Victims Summit 2023 - speech by Max Hill KC, Director of Public Prosecutions
N.B. - there is some minor variation in this speech between as written and as delivered.
I would like to thank Claire Waxman for inviting me here today to share some of the work we are undertaking at the CPS to improve our service to victims.
Victims deserve, and rightly expect, to be supported, informed and treated fairly. Being a victim of crime can be deeply traumatic and we do not underestimate the courage of victims.
I know you have heard powerful personal accounts from some survivors’ earlier today. And I want to be clear, I know the CPS has not always got it right. We are determined to improve, and are taking action based on independent research that we commissioned into what victims want and need from the CPS.
Victims are often central to our cases and our ability to bring successful prosecutions, and we want to support them as best we can.
I consider the conversations we are all hearing today are critical to our shared ambitions for the future and I am optimistic for the impact we can have for victims when we work together.
I would like to thank the victims and survivors here today for your engagement, which will help us all in improving our services and I look forward to listening to you in the Panel following me.
This research was published in June 2022 and was informed by our partners across the justice system, organisations who support victims, and crucially, victims themselves.
I would like to acknowledge the generosity of those who have engaged with this research to input their valuable knowledge and experience. We are profoundly grateful and welcome further feedback in future which is why we are establishing a Victims Reference Group so that the victims voice is heard as we improve our services. Whilst there is much for us to do, we feel strongly we now have a clear vision for how to improve.
I am going to share what we have learned.
Firstly, victims often do not understand the role of the CPS and how we make our decisions.
They want to hear more directly from us and be kept informed on what and why something is happening with their case.
Secondly, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to good victim communications.
Victims want more choice about how and when they receive updates on their case. Any direct communication needs to occur at an appropriate time or through a supporter.
Furthermore, victims want communication which acknowledges their personal context and trauma.
One victim told us:
“I think I was just another case, just another number… I just didn’t feel like I was very important”
We do not consider victims to be ‘just another case’ and we want every victim to feel respected.
Importantly, victim satisfaction is not linked to criminal justice outcome.
We want victims to feel they have been treated fairly and have confidence in the justice system regardless of outcomes.
Finally, the roles of the third sector and supporters are vital.
Many victims told us without the support of their ISVAs and other services, they would not have been able to continue with the process and they want to be able to involve their support networks throughout their case.
Commitment to Improve
Alongside the publication of our research, we committed to taking forward four areas of action under a long-term Victim Transformation Programme which is now under way.
We will improve the support offer we give to all victims by increasing the level of communication and information through our ‘universal service offer’.
We will provide an enhanced service to victims with the greatest need.
We will innovate to strengthen victim engagement, thoroughly testing new approaches.
And finally, we will build an organisational and leadership culture around better engagement with victims.
I have witnessed first-hand the passion and commitment that CPS staff have for supporting victims.
We want to make sure that our staff, at every level, have the confidence and skills to engage with victims and this will mean embedding a culture which focuses on quality victim communications at every stage.
Underpinning our service to victims is our role in making independent, consistent and fair charging decisions as quickly as possible to build the strongest case we can. The time it currently takes for a case to progress at every stage, from police investigation to CPS charging decisions to court listing of trials is rightly top of our list of concerns. Better communication with the victim throughout can help maintain their confidence that their case is important to us, and help keep them engaged in the criminal justice system.
We also want to prevent further delays down the line by getting these complex decisions right the first time, which requires expertise. A domestic abuse or stalking case may seem simple at first, perhaps involving an offence like common assault or criminal damage which could be dealt with in a magistrates’ court. However, these are perfect examples of cases where a specialist lawyer, with access to a full police file of background offending, can spot a wider pattern of criminal behaviour, bring stronger charges and ensure the long-term safety of victims.
Action in the meantime
Improving our service is a long-term priority, but where changes can be made quickly – we will do so.
- Last September, we launched an online guide for all victims ensuring they have access to information about the criminal justice process. This follows an online guide for victims of rape and serious sexual assault, which had almost 180,000 views between November 2021 and January 2023.
- We have engaged closely with the Ministry of Justice to support the production of their guides for rape victims and the ongoing development of the Serious Sexual Violence Support in court project being piloted in Leeds, Newcastle and, of course, Snaresbrook.
- We have developed new letters to send to victims at different stages of the process, with valuable input from organisations who represent victims.
- We will prioritise adult RASSO victims as the initial cohort for our enhanced service.. To inform the design of that enhanced service, we are as part of Operation Soteria and the Victims Transformation Programme currently testing innovative approaches to engaging with adult rape victims in over half of our CPS Areas
- This includes communication at different stages of a case, familiarisation meetings with the prosecution team, closer working with support service providers, including ISVAs, and providing a dedicated point of contact for the victim.
I feel optimistic about the future and what we can deliver. I know there is passion, commitment, and ambition at every level of the CPS.
Through our Victim Transformation Programme, we will be focusing on designing and testing our new Universal Service offer in 2023/2024, ensuring it meets three key outcomes:
- building victims’ understanding of the role of the CPS and their entitlements,
- enabling victims to get the support they need, and
- providing victims with timely updates and information throughout their case.
We will continue with our test and learn approach to developing the enhanced service and ensuring we are able to identify the victims with the greatest needs.
For many years, we have invited and welcomed diverse voices, stakeholder perspectives, and hearing directly from victims about their experiences.
We will continue to listen and engage through a Victims’ Reference Group, so that our Victims Transformation Programme has the voice of victims at the heart of it.
Improving the victim experience will require collaboration and, quite probably changes across all of our partners in the Criminal Justice System but from all I have heard recently, and today, I feel that the desire to make this difference is here.
Thank you all for the support you have given and continue to give.