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DPP boosts support for victims by moving staff to Crown Courts


The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Alison Saunders, is boosting the support offered to victims and witnesses at Crown Court proceedings by ensuring that the vital service offered by our dedicated CPS paralegal staff is provided exactly where it is needed – at court where the victims and witnesses are. Three pilot Areas will test proposed new guidance, finalised after public consultation, on speaking to victims and witnesses at court - these are due to start from October.

Today's announcement comes as the CPS publishes its first ever survey of more than 7,000 victims and witnesses. Two thirds of victims and three quarters of witnesses reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the service they received from the CPS. Contact with CPS Victim Liaison Units, introduced by the DPP on her first day in post, was felt to be helpful by 82% of victims. The full survey is available on the CPS website.

DPP Alison Saunders said: "I am really pleased that since I introduced dedicated teams to liaise with victims they have overwhelmingly found these helpful. But the message from both victims and witnesses remains loud and clear while we do get it right in the majority of cases, they want more support throughout the life of a prosecution and especially ahead of what can be the difficult task of giving evidence at a live criminal trial. The CPS can and will do more to support the victims and witnesses who are essential to the success of our prosecutions, from shoplifting to homicides."

Crown Prosecution Service paralegal staff at Crown Court centres will cover a maximum of two court rooms each, ensuring they are in the right place at the right time to do their public facing roles, including:

  • answering routine questions about daily life at court
  • thanking witnesses who have given evidence
  • ensuring victims and witnesses know how they can follow the rest of the case if they wish to
  • responsibility for note-taking when prosecutors meet with victims and witnesses to explain the general nature of the defence's case.

Extending the role of Victim Liaison Units (VLU) will also be considered to ensure the CPS is best serving victims and witnesses. The CPS survey published today reports that where participants had contact with a CPS VLU, this was felt to be helpful by the vast majority of victims (82%).

The DPP continued: "Paralegals are vital to the work of the Crown Prosecution Service and by having more CPS paralegals at Crown Courts, we can harness their expertise to help deliver significantly enhanced support to victims and witnesses. Our Victim Liaison Units have also proved helpful and reassuring and I now want to consider whether this role can be extended too."

The CPS survey also looked closely at the issue of cross-examination and found that:

  • 91% of victims and 92% of witnesses who were surveyed said they gave evidence and were cross-examined
  • 49% of victims and 36% of witnesses said that they were not given enough support before giving evidence - this will be addressed through the pilots announced today
  • Of those deemed to have been involved in a case concerning a sensitive offence, only 45% of victims and 48% of witnesses felt that they were given enough support - this too will be addressed through pilots announced today

Over 170 people and organisations responded to the public consultation on the Director's draft guidance for Speaking to witnesses at court, which was issued in January 2015. Most supported the proposals, although there was some concern that there was not enough resource to manage the extra work and that prosecutors may be accused of coaching witnesses. The deployment of paralegal staff to the Crown Courts will help to address these two issues where the most sensitive cases are heard. Pilots will help the CPS to refine how it manages this important service.

The Director concluded: "Giving evidence is one of the most important public duties that we can be asked to perform and so it is absolutely right that we assist victims and witnesses to give the best evidence possible, as free as possible from stress or shock, whilst at the same time protecting the fundamental rights of defendants to a fair trial.

"The survey and consultation process have been invaluable and there is clearly support for these plans from both those who know the criminal justice system well and those who do not. This change will bring about a real improvement to the way we do things currently and that's why I am offering training on speaking to victims and witnesses to all CPS advocates and staff at court, and those who prosecute for us, and why I want to first pilot these plans to ensure that, working with our partners in the courts, police and Witness Service, we get it right."

Pilots will start from October 2015 at Magistrates' and Crown Courts in Liverpool, Sheffield and one other Area to be confirmed, with a national rollout planned from January 2016. A thorough training programme, comprising of both online and face to face learning, will be provided to all prosecutors and court-based staff, and those external advocates who prosecute cases for the CPS.

The Victims' Commissioner, Baroness Newlove, said: "I welcome this announcement today by the DPP, Alison Saunders. I particularly welcome victims having better access to CPS prosecutors and paralegals who will be at court to support victims and witnesses throughout their journey and hopefully this will aid their rehabilitation. The court room experience for victims and witnesses is never easy and so it is a 'fundamental right' for them to be treated with dignity and respect. Victims and witnesses must be our first thought and not an afterthought."

Mark Castle, Chief Executive of the independent charity Victim Support, said: "We know from supporting thousands of victims and witnesses through the court process that it can be daunting and distressing. The main worry for many is the process of giving evidence and being cross examined.

"It is right that victims and witnesses should be given more information about their case, and in particular the nature of the defence, so that they can be better prepared to give their best evidence.

"We welcome the fact that more support and information will be available to help people through this difficult time."

The Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC MP, said: "Any work to improve our service to victims and witnesses should be welcomed - they play a vital role in ensuring justice is done and they must be given the support they deserve. Helping them to understand what is happening at court and why it is happening is an important part of that help.

"I look forward to seeing the outcomes of the pilots and hope the plans will be rolled out nationally if a success."


Notes to Editors

  1. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  2. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three national casework divisions: Specialist Fraud (formerly Central Fraud and Welfare, Rural & Health Divisions), Special Crime & Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime. CPS Direct is a 'virtual' 14th Area which provides charging decisions to all police forces and other investigators across England and Wales - it operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  3. At 31 March 2014 we employed a workforce of approximately 6237 staff (full time equivalent), including around 2226 prosecutors and 3629 caseworkers and administrators. Further information can be found on our website:
  4. 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.