Victim Communication and Liaison (VCL) Scheme

Updated: 30 January 2020|Legal Guidance

Headlines

  • The VCL scheme fulfils the obligations for the CPS under the Victims’ Code to communicate with victims a decision to end proceedings.
  • Where applicable, VCL letters will contain information of the Victim’s Right to Review (VRR) scheme. The scope of the VCL scheme is broader than that of the VRR scheme.
  • Letters to victims with enhanced entitlements under the Victims’ Code must be sent in one working day; letters to all other victims in five working days.
  • A VCL letter can be drafted by a prosecutor or by a member of Victim Liaison Unit (VLU) staff. If drafted by a prosecutor, VLU staff will review the letter before sending. If drafted by VLU staff, the prosecutor needs to provide a clear explanation of the reasons for making their decision.
  • When providing an explanation or writing a letter, prosecutors should write in plain English.
  • If the prosecutor has provided a verbal explanation to the victim at court, the contents of the conversation should be carefully recorded on CMS.
  • In some specified cases, a meeting should be offered to a victim to discuss the decision.

Introduction

The VCL scheme reflects the CPS’ approach to treat all victims and witnesses with respect and understanding throughout the justice process. It takes account of the revised Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Victims’ Code), where CPS duties are outlined in Chapter 2, Part 2.

Under the VCL scheme, the CPS communicates to victims when making a decision not to prosecute (Area charging decisions in accordance with the Director’s Guidance), to discontinue or to substantially alter a charge, explaining the reasons for doing so.

Victim Liaison Units (VLUs) are responsible for managing the VCL scheme and for communicating with victims in relation to decisions made under the scheme. However, the decision-making prosecutor remains accountable for their decision.

Our Statutory Commitments to Victims

The VCL and Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) schemes reflect CPS obligations under the revised Victims' Code which came in to effect on 16 November 2015. The Victims' Code provides that all victims are entitled to receive information about CPS decisions and be informed of their right to review where appropriate. The revised Victims’ Code implements relevant provisions of EU Directive 2012/29/EU, establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime (the EU Victims' Directive), which also came in to force on 16 November 2015.

The CPS is committed to improving the service and support provided to victims and witnesses. The VCL scheme will operate differently from the previous DCV scheme and encourages greater interaction with victims. It is vitally important that all CPS staff understand and deliver their VCL commitments.  This guidance is intended to support that process.

Definition of Victim

A victim is defined in the revised Victims’ Code as:

  • ‘a natural person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence’
  • a close relative (see glossary) of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence’.

Close relatives may include:

  • parents where the main victim is a child or youth under 18;
  • police officers who are victims of crime; and
  • family spokespersons.

A victim must be a natural person and therefore legal persons, such as businesses are not included within the definition of victim. However, businesses are entitled to services under the Victims' Code where they have provided a named contact, in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 4 of the Victims’ Code.

Under the Victims’ Code, the CPS has a commitment to communicate decisions not prosecute, to stop or to substantially alter charges to all identified victims. This includes victims who, for whatever reason, may not have engaged with the process or who have not been asked to make a witness statement. Where this is the case, efforts must be made to establish contact details for the victim either by making enquiries of the police or the Witness Care Unit.

Enhanced Victims

The Victims’ Code provides enhanced entitlements to the following victims:

  • Vulnerable or intimidated victims (based on the criteria in sections 16 and 17 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999) - those under 18 years of age at the time of the offence, or whose evidence is likely to be affected because they suffer from a mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983; they otherwise have a significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning; or they have a physical disability or are suffering from a physical disorder. A victim is considered intimidated if the quality of their evidence will be affected because of fear or distress about testifying in court.
  • Victims of the most serious crime - domestic violence, hate crime, terrorism, sexual offences, human trafficking, attempted murder, kidnap, false imprisonment, arson with intent to endanger life, wounding or causing grievous bodily harm with intent (s.18) and close relatives bereaved by criminal conduct.
  • Victims who are persistently targeted - those who are targeted repeatedly over a period of time, those who are deliberately targeted or are victims of a sustained campaign of harassment or stalking

Communication - Time Limits

Under the revised Victims’ Code, most victims are entitled to receive information about prosecution decisions within 5 working days of the decision not to prosecute, to discontinue or to substantially alter a charge being made.

However, For victims entitled to an enhanced service (victims of the most serious crime, persistently targeted victims and vulnerable or intimidated victims) notification should take place within 1 working day of the decision.

Postal communications should be sent by first class post.

Qualifying Cases

The Victim Communication and Liaison (VCL) scheme provides a mechanism for the CPS to ensure victims are informed when the CPS has made a decision:

  • not to prosecute (if the decision is made during a charging consultation, see below)
  • to discontinue (or withdraw in the Magistrates' Court) a charge and proceed on another
  • to offer no evidence in all proceedings
  • to substantially alter a charge (see below)
  • to leave a charge in the proceedings to "lie on file"
  • that the suspect should be cautioned, conditionally cautioned or to agree a bind over for the defendant in place of a criminal conviction.

For CPS decisions not to charge, to discontinue proceedings or to offer no evidence, victims may be eligible to request a review of the decision. For further details, please refer to guidance on the Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) scheme. Where a victim is eligible for VRR, information of this entitlement should be included in the VCL letter sent to the victim.

Charging consultations

Where the CPS decides not to prosecute during a charging consultation (including face-to-face meetings, Area consultations, telephone and digital consultations held in accordance with the Director’s Guidance), the police are responsible for:

  • informing the victim of the decision;
  • how they can access further information about the decision from the CPS; and
  • how they can seek a review of the decision if they are dissatisfied with it under the CPS Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) scheme.

Notwithstanding the responsibilities of the police, it is CPS policy to send a VCL communication in Homicide cases (see the Guidance on CPS Service to Bereaved Families). It is good practice for a VCL letter to be sent in RASSO cases and other cases where the prosecutor deems it appropriate.

Unless the prosecutor deems it appropriate, a VCL communication is not required in the following circumstances:

  • when the CPS makes a decision not to prosecute during a charging consultation save for in Homicide cases (see above)
  • when a defendant is acquitted of a charge
  • when the court finds that there is no case to answer.

Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) Scheme

The CPS Victims' Right to Review (VRR) scheme has been in effect since 5 June 2013. Under the VRR scheme, victims can seek a review of a qualifying CPS decision not to prosecute, to discontinue proceedings or to offer no evidence. See VRR Legal Guidance for further information.

Concerns about legal decisions which do not fall within the scope of the VRR scheme will be dealt with in accordance with the CPS Feedback and Complaints Policy.

Substantial Alteration to a Charge

Substantial alteration of charge means:

  • a change in charge which, in the opinion of the Crown Prosecutor, alters the overall seriousness of the case or which the victim is likely to perceive as altering the overall seriousness of the case and which is likely to affect the sentence the court would impose (if the defendant were convicted of all charges). In determining seriousness, Crown Prosecutors will take in to account the maximum penalty permissible by law.

Alteration

The overall seriousness will usually be reduced following an alteration of a charge, although it may be increased. In either instance, a VCL communication should be sent to the victim.

Maximum Penalty

The definition requires Crown Prosecutors to take into account the maximum penalty when assessing whether or not the overall seriousness of the case has been affected. This is not the only criterion, but is simply one factor to be taken into account.

General

The definition of 'substantial alteration' should not be restrictively interpreted. There may be circumstances that do not fit neatly within the definitions of stopping or substantially altering a charge and that are not covered in this guidance.

There may be situations where a VCL letter is appropriate even if the prosecutor does not consider an alteration to a charge as substantial. In determining whether a VCL letter should be sent, the prosecutor should consider the effect of the crime upon the victim. The overriding consideration should be on the needs of the victim to have accurate and timely information about their case. If a prosecutor is uncertain as to whether a communication is required, they should exercise discretion in favour of communicating the decision.

Role of the Victim Liaison Unit (VLU)

The CPS has established Victim Liaison Units (VLUs) in all for managing:

  • the VCL scheme;
  • the local resolution stage of VRR; and
  • the Feedback and Complaints policy

VLUs are also responsible for administering the CPS Service to Bereaved Families and, in some Areas, MP correspondence.

They act as a ‘one-stop shop’ for communications after a case has been finalised and provide a dedicated, professional service to victims to ensure that victims are consistently provided with high quality, timely, effective and empathetic communications.

VLU staff are responsible for drafting most VCL communications, with prosecutors drafting bespoke communications in serious and sensitive cases (for example, homicide and rape and serious sexual offence (RASSO) cases).

Whether the communication is drafted by the VLU or by the prosecutor, the VLU is responsible for quality assuring and sending all VCL communications to victims.

Role of the Prosecutor

Whilst the VLU is responsible for preparing and sending VCL communications to victims, the decision-making prosecutor remains accountable for their decision to discontinue or to substantially alter a charge under the VCL scheme.

The scheme covers cases where the decision is made ‘in the office’ and cases where the decision is made ‘at court.’

In either case, it is vital that prosecutors properly record the reasons for their decision and that their reasoning is made clear within CMS or on the Hearing Record Sheet (HRS)/Prosecutor App, so that proper information can be obtained and provided to victims where this is requested.

Where a decision is made in the office, this should be properly recorded on CMS. The record should be added to the file review section and include a short description of the main reason for the decision. Prosecutors must ensure that the description is clear and provides sufficient information for the VLU to communicate effectively.

If the decision is made at court and the victim is present, the prosecutor should communicate the decision and reasons to the victim in person. The prosecutor should also advise the victim of the VRR process (where appropriate) and provide the victim with the VLU contact details for further enquiries. Unless the victim expressly requests otherwise, a written communication should always be sent to a victim.

The prosecutor should endorse the HRS/Prosecutor App with the relevant information (including whether they have spoken to the victim and, if so, what was said) to enable the appropriate communication to be prepared by the local VLU.

When an agent is used and they discuss the decision with a prosecutor in the office, the prosecutor should endorse CMS. Where the agent discusses the decision with another prosecutor at court, the agent should be instructed to endorse the electronic HRS as detailed above.

The decision-making prosecutor is responsible for promptly informing the VLU of the decision they have made in order for a VCL letter to be drafted. Where the Victim Liaison Officer (VLO) identifies a review note or HRS which contains insufficient information to enable an appropriate communication to be drafted - whether due to lack of detail or some other reason - the VLO should request further information as appropriate, highlighting the shortcomings of the recorded material to the relevant prosecutor and their manager, to ensure the issue, once rectified, will not be repeated.

Whilst most subsequent contact with victims will be managed by the VLU, there may be some occasions where it is more appropriate for a victim to be referred to the decision making prosecutor or their manager. In such an event, the Victim Liaison Unit Manager (VLM) will consult with the victim and the prosecutor and assist as appropriate.

Where the victim is entitled to (and requests) a meeting, the VLU will liaise with the decision making prosecutor / their manager as to the appropriate arrangements.

Legal Issues

Communicating decisions to victims - principles

In principle, the material that we receive to enable us to carry out our statutory functions should be treated as having been supplied only for those purposes. This is the case whether it has been supplied by the police or another source, for example, a witness, the defendant or the defendant’s solicitor.

However, victims of crime are entitled to be kept informed of the progress of criminal proceedings against an alleged offender and to receive an explanation if a charge is to be stopped or substantially altered. Explanations should not normally include the supply of statements or other documents. However, it may be necessary to disclose certain material or reference information contained within those statements or documents.

The following principles apply when deciding whether (and what), material or information can / should be provided to a victim:

  1. The person requesting the information must have a genuine interest

    Victims have a genuine interest in knowing the reasons why cases concerning them have been discontinued or charges substantially altered.

  2. The proceedings to which the statements or documents relate should be completed

    Where proceedings have been concluded, explaining the reasons for a decision by reference to a statement or other material should not ordinarily pose a problem. However, it is important to recognise that even proceedings which have (on the face of it) been concluded, may be resurrected by the prosecution or appealed by the defence and re-tried. For this reason, explanations should always be limited to telling the victim / family no more than they need to know in order to understand how we reached our decision.

    Where a charge has been substantially altered, or only one of a number of charges has been withdrawn and proceedings are still on going, special care will be needed. Although decisions can and should be communicated to the victim, explanations must not prejudice the trial process or any ongoing police enquiries.

  3. The material provided is not sensitive

    Those parts of a statement or other information which fall into the category of sensitive material should never be disclosed - for example, material that might identify an informant or details of previous convictions.

    In addition, particular care should be taken when considering information of a personal nature relating to a witness or a defendant - such as sexual or medical matters, personal relationships, sexual orientation, gender identity and so forth.

    If it is not possible to provide a satisfactory explanation without referring to the sensitive or personal information, the victim should be provided with only a limited explanation which makes no reference to the sensitive information. It may be sensible to explain to the victim that a fuller explanation cannot be given due to reasons of confidentiality.

  4. Consent

    It is possible to refer to information contained in a statement (or other material), where the consent of the individual concerned has been obtained.

    However, in most cases obtaining the consent of the individual prior to disclosing information is not feasible - particularly if communication of our decisions is to take place expeditiously.

    Accordingly, it is important to be aware that we can still provide information without the consent of the individual concerned, in the following circumstances:

    • when explanations are given in open court as to why a case has been stopped;
    • when dealing with parliamentary correspondence and complaints;
    • where the public interest requires that we provide the information to a third party, for example, in care proceedings.

Additional Considerations

Nothing in the above prevents a CPS prosecutor or VLO from referring to the contents of a statement or other material when explaining a decision to a victim. However, consideration should always be given to the following:

  • Confidentiality / Respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights) - personal information, particularly medical data, should only be disclosed after the most careful consideration as it is of fundamental importance to a person’s rights under Article 8. This applies not only to defendants but also to witnesses.
  • The Presumption of Innocence - Article 6(2) of the Convention provides in unqualified terms that everyone charged with a criminal offence has the right to be “presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law”.
  • Defamation - to be defamatory, explanations need not go so far as suggesting in unambiguous terms, for example, that the defendant is guilty of a criminal offence. A suggestion that a prosecution witness may have lied or be of poor credibility, would also be seriously defamatory. Accordingly, careful thought must be given to the way in which explanations are given to victims, so as to avoid such suggestions being expressed or implied.
  • Judicial review - when explaining a decision to a victim, prosecutors should be aware that the explanation provided will be examined very carefully and, if the victim decides to judicially review the decision, will form part of the grounds for claiming that the decision was perverse or erred in law.
  • Disclosure to the Defence - communications with victims under the VCL scheme do not amount to unused material as defined by the Criminal Procedure and Investigation Act 1996. However, they may become relevant - for example, where a victim alters their evidence in cross-examination; or responds, providing further relevant information.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that nothing provided to a victim is “off the record”. Accordingly, if a victim asks for information which is confidential and/or to which he or she is not entitled, the prosecutor or VLO can refuse to provide it, even if the victim insists it will go no further.

Communicating the Decision

General

When communicating with the victim, it is important to be sensitive to the possibility that the defendant may have access to the communication.

It is good practice to set out in the communication information to enable the victim to access appropriate support services, such as helplines and local services.

The Victim Information leaflet should be enclosed with every communication together with a copy of the VRR leaflet where appropriate. Copies of the leaflets are available via the following links:

Naming suspects

It is important to remember not to name youth offenders in any written communication with victims.

Adult defendants can be named in letters to victims which relate to post-charge cases where the prosecutor makes a decision to discontinue or to substantially alter a charge.

Adult suspects should not be named in letters to victims in pre-charge cases where the prosecutor has advised no further action, even when the victim may already be aware of the suspect’s name.  Such disclosure may have serious consequences for the suspect where the information is misdirected, not already known or not in the public domain.

Specific Considerations when using e-mail

Under no circumstances should the name of suspect (pre-charge) or a defendant (post-charge) be disclosed in any e-mail sent to the victim under the VCL scheme.

Consideration of the effect upon receipt

In order to avoid unnecessary distress to the victim, the communication should not be sent on a Friday, if at all possible, because it is likely to be received on a Saturday when sources of support or information are less likely to be available. Care should also be taken to avoid the communication being received on the anniversary of the incident or other significant dates (for example, the birth date of a victim where the communication is to a bereaved family). This must be balanced with the statutory obligation to notify the victim within one working day if he or she is entitled to receive an enhanced service. Under the provisions of the Victims’ Code a vulnerable or intimidated victim, a victim of the most serious crime or a persistently targeted victim are all entitled to receive the enhanced service.

Bereaved families

The CPS offers an enhanced level of service to bereaved families.  This includes offering to meet the family prior to or following a charging decision and when the prosecutor has made a decision which falls under the VCL scheme.

Domestic abuse cases

In domestic abuse cases, it is extremely important that the victim is notified quickly of decisions under the VCL scheme due to the implications that the decision may have upon a victim’s safety (for example, where the decision results in the defendant’s bail conditions being lifted or the defendant being released from custody). Where this is the case, it may be necessary to arrange for the police to notify the victim of the decision.

Children

If the victim is a very young child and both parents are defendants then no communication should be sent.

It would normally be inappropriate to send a communication directly to a child under twelve. If the victim is a child of twelve or over it may be appropriate to send a communication to him or her as well as to the parent/carer.

If the victim is a child looked after by the local authority, the communication should be sent to the guardian and, if sufficiently old, the child.

It is important to note that the parents or carers do not have an automatic entitlement to confidential information relating to their child if the child is deemed capable of sufficient understanding (Gillick v West Norfolk & Wisbeck Area Health Authority [1986] AC 112 HL). It is also important to consider the child’s rights under Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life includes the right to have personal information, such as letters, kept private and confidential).

An assessment should be made of the age and understanding of the child. Prosecutors and Victim Liaison Officers (VLOs) should refer to the file to ascertain the level of parental or carer involvement. For example, they may have countersigned the child’s statement, or made a statement of their own. The parent/carer may or may not have been present during the video recording of the child’s evidence. If there is any doubt, the prosecutor or VLO should contact the officer in the case.

In relation to older children the prosecutor or VLO should send a communication to the child and include a sentence in the letter suggesting that they show it to their parents. A separate letter can be sent to their parents stating that a decision has been made and that their child has been sent a letter detailing the reasons for the decision.

Prosecutors or VLOs need carefully to balance the rights of the child with their need for parental support and the rights/obligations of the parents to provide that. In sensitive cases, for example, where the parents or carers are fully aware of the nature of the allegation, the prosecutor or VLO may feel it is appropriate to provide them with a copy of the letter. Each case must be decided individually on its merits based on the available information.

In a case where the Witness Care Unit has been involved with the victim, the Witness Care Officer may well have relevant information about the child and their level of understanding, their wishes or their relationship with their parent or carer. The prosecutor or VLO should consider this information when making their decision.

Withdrawal by the Victim

Victims who no longer wish to pursue their complaint are entitled to receive a VCL communication. In such cases, it is good practice to include a reference in the letter to the views of the victim. However, victims who withdraw are not entitled to seek a review of the decision under the Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) scheme.

Writing to victims in prison

Where the victim is a prisoner, communication of the decision to discontinue or substantially alter a charge should be in writing. A letter should also be sent to the prison governor explaining that you have written to the prisoner outlining the reasons for the decision. You should not provide any more detail than this, except to say what the offence was.

The letter to the prisoner should be sealed in an envelope and that should be enclosed within the envelope containing the letter to the prison governor. It is then a matter for the prison to decide whether or not the letter should be opened prior to being handed to the prisoner. In practical terms informing the prison governor of the nature of the letter may assist the prison in assessing whether or not there are likely to be any risks to persons or property when the prisoner reads the letter and becomes aware of the decision.

Translations

Under the Victims’ Code, victims are entitled to understand and be understood during criminal proceedings. Victims are entitled to have translations of certain information in a language they understand. This includes information about any decision ending the criminal proceedings related to the criminal offence suffered by them.

If the victim’s statement is not in English, the letter must be translated into the appropriate language. Every CPS office will have a list of approved translators. If the victim is visually impaired, it may be appropriate to obtain a Braille version of the letter.

If the victim’s statement is in English, the letter should not be translated even if you believe that English is not the victim’s first language or the police indicate that the victim’s English is limited. In the latter case it may be appropriate to add a sentence in the letter offering a translation if it would assist. If the victim has indicated that he or she would prefer any letter to be written in his or her first language, then the letter should be translated.

Consideration should also be given to Easy Read versions of the communication being prepared where a victim has a disability which will affect their ability to understand. Areas should use a translator from the approved list to draft these communications.

Where the VCL communication has been translated, both the Victim Information leaflet and the VRR leaflet will also need to be translated in accordance with the Victims’ Code.

Guidance is also available on the Plain English Campaign's website.

Methods Of Communication

Written Communication

When a decision is made in a qualifying case, the victim should be sent initial letter communication informing them of the CPS decision and brief reasons.

The explanation will be based on the reasoning which has been recorded by the decision-making prosecutor.  Where appropriate, the letter will inform victims how they can access further information about the decision from the CPS and how they can seek a review of the decision if they are dissatisfied with it under the Victims’ Right to Review scheme.

The letter can be drafted by a prosecutor or VLU staff member. Whether drafted by the reviewing prosecutor, the VLO or the VLM, it should always be quality assured by the VLU prior to sending. This is to ensure it is typographically correct, written with understanding and empathy, and conveys the required information in a way the victim can clearly understand.

All VCL letters should be signed by the VLO (or VLM) on behalf of the reviewing prosecutor and should therefore always include both names.

Communicating the decision at court

If the decision is made at court and the victim is present, the prosecutor should communicate the decision and reasons to the victim. Further guidance on the role of the prosecutor is available in the section entitled 'Role of the Prosecutor' above.

Communicating the decision by telephone

In exceptional cases, it may be appropriate to communicate with the victim by telephone. Cases where such communication might be appropriate include:

  • cases that will attract publicity, when it is important that the decision is communicated quickly;
  • cases in which the defendant will be released from custody as a result of the decision and because of the circumstances of the case, it is important that the victim is made aware of this as soon as possible*; and
  • cases in which the defendant's bail conditions are lifted as a result of the decision and because of the circumstances of the case, it is important that the victim is made aware of this as soon as possible (R v DPP ex parte C [2000] unreported)*.

*Staff should follow any local agreements which may already be in place for contacting the victim in these circumstances.

Contact with the VLU

Areas should provide a dedicated e-mail address and a dedicated telephone number for the VLU which has an out-of-hours answerphone.

Whenever a victim contacts the VLU - whether for more information, seeking a review, to provide feedback or to make a complaint - the Victim Liaison Officer will seek to promptly assist the victim, for instance, by:

  • providing a further verbal explanation of the decision / action (as available from the information on CMS); and/or
  • answering the victim’s questions (e.g. about what happens next);
  • offering to forward a further written explanation; and/or
  • referring the victim into the VRR scheme or complaints process as appropriate.

Offering a Meeting

A meeting must be offered to the victim in certain cases in accordance with the Victims' Code. The meeting could be a dedicated teleconference or a face-to-face meeting.

When the CPS makes a decision not to prosecute during a charging consultation, a meeting is required only in homicide cases.

A meeting must be offered in the following case categories where the CPS is responsible for informing the victim of decisions not to prosecute, to discontinue or alter charges, unless the prosecutor concludes that in all the circumstances a meeting should not take place:

  • cases involving a death
  • child abuse
  • sexual offences
  • the offence was aggravated by hostility based on disability
  • racially/religiously aggravated offences
  • cases with a homophobic or transphobic or sexual orientation element
  • the offence was motivated by hostility based on age

Any decision not to offer a meeting in one of these case categories must be recorded and explained to the victim.

Meetings may also be offered in other cases as a matter of discretion.

Consideration should always be given to whether a telephone meeting can be held in the first instance, although it may not be appropriate in every case.

A meeting should not normally be held until the case has been concluded unless the prosecutor takes the view that the circumstances mean that a meeting ought to be held during the currency of the case.

Prosecutors should note that where a death has occurred and the victim’s family has requested a meeting, the VCL meeting should not be delayed until the conclusion of the case unless there are exceptional and justifiable reasons for doing so (see CPS Service to Bereaved Families for further information about the enhanced service offered to bereaved families).