CMS), the Witness Care Officer responsible for the case will be able to read the LWAC in WMS and arrange to warn the witnesses.
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.
Other CPS Obligations
- 7.11 The CPS must pay expenses that the CPS has decided are due to the victim, in accordance with the Crown Prosecution Service (Witnesses' etc Allowances) Regulations 1988 not later than ten working days after the day the CPS receives a correctly completed claim form
Areas need to have a process in place to ensure payment is made within ten days by the National Finance Business Centre.
Full guidance on the subject of payment of witness expenses can be found on the Infonet.
- 7.12 The CPS must answer any questions the victim has about the sentence in their case if the victim is referred to the CPS by the joint police/CPS Witness Care Unit as at paragraph 6.8
If the sentence is complex and/or the prosecutor has explained the sentence at court to the victim, it is good practice for a file endorsement to record clearly all details and what was said.
Where the sentencing exercise is complex, it can be useful for the prosecutor to brief the family before the sentence is announced about what options are available to the court. It will help the victim or family to understand the process and may reduce subsequent enquiries.
CPS managers should agree with the relevant WCU Manager the procedure for referrals of sentencing enquiries and decide who will deal with the enquiry. There is no timescale set by the Code but it is good practice to respond the same day as the query is received and in any event within one working day.
- 7.14 The CPS must respond to requests for information from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority or the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel no later than 60 working days after the day on which the CPS receive the request.
This obligation should not present any difficulties for the CPS, in view of the time limit set in the Victims' Code. To demonstrate compliance with this obligation, managers should keep a simple record of all requests received and the date that the response is sent.
- 4.11 All organisations with responsibilities under the Code should identify victims as vulnerable or intimidated as defined by the Code. Once the service provider has identified a victim as vulnerable or intimidated, that service provider must ensure that this information is passed on as necessary to other organisations with responsibilities in this Code.
In order to comply with other obligations under the Victim's Code the CPS must have in place a system of identification of vulnerable and intimidated victims. This will either be by the prosecutor providing pre-charge advice, by the person who registers the case, based upon information recorded by the police or by the prosecutor who reviews the file for court. Information will be supplied during the course of the case by the WCU which may affect the status of the victim.
Managers should devise an effective system with the other agencies concerned to ensure that this obligation is met.
The CPS should aim to provide the information required to the court at or before the first hearing of the case and to the WCU at the point the case is referred to the unit (unless the WCU has been informed by the police).
- Managers need to ensure that an effective process is in place to comply with the Victims' Code obligations.
- Managers should work with their CJS colleagues to establish and review inter-agency systems and processes for special measures applications
- Managers should review existing administrative processes to eliminate any delay in the creation of the LWAC on CMS
- Managers should implement a clear and straightforward process to ensure that decisions about attendance of witnesses at court are made at the earliest opportunity.
- Identifiable victims must be recorded on CMS and, if applicable, that they are vulnerable or intimidated
- CMS and WMS should be fully used to exchange information between the CPS and WCU, including the provision of LWACs
- All cases requiring a DCV letter must be identified, including those where there has been a substantial alteration to charge(s)
- All prosecutors must make sure that they are aware of the local procedure about the identification of files requiring a DCV letter and who will write the DCV letter
- All prosecutors who provide pre-charge advice must consider whether the victim is eligible for special measures, and the options of having a special measures discussion with the officer and a special measures meeting with the victim
- Quality assurance checks by prosecutor managers of MG3s should include an assessment of whether the possibility of special measures has been considered and whether CMS has been correctly used by the prosecutor to record that there is an identified victim and whether they are vulnerable or intimidated
- If providing face to face or telephone advice, prosecutors must check that the officer will notify the victim of the decision and record on the MG3 that this has been agreed
- A telephone conversation with the investigating officer will be sufficient to bring the case within paragraph 7.2 of the Victims' Code. The prosecutor should then agree with the investigating officer how the victim will be notified
- Whenever possible, and particularly in difficult or sensitive cases, prosecutors must try to make direct contact with the investigating officer
- If the victim is a business, prosecutors must check if it has provided a named contact
- If a DCV letter is written it needs to include the offer of a meeting for the same categories of case as set out at paragraphs 7.6, 7.7 and 7.7.1 of the Victims' Code and cases involving disability hate crime.
- It is good practice for the prosecutor who has made the decision to write the letter at the same time or make sure that the file is passed immediately to the person who will draft the letter. The WCU should be informed of the decision and be able to access a copy of the letter sent to the victim.
- Avoid delay. If the full DCV letter will not be written within one working day, for example, because of the complexity of the case, the victim should be contacted within one working day, either by telephone (if appropriate) or by sending a brief letter, informing the victim that a fuller explanation will follow. Follow up letters must be sent within five working days
- If the officer disagrees with the decision and indicates that he/she will use the escalation procedure in place, the decision should nevertheless be communicated to the victim
- If the decision is changed, following review, the person who makes that decision must communicate it to the victim
- Ensure that all briefs include instructions in relation to the treatment of victims generally and the specific needs of the victim in the case
- Assessment of standards of advocacy, both for CPS advocates and the independent bar, should include compliance with the CPS obligations under the Victims' Code, and whether counsel complies with the Bar Standard, Prosecutors' Pledge and the Instructions to Prosecuting Advocates
- The reviewing prosecutor must record on the file/CMS what decisions have been reached about special measures and the reasons
- All prosecutors must be familiar with the time limits for making applications for special measures. The outcome of the application must be recorded on the file
- The Witness Care Officer, or other single point of contact for the victim, must be informed when an application for special measures is made and the outcome
- When attending court, prosecutors must allow sufficient time before the case starts to introduce themselves to victims and answer any questions they may have
- Prosecutors and paralegals should work with the Witness Service at court to ensure that the victim is supported and that the CPS obligations are fully met
- If it is unlikely that the prosecutor will be released from court to keep the victim fully informed, let them know this at the outset and how they will be communicated with during the course of the day