CPS launches Defendants strategy with pledge to focus on mental health, youth justice and disproportionality
A commitment to fairness for all parties is at the heart of a new Defendants Strategy, launched today by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The three-year strategy addresses areas where suspects and defendants may face challenges when involved in the criminal justice system, focusing on three priorities - mental health, youth justice and the proportionality of our decision making.
A detailed action plan has also been published, which sets out practical steps to bring improvements in the support given to suspects or defendants who may face additional barriers or with additional needs to participate fully in the criminal justice process.
A new guide for suspects and defendants will be launched to explain the role of the CPS so they are clear what they can expect from us at each stage of the process.
Max Hill QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said:
“Making sure that the criminal justice system treats everyone fairly is the cornerstone of our work at the CPS. While there is rightly a big emphasis on the welfare of victims of crime, we have an equal duty to protect the rights of suspects and defendants.
“We are determined to improve the service in cases involving youths, and people affected by mental health issues, whether through increasing understanding or removing the barriers which may make participation a challenge. And we will open ourselves up to scrutiny to identify any issues with disproportionality.
“The CPS exists to prosecute the right person for the right offence. Making sure every suspect and defendant is treated fairly, consistently and equally is essential to our success.”
Mental health is a major theme after a CPS examination of around 400 cases in 2017 suggested that one in five involved a victim, witness, or defendant with a mental health condition. The strategy focuses on exploring how defendants with extra needs can be identified at an early stage so additional support can be offered to help them fully participate.
It is recognised that youth casework is another area where defendants can be vulnerable and so efforts are being made to increase the use of expert youth specialist prosecutors. These lawyers are highly trained to understand the complexities of youth cases and make sure treatment is consistent.
Proportionality in the outcomes of CPS decision-making is key, so performance is being monitored to guard against any risk of unfairness.
Although the Lammy review of 2017 found CPS decisions around individual cases were broadly proportionate, we are not complacent, and have commissioned an independent academic review of local at national and local trends. This insight will be used to drive change across the criminal justice system where it is needed.
Alongside this we are also making some overarching improvements to our service. This includes improving our support for litigants in person and reviewing our virtual hearings processes to better consider the needs of defendants.
The 2022/23 Action Plan sets out a range of practical steps towards achieving these actions over the next 12 months. We will:
- Create a new mental health monitoring code on the CPS Case Management System to allow closer monitoring of cases where mental health is an issue.
- Review how decisions are made on virtual hearings and how a defendant’s needs are identified and supported during this process.
- Pilot the joint CPS/National Police Chief’s Council Mental Health and Neurodevelopmental checklist for suspects.
- Refresh CPS training and guidance on conversations with youth or child defendants at court so language is child-friendly.
- Review and update the CPS Youth Justice Specialist role and training to upskill prosecutors when dealing with complex youth casework or standard cases involving children.
- Inform the Ministry of Justice review of the Youth Justice System and the role of the CPS and suggest ways in which the system can be improved to assist child suspects and defendants.
- Create a Mental Health stakeholder forum bringing together experts and interested parties in the field of mental health to ensure best practice is up to date.
Notes to editors
You can read the Defendants strategy here.
The CPS recently pledged to improve services to victims by improving communication, enhancing services for victims with greater needs, and piloting new ways to strengthen engagement with victims.
The Defendants strategy builds on the Inclusion and Community Engagement Strategy 2025 which made a commitment for the CPS to be a diverse and inclusive service, listening to those affected disproportionately by crime, and developing understanding of disproportionality while working with partners to take action and improve when things go wrong.