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Victims and Witnesses: Care and Treatment

|Legal Guidance

Introduction

This guidance explains how the interests of victims are considered during our case review process and summarises our wider obligations in respect to witnesses.

Case Review

The CPS acts in the public interest and not just in the interests of any one individual. The interests of the victim are nonetheless important when deciding where the public interest lies and the CPS will take into account the consequences for the victim of the decision whether or not to prosecute and will consider any views expressed by the victim or victim's family.

If the evidence is sufficient to justify a prosecution, the interests of the victim are an important consideration when deciding whether a prosecution is needed in the public interest. Many of the factors in favour of prosecution flow directly from the impact of the offence on the victim. The relationship between the interests of the victim and the wider public interest are dealt with at paragraph 4.14(c) of the Code for Crown Prosecutors which is set out below.

“What are the circumstances of and the harm caused to the victim?

  • The circumstances of the victim are highly relevant. The more vulnerable the victim’s situation, or the greater the perceived vulnerability of the victim, the more likely it is that a prosecution is required.
  • This includes where a position of trust or authority exists between the suspect and victim.
  • A prosecution is also more likely if the offence has been committed against a victim who was at the time a person serving the public.
  • It is more likely that prosecution is required if the offence was motivated by any form of prejudice against the victim’s actual or presumed ethnic or 10 national origin, gender, disability, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation or gender identity; or if the suspect targeted or exploited the victim, or demonstrated hostility towards the victim, based on any of those characteristics.
  • Prosecutors also need to consider if a prosecution is likely to have an adverse effect on the victim’s physical or mental health, always bearing in mind the seriousness of the offence, the availability of special measures and the possibility of a prosecution without the participation of the victim.
  • Prosecutors should take into account the views expressed by the victim about the impact that the offence has had. In appropriate cases, this may also include the views of the victim’s family.
  • However, the CPS does not act for victims or their families in the same way as solicitors act for their clients, and prosecutors must form an overall view of the public interest.”

When reviewing a file, prosecutors should always consider whether there is sufficient information;

  • to challenge a potentially unfair attack on a victim's or witness's character;
  • to make a compensation claim for any loss or injury; 
  • to decide whether a witness would benefit from a pre-court familiarisation visit;
  • to identify a vulnerable witness or a witness with special needs.

If the information is missing the police should be asked to supply it.

For further guidance on the prosecutors, obligations to victims in respect of the acceptability of pleas and bases of plea refer to the Attorney General's Guidelines on the Acceptance of Pleas and the Prosecutor's Role in the Sentencing Exercise.

Obligations in Respect of Victims and Witnesses

Prosecutors' Pledge

Wherever there is an identifiable victim, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will follow the commitment given in the Prosecutors' Pledge.

The Prosecutors' Pledge articulates the level of service that victims can expect to receive from prosecutors.

The Pledge underpins the Attorney General's Guidelines on the Acceptance of Pleas and the Prosecutor's Role in the Sentencing Exercise.

Victims' Code

The latest version of the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (The Victims' Code) came into force on 1 April 2021 and is a simplified and streamlined version of the previous Code. It is shorter in length, easier to read and sets out more clearly to victims what they can expect from the criminal justice agencies.

The Rights and obligations under the Victims Code are embedded in all relevant CPS practices, policies and procedures. Compliance with CPS SOP's will ensure that the Rights under the Victims Code are automatically delivered.

The obligations to victims under the previous Code are now structured into twelve ‘Rights’:

  • Right 1: To be able to understand and to be understood;
  • Right 2: To have the details of the crime recorded without unjustified delay;
  • Right 3: To be provided with information when reporting the crime;
  • Right 4: To be referred to services that support victims and have services and support tailored to your needs;
  • Right 5: To be provided with information about compensation;
  • Right 6: To be provided with information about the investigation and prosecution;
  • Right 7: To make a Victim Personal Statement;
  • Right 8: To be given information about the trial, trial process and your role as a witness;
  • Right 9: To be given information about the outcome of the case and any appeals;
  • Right 10: To be paid expenses and have property returned;
  • Right 11: To be given information about the offender following a conviction;
  • Right 12: To make a complaint about your Rights not being met.

The CPS has responsibility (in conjunction with other agencies) for delivering Rights 1, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. The CPS also has responsibility for dealing with Victim Personal Statements taken and supplied by the police under Right 7.

The Code defines a ‘victim’ as:

  • a 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 (or a nominated family spokesperson) of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence.

The following persons can also receive Rights under this Code if they are:

  • a parent or guardian of the victim if the victim is under 18 years of age; or
  • a nominated family spokesperson if the victim has a mental impairment or has been so badly injured because of a criminal offence that they are unable to communicate or lacks the capacity to do so.

‘Legal persons’ (e.g. businesses or other enterprises such as charities) are not included within the definition of a victim. However, businesses and other enterprises such as charities can receive the services in this Code and make an impact statement where a criminal offence has been committed against them, subject to provision of a named point of contact to the relevant service provider.

Delivery of the Rights to victims is mandatory for all of the criminal justice agencies including the CPS. Failure to do so may result in a complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who has the power to recommend that the relevant agency should pay financial compensation to the victim.

Speaking to Victims and Witnesses at Court

The CPS is committed to treating witnesses at court with respect and sensitivity. Whenever possible we should introduce ourselves and try to put nervous or vulnerable witnesses at ease and explain court procedures.

The Speaking to Witnesses at Court guidance provides clarity to CPS advocates about what they are expected to do to in supporting witnesses to give their best evidence in court. It emphasises the need for advocates to ensure witnesses are properly assisted at court and that they are better prepared and know what to expect before they give their evidence. This includes preparing them for any cross-examination that may take place.

We should keep all victims and witnesses informed about delays and ask for them to be released as soon as possible after giving evidence. We should tackle unfair and derogatory statements in mitigation and, where necessary, invite the court to hear evidence on issues raised by the defence.

Vulnerable and Intimidated Victims and Witnesses

A vulnerable or intimidated witness will be eligible for Special Measures under sections 16 to 33 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. These range from giving evidence in chief by way of video to the use of screens. Once eligibility is established, prosecutors will have to consider whether any measure would be likely to improve the quality of the evidence given, and if so, which measure would be most appropriate. It is then for the court to consider whether a direction should be made, having regard to all the circumstances.

When considering whether to apply for a special measure: confirm the views of the witness as to the measure to be applied for; inform the witness of the measure that the court has directed; or explain to the witness why it is not appropriate to apply for a special measure. Prosecutors may consider it appropriate to hold a special measures meeting with the witness (see Special Measures Meetings).

Consideration should always be given to the use of appropriate bail conditions if there is a fear of attack, intimidation or harassment. In court there is provision for witnesses not to have to give their name and address in open court, and to give evidence from behind a screen.

Where a statement is made by a person who is unfit to attend court through fear, the police should notify the prosecutor. Consideration can then be given as to whether to make an application under the provisions of section 116 Criminal Justice Act 2003.

The CPS must be alive to the concerns and fears of all of those involved in the prosecution process. Witnesses must be given as much notice as possible of the date and time they are required to attend court.

Priority will be accorded to preparing cases involving child witnesses.

Cases Involving a Death

The CPS offers an enhanced service to bereaved families.  Meetings with the prosecutor will be offered at important stages of the CJS process to explain the anticipated progress of the case, what is expected to happen at each court hearing and the possible sentences available for the offences charged.  The legal guidance Homicide Cases - Guidance on CPS Service to Bereaved Families covers all aspects of our service to bereaved families, commencing with explaining the charging decision through to supporting bereaved families where cases progress to the Court of Appeal.

The Provision of Information to Victims in Court of Appeal Cases

The CPS will offer to meet with the bereaved family where a defendant is appealing to the Court of Appeal against his sentence or conviction or both.

Once an appeal has been lodged, conduct of the case will pass to the central CPS Appeals and Review Unit within Special Crime Division. The allocated Appeals Unit prosecutor will be responsible for communicating with the bereaved family and offering them the opportunity to meet the prosecutor at what he/she considers to be an appropriate stage of the proceedings.

In accordance with our obligations under the Victims Code, the CPS Appeals and Review Unit wil identify the correct Witness Care Unit for the Criminal Appeal Office.

If the family choose to attend the Court of Appeal hearing, they should be met at court by a CPS representative who will be on hand to assist the advocate in answering any further questions the family may have.

Further information regarding the CPS service to bereaved families can be found in the legal guidance entitled Homicide Cases - Guidance on CPS Service to Bereaved Families.

Role of Witness Care Units

In accordance with the obligations under the Victims' Code, Witness Care Units (WCU) will notify victims of cases heard in the Court of Appeal. In some instances, the identified single police point of contact, for example a Family Liaison Officer, may notify the victim or the victim's family.

Complaints

The CPS aims to deal with complaints sensitively, fairly and in confidence. Complaints about the way in which a case has been handled should be addressed to the CPS office that dealt with the case. The CPS will try and reply to the complaint within three working days of receipt. If a full reply cannot be sent within that time, the CPS will acknowledge the letter of complaint and aim to send a full reply within 10 working days.

Full details of the procedure for making a complaint may be found in the CPS Complaints Procedure Guidance.

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