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Support for Victims and Witnesses

Being a victim or a witness to a crime is not easy, but, with your help, we work hard to bring offenders to justice. Throughout the justice process we will support you and treat you with dignity.

The aim of witness care units is to provide a single point of contact for Victims and Witnesses, minimising the stress of attending court and keeping  victims and witnesses up to date with any news in a way that is convenient to them.

Witnesses are essential to successful prosecutions and we are committed to making the process as straightforward as we can.

Read the fact sheet about witness care units

Find out more about being a witness

The Role of The Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service is the government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

As the principal prosecuting authority in England and Wales, we are responsible for:

  • advising the police on cases for possible prosecution
  • reviewing cases submitted by the police
  • determining any charges in more serious or complex cases
  • preparing cases for court
  • presenting cases at court

Find out more about the role of the Crown Prosecution Service

DPP responds to Louise Casey report with enhanced service to bereaved families

06/07/2011

The Crown Prosecution Service is extending its service for bereaved families at court, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has announced.

The Crown Prosecution Service is extending its service for bereaved families at court, announced the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, today. He also welcomed the Victims Commissioner's report: Review into the Needs of Families Bereaved by Homicide.

Mr Starmer said: "I wholeheartedly agree with the principle that bereaved families should not experience avoidable intimidation, humiliation or distress in the court process. If that principle is to be recognised, the CPS must play its part.

"I already require prosecutors to treat victims and witnesses respectfully and to ask the court to stop inappropriate questioning of prosecution witnesses. But I now want the CPS to go further and enhance the service offered to bereaved families.

"This is not about changing the legal system, but about making the adversarial experience more bearable for families dealing with grief and trauma. While the CPS already delivers a number of the recommendations in today's report, we have been working closely with Ms Casey and are now improving the service we offer.

"I recognise that a timely meeting with an understanding lawyer cannot remove grief. But explaining what will happen in court can often reduce the sometimes intimidating court room atmosphere of an adversarial system."

The CPS is already committed to keeping victims and witnesses informed of the progress of their case in all cases and supporting them through the court process. For bereaved families the CPS also offers face-to-face meetings at any stage of the process, but specifically:

  • Following a CPS decision not to charge
  • Following a charge in cases heading for the Crown Court
  • If charges are dropped or substantially changed
  •  Following conviction

We will now be enhancing the scheme to also offer the following additional meetings:

  • Following a charge in cases likely to be heard in the magistrates' court
  • Following acquittal
  • Following reconsideration of a case after acquittal 
  •  Following leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal being granted

The CPS also recognises why it is important for a bereaved family to meet the prosecuting advocate who will actually be presenting the case in court, and in future there will be a meeting arranged with the advocate shortly before the appropriate hearing.

Mr Starmer said: "The significance of Louise Casey's report is that it exposes flaws in the system and proposes concrete recommendations. These recommendations need to be taken seriously and call for a response.

"The CPS, along with others involved in criminal justice, has taken significant steps to address the needs of victims and witnesses in recent years, and genuine progress has been made. But it is clear that more needs to be done. That is why I am committing the CPS to contributing to the Ministry of Justice review of the treatment of victims and I am also committing the CPS to ongoing positive dialogue with Louise Casey. I am determined that we will play our part." 

Ends

Notes to Editors

  1. For CPS advocates, Casework Quality Standards 6.4 clearly sets out how our advocates should work in court.  It says that they will treat witnesses and defendants respectfully; they will ask the court to intervene to stop inappropriate questioning of prosecution witnesses; they will also ask the court for permission for prosecution witnesses to leave the court as soon as they have given their evidence, if they wish to do so, unless there is a compelling reason why they should stay.
  2. Full details of the current Victims Focus Scheme (VFS) can be found on the CPS website.
  3. Summary of current CPS enhanced service to bereaved families and its extension

Meeting following a decision not to charge (ie no prosecution)

Either a CPS prosecutor or a Police investigator will offer to meet with the bereaved family to explain the decision. Whether it is the police or the CPS who meet will depend on who made the decision, the information upon which the decision was based and the individual circumstances of the case as they effect who would be best placed to hold the meeting.
This reflects the current service

Meeting following a charge

CPS will offer to meet with the family shortly after charge. The offer will be made in all cases involving a death, including those likely to be heard in the magistrates court. For cases being heard in the Crown Court, the meeting will generally be heard before the Plea and Case Management Hearing (PCMH).

This is an extension to the current scheme.

Meeting if charges are dropped or substantially altered

Following a decision to drop or substantially alter charges, CPS will write to the bereaved family within one working day of the decision to explain the decision. Within that letter, the family will be offered the opportunity to meet with the CPS prosecutor to receive an explanation of that decision and to ask any questions they may have.

This reflects the current scheme.

Meeting following conviction

CPS will meet with the family at court at the time of conviction. This is an informal meeting at court, with the principal aim of ensuring that the Victim Personal Statement has been made (if they wish to do so) and/or is up to date.

This reflects the current scheme.

Meeting following acquittal

CPS will offer the bereaved family a formal meeting following an acquittal or a conviction on less serious charges. The offer will be made to the family approximately three weeks after the acquittal and the family will be asked to indicate ahead of the meeting any particular questions they may have. The purpose of the meeting will be to respond to any outstanding questions the family may have and explain future options in relation to the case. It is not heard immediately after the acquittal, to allow the family time to consider any issues they may wish to raise with the CPS.

This is an extension to the current scheme.

Meeting following sentence

CPS will meet with the family at court following sentence to explain the sentence and answer any questions. The Unduly Lenient Sentence provisions will also be highlighted to the family in appropriate cases.

This is not part of any scheme but reflects good practice.

Where the family are not present at court, they will be notified of the sentence by the Police or Witness Care Unit. If the family have any queries in relation to the sentence, they will be referred to the CPS to answer those queries.  This will generally be by telephone. 

This is a commitment under the Victims Code.

Meeting following leave to appeal being granted

CPS will offer to meet with the bereaved family where a defendant has obtained leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal against his sentence or conviction or both. The meeting will be held within a reasonable time of leave to appeal being granted and will generally be held by the CPS Area that prosecuted the case. Where leave to appeal is granted a significant time after conviction, the meeting will be held by the central CPS Appeals Unit, if it is considered that they will have more appropriate and up to date knowledge for the family. The purpose of the meeting will be to explain the nature of the appeal, and also the anticipated progress of the case.

If the family choose to attend the Court of Appeal hearing, they will be met at Court by the CPS representative and their questions answered.

The offer of a meeting in cases where leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal has been granted is an extension to the current scheme.

Meeting following reconsideration of a case after acquittal ('double jeopardy')

The CPS will offer to meet with the bereaved family where, following an acquittal, the case has been re-referred to the CPS for consideration of applying to the Court of Appeal to retry the defendant Part 10 CJA cases.

This is an extension to the current scheme, but will apply to an extremely small number of cases. Alison Levitt QC, the  DPP's Principal Legal Advisor, met with the family of Vicki Thompson before going to the Court of Appeal to have the acquittal of Mark Weston quashed and Alison Saunders, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS London, met with the family of Stephen Lawrence before the Court of Appeal hearing to have Gary Dobson's acquittal quashed.

  1. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  2. The DPP has set out what the public can expect from the CPS in the Casewor Quality Standards document published in March 2014.
  3. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three specialised national divisions: Central Fraud Group, Special Crime and Counter-Terrorism, and Organised Crime. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales.
  4. The CPS employs around 8,316 people and prosecuted 982,731 cases with a conviction rate of 86.8% in the magistrates' courts and 80.7% in the Crown Court in 2009-2010. Further information can be found on the CPS website.
  5. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.