CPS Direct communication with victims - CPS/ACPO national framework for local protocols
- Responsibilities for keeping victims informed
- Case categories included in the scheme
- Method of communication
- Level of information to be provided
- Police action in support of the initiative
- Witness Care Unit responsibilities
- Sensitive cases
- Meetings with victims
- Assessing and equipping CPS meeting rooms
- Further information received from a victim
- Pre-charge decision cases
- Provision of letters to police
1.1 This protocol is between [ ________ ] Police Force and [ ________ ] CPS Area and is based on a national framework to assist in the development of local arrangements between the police and CPS for the provision of information to victims of significant developments in the case.
1.2 The framework has been developed in consultation with ACPO and has been issued to Chief Crown Prosecutors and Chief Constables.
2.1 The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (April 2006) requires the police to keep victims informed of significant developments in the case. In particular, the police will inform the victim:
- if someone has been arrested, cautioned or charged;
- of any decision not to investigate a crime;
- of progress in cases being actively investigated;
- of any decision not to charge a suspect where a discussion has taken place between the investigating officer and the CPS;
- where a suspect has been arrested and a decision has been taken by the police not to charge.
2.2 The introduction of Witness Care Units has also enhanced the information received by victims of crime. Witness Care Units (WCU) have a responsibility to keep victims (and witnesses) updated on case progress following charge, advising them of hearing outcomes and sentences.
2.3 Under the Direct Communication with Victims Scheme and the Victims' Code the CPS takes responsibility for informing the victim directly of any decision to drop or alter the charges substantially.
2.4 The Victims' Code introduced time limits in which notification must be undertaken. The CPS must notify the victim of a decision to drop or substantially alter a charge within 1 working day for vulnerable or intimidated victims and within 5 working days for all other victims.
2.5 It is important for the CPS and police forces to understand the local arrangements for communicating decisions to victims and to work in a co-ordinated manner to ensure effective communication. This protocol assists in clarifying roles and responsibilities for those involved in this initiative.
3.1 Explanations of CPS decisions to drop or alter charges substantially will be provided in all cases where there is an identifiable victim.
3.2 A victim is defined In The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, as:
"Any person who has made an allegation to the police, or had an allegation made on his or her behalf, that they have been directly subjected to criminal conduct under the National Crime Recording Standards (NCRS)."
3.3 This definition also includes bereaved relatives or partners in homicide cases; parents where the primary victim is the child; police officers; and a family spokesperson, entitled to receive services under the Code, where the victim is incapacitated as a result of disability. The position of businesses under the Code is slightly different from the previous position for DCV. Under the provisions of the Code, if a business provides a named contact, it is entitled to services. This would therefore bring a larger business within the DCV scheme, if it provides the named contact.
3.4 In addition to writing to the victim to explain their decision the CPS must also offer to meet victims in the following case categories:
- cases involving a death;
- child abuse;
- sexual offences;
- homophobic or transphobic crime;
- disability hate crime;
- racially/religiously aggravated offences and;
- offences aggravated by hostility based on the victim's disability or age.
3.5 In addition, the reviewing lawyer will have the discretion to offer a meeting to a victim in any case if it is considered appropriate in the circumstances of the case.
3.6 Dropping a charge means:
- Discontinuance of the case;
- Discontinuance of one or more charges but pursuing others;
- Offering no evidence or withdrawing all charges;
- Discharging a charge Section 6 (1) Magistrates' Court Act 1980 on our application where we have decided that there is insufficient evidence or it is not in the public interest to proceed;
- Offering no evidence or withdrawing one or more of the charges but pursuing others. This includes accepting pleas to the majority of offences and dropping the remainder for public interest reasons, even if the victim is the same person in all the charges.
3.7 Substantial alteration to a charge means:
"a change in charge which, in the opinion of the crown prosecutor, alters 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 into account the maximum penalty permissible by law."
4.1 Ordinarily, prosecution decisions will be communicated to victims by letter so that the victim has a written record of the decision. Sometimes however, it may be desirable to contact the victim initially by telephone, provided that it is safe for the victim if we do so. This may be particularly appropriate when there has been prior telephone contact or when it is not practical to write the letter within one working day to a vulnerable or intimidated victim. If the contact is made by telephone a letter will follow within five working days, unless the reviewing prosecutor considers that a letter would not be an appropriate form of communication because of the victim's personal circumstances. [Identify local arrangements]
4.2 There may also be circumstances where it is appropriate to use the telephone initially to tell victims of the decision to drop or substantially alter charges in order to ensure timely communication, for example to pre-empt media coverage.
4.3 Where an explanation of a decision has been provided to the victim at court a letter confirming the information provided will be sent to the victim except in exceptional circumstances.
5.1 Explanations of CPS decisions to drop or alter charges substantially will be provided in all cases with an identifiable victim. A letter of explanation will be provided to the victim giving as much detail as possible of the reasons behind the decision, bearing in mind the sensitive important issues outlined at paragraph 6 which may restrict the amount and/or type of information that can be given. The reviewing lawyer responsible for the letter explaining the decision will need to exercise his/her judgement on the level of detail to be provided in each case.
5.2 Where discontinuance is as a result of withdrawal of support for the complaint by the victim, a letter may be sent to the victim consisting of notification of discontinuance or charge alteration and a short standard explanation of the reasons for the decision.
5.3 In dealing with a case in which there is a substantial alteration to the charge, the explanation provided to the victim will be restricted to an explanation of the basis for the decision setting out the relevant Code test only. If a further explanation is required, a meeting will not be offered until the case has concluded.
6.1 There are several sensitive and important issues surrounding the amount and type of information that can be given to victims, balancing openness with the interests of others (including the suspect and other witnesses). For example, there are obvious sensitivities concerning disclosure of information relating to sexual matters, previous convictions, medical history, personal relationships, etc.
6.2 Staff involved in explaining decisions to victims will need to take account of the following issues:
- Public Interest Immunity;
- Data Protection Act 1998;
- ECHR articles 6, 8 and 10;
- Disclosure issues where some charges are still proceeding;
- Judicial Review of CPS decision;
- the right of suspects to be tried in courts, not through out of court statements;
- where proceedings have not been concluded, the need to avoid prejudicing the trial process or ongoing investigations.
6.3 Section 6.2 provides guidance on legislation/issues to be taken into account when releasing information and each case should be dealt with on its own merits. Should further assistance be required in respect of data protection advice should be sought from the following:
For CPS Staff:
- Data protection advice can be obtained from the Information Management Unit at HQ
- Security advice can be obtained from the Departmental Security Unit at HQ.
For Police Staff:
- The local Data Protection Officer.
7.1 The police will provide the full details of all victims in any cases submitted for prosecution to the CPS, including victims personal addresses.
7.2 In accordance with the Victims' Code the police will take all reasonable steps to identify vulnerable and intimidated victims. In addition, the police will identify any cases of particular sensitivity, including where there are any special needs or sensitivities that may be relevant to the provision of the explanation to the victim. This information will be provided on the MG6 form.
8.1 Witness Care Units have an obligation under the NWNJ minimum requirements to inform victims if a case is dropped. They do not, however, have the responsibility to convey the reasons for that decision.
8.2 Where the witness care officer is advising the victim of the outcome, following a hearing of a case that has either been dropped or charge substantially altered, they will advise the victim that a follow-up communication will be sent from the CPS setting out the reasons for their decision.
8.3 Where a decision is made in the office to drop or substantially alter a charge the CPS will have responsibility for advising the victim of this, with reasons, and will provide the witness care unit with a copy of the letter. This will ensure that the witness care officer does not provide conflicting information to the victim or maintain contact where it is not appropriate to do so.
9.1 Where the police notify the CPS (on the MG6) that the victim in the case has particular sensitivities or that careful consideration needs to be given to the means and timing of communication, the CPS will not directly communicate with the victim until a strategy conference has taken place. This strategy conference (which may take place by telephone) will identify the most appropriate means and timing for communication with the victim [identify local arrangements and contact points].
9.2 CPS will take into account the needs and views of victims and the police before communicating with victims in sensitive cases.
9.3 In cases where a defendant is in custody or on conditional bail, or where a specialist officer is the single point of contact, the police will inform a victim where proceedings are being stopped. At the same time, the victim will be advised that an explanation will be provided by the CPS. The victim may be asked to identify the preferred means for receiving that communication. The police will provide the victim with the CPS contact. The CPS will expedite the information to the victim in such cases.
10.1 The victim will only be offered the opportunity of a meeting with a CPS representative once the case has concluded (save in exceptional circumstances, e.g. fatal road traffic incidents). The police will be informed where the victim requests that a meeting takes place.
10.2 In sensitive cases, the investigating officer or family liaison officer (FLO) may wish to attend any meeting with the victim or the CPS may wish them to attend. Where this is the case, the prosecutor and officer must be mindful of the reason for the meeting and ensure CPS/Police discussions in relation to the case are not aired during the meeting. In some cases it may be appropriate to hold a short pre-meeting between the officer and prosecutor.
10.3 A victim may wish to be accompanied at any meeting that takes place and confirmation of the details of who is to accompany the victim will be sought by the CPS when making the appropriate arrangements.
10.4 Meetings with victims will ordinarily take place within CPS offices in accommodation set aside for the purpose. Before a meeting takes place the CPS will carry out an initial risk assessment (RA) taking into account all the information already held by them, including that provided as part of the prosecution file by the police (statements and previous convictions). If details of person(s) accompanying the victim to the meeting are known and included on the file then a risk assessment will be carried out in the same way.
10.5 If the risk assessment carried out by the CPS raises concerns the police may be consulted. It is not envisaged that consultation for advice or assistance will be sought as a matter of routine. Only in exceptional and appropriate cases will it be necessary to seek such consultation after the CPS has carried out an initial risk assessment. Any such request for consultation will be dealt with by the police on a case-by-case basis.
10.6 Upon completion of the risk assessment process the CPS will decide whether the meeting should take place and if so the appropriate location. If it is considered that a police officer would need to be in attendance or that a meeting should take place within a police station the local police will be consulted to determine the most appropriate course of action. If the risk is considered to be too serious, or a police officer is unable to attend or accommodation cannot be found at the police station, a full file note will be made in such a case and endorsed by the Chief Crown Prosecutor. A letter explaining the decision will then be sent by the Crown Prosecutor responsible for the case.
11.1 The CPS will identify accommodation to be used for the holding of meetings with victims. Such accommodation will be provided with informal furniture and assessed for safety. A risk assessment of the facilities should be carried out by a suitably trained CPS representative.
11.2 Local CPS management together with local divisional commanders will develop contingency plans to ensure that the police have an appropriate response plan and are aware of the location of, and most direct access to, rooms used for meetings with victims.
11.3 The CPS will provide appropriate facilities to put victims at their ease and minimise the safety risks possible when meetings are held.
12.1 Any further information provided as a result of the CPS directly communicating with a victim not previously available to the police will be forwarded by the CPS to the police. Similarly, where additional information comes into the possession of the police, it should be forwarded to the CPS via the investigating officer.
13.1 Responsibility for informing a victim of pre-charge decisions taken during a discussion between the police and CPS will remain with the police in accordance with the Victims' Code of Practice (7.2).
13.2 When the Duty Prosecutor takes the decision not to charge, the CPS will communicate this decision to the victim where there has been no discussion with the investigating officer and the decision has been based upon a written file.
14.1 The police will not be routinely provided with copies of letters sent to victims. However, copies of letters sent to victims will be provided to the WCU to ensure consistency of information provided to victims. Copies of letters will be provided to the police upon request in any individual case.