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Delivering justice for victims: A consultation on improving victims’ experiences of the justice system – CPS response



We welcome the Government’s focus on improving victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. This is a priority for the CPS and we think our future vision for how we engage with and communicate with victims aligns with the broad intentions set out in this consultation.

By way of background and context to our consultation response, last year the CPS commissioned a victim needs assessment by an external agency in recognition of the fact that how we communicate with victims is currently not meeting their needs. This is the first time we have commissioned research of this kind and we now have a clear assessment of victims’ needs, informed by input from victims themselves, support services, statutory partners and practitioners. We intend to use the research and its findings to inform a redesign of the way we communicate with victims, and this work is already underway. We intend to publish a summary of this research shortly and will work with partners on how best to operationalise and implement the findings.

From our own research and operational insight, we know that there can be no one-size fits all approach to meeting victims’ needs. We have provided feedback and suggested considerations to some of the proposals in the consultation where we consider victims’ needs could be better served by reflecting this key principle.

To make sure they are feasible in practice, there are many proposals and concepts in this consultation that would benefit from refinement and shaping by the agencies responsible for engaging and supporting victims. We therefore would like to work with the Government and criminal justice partners on making sure that they are informed by our operational insights and research and implemented in a thoughtful way that best serves victims’ diverse needs.

We have not provided a response to every question in the consultation; we have concentrated on those which are of most relevance to the CPS and the role of the prosecutor.

About the CPS

It is the duty of the CPS to prosecute the right person for the right offence and to bring offenders to justice wherever possible. In fulfilling this duty prosecutors must be fair, objective and independent. Although the CPS does not prosecute cases on behalf of victims, victims often play a crucial role in our ability to conduct prosecutions and we recognise the magnitude of the decisions we make that impact their lives.

It is clear from our research that the role of the CPS is not widely understood.  We have an obligation to ensure that victims are kept informed, and to explain our role and how we approach our decision-making.

Although we must be objective, independent and impartial in our decision-making, we are committed to providing better support and engagement with victims than at present: these two aims are not in conflict and can in fact be mutually reinforcing, given the important role victims play in helping us fulfil our core purpose.

The CPS has obligations to victims under the Victims’ Code of Practice and we introduced our Victim Communication and Liaison Scheme to ensure we fulfil those obligations. We also have a published Prosecutor’s Pledge which sets out what victims can expect from the CPS; and have recently concluded a consultation on a new commitment to victims of rape and serious sexual offences.  There is more for us to do, however improving victims’ experiences of the CPS is a priority for us.

Victim Needs Assessment

In recognition of the fact that the way we communicate with victims is not satisfactory, we have commissioned a victim needs assessment – the first of its kind for the CPS – to understand what victims want and need from us to feel better supported, informed and engaged.  We asked Crest Advisory to work with a number of victims, partner organisations and CPS staff to understand how we can better engage victims in our decision-making processes, explain our role and the reasons for the decisions we reach, and support them ahead of giving evidence in court.  Although it showed some of what we are doing should be retained, this victim needs assessment is helping us identify where we are going wrong and how we can put it right – particularly in respect of the timeliness, quality and methods of our communications with victims.

Our research illustrated that the needs of victims are, in summary: 

  • To be recognised as an individual and to receive communications that reflect their personal context and the impact of trauma.   
  • To be heard, recognised and validated as a victim of crime by the CPS, notwithstanding criminal justice system processes or outcomes. 
  • To feel a sense of agency and empowerment during the criminal justice process.  
  • For the role of the CPS, the criminal justice process and likely timescales to be clearly explained. 
  • To be updated regularly on the progress of the case, even when there is no change. 
  • To have decisions explained through a method of communication that allows human contact and two-way conversation. 
  • To be informed when their case is received by the CPS, to be told who is responsible for it and to have a named point of contact for any queries.  
  • To be prepared for court by receiving information about court processes and to be given an indication about what kind of questions they may face. 
  • To be offered a choice in the methods and of frequency of communication - including layered/multi-channels of communication in plain language. 
  • To be able to involve support services and appropriate third parties in any communication. 

Taking an evidence-based approach to improving victim engagement

By working through the findings of our research we will implement change to ensure we do more to meet victims’ needs. The CPS has identified four key areas of action that we intend to take forward as a significant programme of work to improve the way we engage with victims. These are:

  • Improve the support we give to all victims by increasing the level of communication and support of our ‘universal service offer’. In particular, this will involve engaging sooner and more proactively with victims and enabling more routes to provide feedback to us. 
  • Enhance the service we provide to victims with the greatest need. This will involve identifying individual victims’ needs, tailoring our service to offer more support where it is needed most, and providing more regular and direct communication. 
  • Innovate and pilot new ways to strengthen our engagement with victims, in particular in the Operation Soteria ‘pathfinder’ areas, which are focussed on improving the joint police-CPS response to handling rape and serious sexual assault. This will include examining ways that digital technology and more tailored approaches to victim engagement can be developed and then more widely implemented. 
  • Build an organisational and leadership culture around better engagement with victims. To drive forward the changes we want to make will require accountability, buy-in and ownership at all levels in our organisation. We will make sure supporting victims is a top priority for everyone in the CPS: our people will have the right learning and development – and will be held to account – in embedding these improvements.

The CPS will engage with partners about the best ways to operationalise the findings from the evidence base gathered from practitioners and victims experts in our victims needs assessment which will be published this spring, including, with an additional focus on tailoring our engagement for victims with higher levels of need. This can lead to ambitious plans, costed in the funding envelope for this spending review and proposals which will lead into the next.

Chapter 1 – Meeting victims’ expectations

Question 1: Do you agree that the key principles set out in the consultation are the right ones? If not, do you have any other suggestions?

We support the high-level principles set out in the consultation and they broadly align with the research findings from our recent victim needs assessment.

However, it is important for any principles enshrined in legislation to be very clearly defined so as not to create unrealistic expectations amongst victims, and specifically to address the limitations of some agencies by virtue of their operational independence.  Any such legislative principles should also avoid creating one-size-fits all approaches, which may not be feasible in all cases for agencies to adopt or indeed in victims’ best interests.

We think it is important for victims to understand what they can expect from the criminal justice agencies they have contact with and what their journey through the criminal justice system may look like. The CPS wants to do more to better manage the expectations of victims (and wider partners) and to articulate our role and remit as an organisation. We hope that improved communication and expectation management can lead to increased victim satisfaction.

The different purposes of agencies within the criminal justice system inevitably means that some are better placed to provide assistance to victims than others, and this should be borne in mind when developing and defining principles.

Ensuring victims have their voices heard 

We agree that for victims, having their voice heard throughout the criminal justice process is important and this is one of the priorities we have identified through our victim needs assessment. However, if this principle were enshrined in legislation, it would need to be clear that there are limitations as to when a victim’s voice or view can be considered so as not inadvertently to affect fair and efficient justice or the legal process. 

The Code for Crown Prosecutors sets out how prosecutors should approach their decision making. When deciding whether to start or continue with a prosecution, prosecutors are required to consider whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction and whether a prosecution would be in the public interest. Both decisions need to be taken objectively by a prosecutor. 

It would not be appropriate for prosecutors to seek or be influenced by victims’ views on whether there is sufficient evidence to support a prosecution. That is because the evidential stage of our test is a purely objective one; if we were not to approach it in this way, then we would not be fulfilling our duty as prosecutors.

We do consider victims’ views in determining whether the public interest stage of our test is met, and it is explicitly set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors that prosecutors should consider the views expressed by the victim about the impact of the offence when determining the circumstances of and harm caused.  

Our research shows that victims do not necessarily want to influence independent decision making; instead, they require more agency and choice over the methods, timing and frequency of communications. We have set out four strong commitments in the introduction to our consultation response, which set our intention to enhance our minimum standard of service to victims, focusing on how and when we communicate with them according to level of need.

Question 2: What more can government and agencies listed in the Code do to ensure that frontline professionals are aware of what is required of them under the Code?

The CPS established a Victim Communication and Liaison (VCL) Scheme to ensure our obligations under the Victims’ Code are met.  Our induction programmes for lawyers cover our VCL Scheme and the Victims’ Code.

We also mandate that lawyers who work on homicide cases or rape and serious sexual offences cases complete specialist VCL training courses on these areas, which highlights additional or more tailored requirements relevant to these cases.

The CPS will continue to look at, as part of the redesign of our communication scheme, what staff need by way of training and materials on the Victims’ Code, to support their awareness and understanding of how it affects the delivery of their roles.

Our redesign work will focus on improving our communication with victims which we know is not currently meeting their needs. Our obligations under the Victims’ Code will be a key consideration in developing the new communication scheme.

Question 3: What more can government and agencies listed in the Code do to ensure every victim is made aware of the Code and the service they should expect to receive under it?

While we meet our responsibilities under the Victims’ Code by communicating to victims their rights under it, we acknowledge that we need to improve our processes and procedures for communicating with victims. This will include raising victims’ awareness of the Victims’ Code sooner in the process.

Last year, we reviewed the format of our letters to victims to ensure that the Victims’ Code is highlighted as clearly as possible. These letters should now clearly set out the reasons for decisions, the next steps available to victims, including the Victim’s Right to Review Scheme (VRR), and where they can turn for more information or support.

We have also created an online guide for victims of rape and serious sexual assault  to clearly explain what to expect throughout the whole process, what our role is and what rights victims are entitled to under the Code.  We are also working to develop a further online guide suitable for victims of all crimes, as part of our ongoing work to explain the criminal justice system and our role in it.

Additionally, we have developed an online process to simplify the way a victim can make a complaint, give feedback or ask for a VRR. This runs alongside other methods such as email, letter or phone call.

We will identify how, through the redesign of our communications with victims, we can inform them of their rights under the Code earlier in the process and as clearly as possible.

Question 4: Do the current procedures around timing and method of communication between the police/CPS and victims about key decisions work for victims? Are there any changes that could be beneficial? 

We welcome the focus of this question and acknowledge this is an area which we need and want to improve. The circumstances of victims can be and often are complex, with vulnerability, crime type, protected characteristics and a range of other factors including trauma impacting on their needs.

We currently rely heavily on local police Witness Care Units to communicate with victims and consequently there are limited circumstances in which the CPS will communicate with a victim directly. Generally, it is the police’s responsibility to inform victims of decisions not to charge a case. The CPS does not currently have responsibility over the communication of these messages to victims.

At present, the CPS’s most common point of interaction with victims with whom we do communicate directly is when we convey difficult or frustrating messages (for example, when a case has been stopped or a charge significantly altered), which makes the relationship in these cases inherently challenging. These messages are often the first communication a victim receives from us, meaning we have not first established a relationship with them or made sure they understand our role and how we make decisions.

It is CPS policy to communicate directly with a victim’s family for decisions not to charge homicide cases. The CPS also considers it good practice to communicate decisions not to charge RASSO cases directly to the victim. Prosecutors can also communicate decisions not to prosecute directly in other cases where it would be appropriate to do so.

We acknowledge that our current processes and procedures around victim communication do not deliver an acceptable level of service and we are committed to delivering a programme of change to improve this.  As an organisation we have committed to a root and branch review of how we communicate with victims and have taken significant steps towards better understanding what victims want from our communications with them.

In response to HMCPSI criticism about our Victim Communication and Liaison Scheme, in 2021 the CPS commissioned an external agency, Crest Advisory, to conduct a victim strategic needs assessment to better understand the needs of victims and witnesses and define and test different approaches to victim communication. This was a comprehensive piece of research using quantitative analysis of publicly available and specialised service data, as well as consultation with CPS practitioners, the third sector and directly with victims and witnesses.

The findings of the research, which we intend to publish shortly, clearly identify the needs of victims and highlight that the current CPS approach to victim communication is not meeting these needs. In taking forward our redesign work, we will carefully draw on these findings. Ultimately our research identified that victims of different crime types do not have fundamentally different needs, but those who have been victims of more serious offences and/or who are more vulnerable need a higher level of support and a more individualised approach to meeting those needs.

As a result, the CPS plans to raise its standard of communication to all victims of crime, putting in place an enhanced minimum standard of service for all victims. This will include a focus on transforming and diversifying the methods of communication and engagement offered.

In addition, the CPS plans to prioritise more supportive, tailored engagement with victims with specific needs and/or of certain crime types, offering an enhanced service to vulnerable victims.

As part of our work to improve CPS victim engagement, , we also want to take the lead in educating and managing the expectations of victims, witnesses and wider criminal justice partners about the role of the CPS in the criminal justice system.  We think this will enable partners to understand what the CPS can and cannot offer, which in turn facilitates better communication with victims earlier on and throughout the criminal justice process.

CPS communications with victims is not always done in isolation and we cannot meet the needs of victims on our own. There are various stages throughout the criminal justice process where the need to communicate with victims can be time sensitive and will require support from and close working with other partners, such as the police and HMCTS. There may also need to be consideration given to how victim support services support agencies in communicating with certain victims, depending on their level of need.

We welcome the Government’s focus on the victim experience. We look forward to working closely with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that any legislative changes align with our ongoing improvement work and can be implemented in practice in ways that best meet the diverse needs of victims. In particular, we would seek to engage the MOJ in supporting working with partners on the conclusions of our victims need assessment will be a way of developing costed improvement and change plans.

Question 5: a) Should the police and CPS do more to take victims’ views into account in the course of their duties, particularly around decisions to proceed with cases? 

We are pleased that the consultation document explicitly confirms that the Code for Crown Prosecutors (the Code) is outside the scope of this consultation. The Code is issued by the DPP pursuant to a statutory duty, under section 10 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985.

The Code sets out a two-stage test for deciding whether to start or continue with a prosecution. The first stage is an analysis of the evidence. Prosecutors must decide whether there is sufficient evidence to provide for a realistic prospect of a conviction. During the second stage a prosecutor must consider whether a prosecution is required in the public interest. A case must pass both stages of the test.

As we highlight above, the Code is clear that the evidential threshold must first be met before the public interest stage can be considered. The evidential stage requires prosecutors to be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. Paragraph 4.6 of the Code states: “A case which does not pass the evidential stage must not proceed, no matter how serious or sensitive it may be”. This stage of the Full Code Test requires prosecutors to make an objective assessment of the evidence and it would not be appropriate to seek or be influenced by victims’ views on whether there is sufficient evidence to support a prosecution.

The Code already requires the views expressed by victims to be taken into account at the public interest stage. Paragraph 4.14.c of the Code states: 

  • 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.

The Prosecutor’s Pledge reiterates the fact that prosecutors will take into account the impact on the victim or their family when making a charging decision. In addition, the Pledge sets out that where practical a prosecutor will seek a victim’s view, or that of the family, when considering the acceptability of a plea. However, the views of a victim cannot be determinative factor in deciding whether a prosecution is in the public interest. A prosecutor must form an overall view of the public interest.

Notwithstanding the exclusion of the Code from the consultation, we have significant concerns about the phrasing of this question and the implication that changes could be made to the way in which prosecutors make decisions. The Code itself makes clear, at paragraphs 1.3 and 2.10, that prosecutors’ decisions must be made in accordance with the Code and the policies and guidance of the CPS issued on behalf of the DPP, and with any guidance issued by the Attorney General. The CPS could not support any changes that impinged on the independence of prosecutorial decision making, which is a fundamental constitutional principle. It is not clear how changes to the process of decision-making could be implemented in a way that is consistent with the requirements of the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

Section 2 of the Code sets out a number of important general principles that apply to decisions about prosecutorial decision-making, which are intended to ensure that decisions are fair and objective. It is paramount that these principles are upheld and that any recommendations made following the consultation do not in any way undermine them. These include:

  • Prosecutors must be free to carry out their professional duties without political interference and must not be affected by improper or undue pressure or influence from any source.
  • When making decisions, prosecutors must be fair and objective. Prosecutors must always act in the interests of justice and not solely for the purpose of obtaining a conviction.
  • Prosecutors must be even-handed in their approach to every case and have a duty to protect the rights of suspects and defendants, while providing the best possible service to victims.

A move to increase the weight of a victim’s voice in relation to decisions about the sufficiency of evidence in a case puts at risk the fundamental principle of the objectivity and independence of a prosecutor, which is central to the criminal justice system of a democratic society. It is paramount that prosecutors remain independent and continue to apply the Code in all cases, acting fairly and objectively in their decision making. This means prosecutors must be able to objectively assess whether the evidential threshold has been met in a case before going on to consider whether a charge is in the public interest.

The assessment of the sufficiency of evidence under the evidential stage of the Full Code Test is one that requires an understanding of the law, including the elements of an offence, the potential for evidence to be ruled inadmissible by a court, and of the disclosure process. It would therefore not be proper to consider the view of the victim at this stage of the Full Code Test, although in carrying out this assessment, a prosecutor will consider any witness statement provided by a victim as part of the evidence in the case.

There could be a risk of creating false expectations amongst victims. A case that does not pass the evidential stage must not proceed, no matter how serious or sensitive it may be. There is a real risk that allowing victims to provide their views at any stage other than the public interest stage would give a false expectation that this could influence the prosecutor’s decision in a case. As a result, there could be confusion caused amongst victims which has the potential to add further to their distress and would be damaging for public confidence in the criminal justice system.

Prosecutors must be even-handed in their approach to every case and have a duty to protect the rights of suspects and defendants, while providing the best possible service to victims. While the CPS is strongly committed to ensuring victims receive the best possible service, it is important to stress that the CPS does not act for victims or their families in criminal proceedings. Prosecutors have an obligation to properly apply the law and act fairly, impartially and with integrity to help secure justice for victims, witnesses, suspects, defendants, and the public. This includes taking an overall view of public interest when considering whether to proceed with a case. Our view is that the current framework set out in the Code is appropriately balanced when it comes to decision-making.

b) Should there be an explicit requirement for the relevant prosecutor in a case or types of cases to have met with the victim before the charging decision, and before a case proceeds to trial?

The CPS supports the need to ensure victims remain informed throughout the criminal justice process and we are currently redesigning the way we communicate with victims to better meet the needs that we have identified through our victim needs assessment. This will include earlier engagement and information sharing with victims, which we recognise is key to them understanding the process, the criminal justice system, and the role we play in it, and making sure they can access the right support at the right time.

It is evident from our victim needs assessment that a tailored approach that allows victims to have some agency over the method, timing and frequency of CPS communication is preferrable, and for us to adjust the service we offer to victims based on their level of need. For example, our research showed that many victims do want to hear directly from the CPS when it comes to the legal progress of their case, although this is not the case for all victims, with many preferring to receive updates on the case via the police, their victim advocate or specialist victim support service. We also know from our needs assessment that explaining decisions though a method of communication that allows a two-way conversation is important to many victims, and how we can do this is something we are actively considering in the redesign of our victim communications.

We would, therefore, caution against introducing a blanket requirement which assumes that a meeting is the most appropriate method of communicating with victims or will be what every victim wants.  Our research shows that this is not what many victims want or need: providing them with greater choice and agency over imposing a one-size-fits-all solution is therefore preferable, and we are working on how to achieve that.

Our response to this question sets out the situations in which we already meet victims and the issues that would need to be considered in respect of mandatory meetings in all cases or in a class of cases.

Our current processes and procedures for meeting victims:

CPS service to bereaved families in homicide cases - the CPS offers an enhanced service to bereaved families. The CPS will offer to meet the family at an appropriate time, either prior to or after charge depending on the individual circumstances of the case.  As set out in the bereaved families guidance, either a CPS prosecutor or a police investigator will offer to meet the bereaved family to explain any decision not to charge. Whether it is the police or the CPS who meet the family will depend on the circumstances of the case.

The CPS also has guidance on ‘Providing a quality service to victims of bereaved families in terrorist incidents, disasters and multi-fatality cases’. This guidance confirms that meetings with victims’ families may be appropriate in these cases, but it may be necessary to agree early terms of reference to ensure everyone understands the parameters of the meetings and what can be shared.

CPS policies also provide for Pre-trial Witness Interviews (PTWIs) and Pre-trial Special Measures meetings to take place in certain circumstances. PTWIs may take place when the prosecutor considers an interview would assist in assessing the witness's evidence and/or to assist in understanding complex evidence. The purpose is to enable the prosecutor to reach a better-informed decision about any aspect of the case. Prosecutors should consider special measures meetings where a witness is vulnerable and/or intimidated, to give the prosecutor an opportunity to introduce themselves and to help the witness to make a properly informed decision about which special measures might assist them to give best evidence in advance of the day at court.

Under the Police-CPS Joint National RASSO Action plan we are currently:

  • Evaluating the use of pre-trial witness interviews so that we understand their potential benefit and the impact on victims and witnesses. 
  • Reviewing and improving special measures meetings in RASSO cases

Victim Communication and Liaison (VCL) Scheme meetings – The CPS will offer a victim a meeting in ‘specified’ cases where decisions not to prosecute or to discontinue or alter charges are made, unless the prosecutor feels it is not appropriate in which case the reason for that will be communicated. 

The CPS has published ‘Speaking to Witnesses as Court’ guidance, which emphasises the need to ensure that witnesses are properly assisted and know more about what to expect before they give their evidence.  The guidance sets out the role played by prosecutors at or before court and explains the important role of prosecutors in reducing a witness's apprehension about going to court, familiarising them with the processes and procedures and managing their expectations on what will happen whilst they are at court.  

There are, in our view, significant issues with mandating an offer of pre-charge and pre-trial meetings with victims.  Further, there are better ways – in terms of serving victims’ needs, fulfilling our statutory obligations and doing so efficiently – to achieve the intended objective of this proposal.  We support the intention to provide earlier, better engagement with victims and are working on ways to do exactly that. In summary, the issues we have identified with this proposal, and which require careful consideration before it could be progressed in any form, are: 

  • There are limitations on what prosecutors can discuss with victims, as highlighted above in respect of the proper application of the Full Code Test.  In turn, victims could have unrealistic expectations as to the purpose of pre-charge meetings because as we would be unable to discuss evidence with them pre-trial.
  • There would be a significant impact on disclosure obligations, which would add to the material we would need to record and potentially disclose to the defence – thereby creating additional pressures on bringing the prosecution case. 
  • As envisaged, the proposal would require a significant uplift in resourcing. 

It is not clear from the consultation question what the intended purpose of a meeting with a victim pre-charge and before trial would be. There may be value in using such meetings to keep victims informed about prosecution process, procedures, timing and special measures; however, there is a limitation as to what the prosecutor could appropriately discuss with the victim. 

That is because prosecutors are unable to discuss the evidence in a case with a victim while a case is ongoing. This fundamental principle was reaffirmed by the Court of Appeal in the case of R v Momodou & Limani [2005] EWCA Crim 177. The Court of Appeal stated that a:

“witness should give his or her own evidence, so far as practicable, uninfluenced by what anyone else has said, whether in formal discussions or informal conversation. The rule reduces, indeed hopefully avoids, any possibility that one witness may tailor his evidence in the light of what anyone else said, and equally, avoids any unfounded perception that he may have done so”. 

The consequences of discussing the evidence with a victim or being perceived to have done so is that the weight of a victim’s evidence may be diminished and in some circumstances their evidence may be ruled inadmissible, which may lead to the case ultimately being unsuccessful. This restriction on what can be discussed would have to be clearly explained to the victims to ensure that their expectations were managed and to avoid unnecessary confusion or frustration. In addition, the victim would also have to be told that a detailed note would be made of the meeting, the contents of which might have to be disclosed to the defence. 

Although we recognise the need for the CPS to strengthen its engagement with victims, we would need to avoid creating an impression that a prosecutor is the victims’ lawyer rather than the state prosecutor.  This is important, recognising our statutory role as an objective, independent prosecutorial authority that acts neither for the victim nor the defendant but on behalf of the Crown. There is a potential risk that pre-charge meetings with a victim could create an impression that the victim can influence a charging decision.  Again, the purpose and scope of a meeting would need to be clearly defined and articulated to the victim to as to manage expectations.  As we set out in response to question 5a, it is not possible for victims’ views to be a relevant consideration in a prosecutor’s independent assessment of the evidence.

Additionally, there are significant resourcing and financial implications that would accompany any new requirement that a prosecutor should meet a victim at the pre-charge stage and before trial. 

Given the disclosure obligations of the CPS, any meeting would need to be conducted formally and appropriately documented, which would require both a prosecutor and an additional member of staff present to note take, most likely a paralegal. Prosecutors will also need sufficient time to prepare for a meeting (reviewing the case file, for example) and there are various broader costs to consider such as interpreters and witness expenses. 

We have developed some initial estimates of the cost of carrying out two additional meetings, one pre-charge and one before trial, in a range of cases. 

  • Rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) flagged cases (at 2016-17 charging levels) - estimated additional costs to the CPS would be upwards of £2.8m per year
  • RASSO and Domestic Abuse flagged cases (at 2016-17 charging levels) - estimated cost would be upwards of £52m per year
  • All CPS charged cases (at 2019-20 levels) - estimated cost would be upwards of £90m per year

The preparation time a prosecutor would need ahead of a meeting would vary depending on the case.  A requirement to hold additional meetings would undoubtedly have a knock-on impact on the ability of prosecutors to progress their remaining caseloads.

We would ask that the Ministry of Justice work closely with the CPS to better understand and define the financial and resourcing implications of any new proposed measures; and provide appropriate support to address the costs and to mitigate the impacts of any new measures.  

In particular, working with partners on the conclusions of our victims need assessment will be a way of developing costed improvement and change plans  which meet our shared ambition to transform the service offered to victims across the criminal justice system in a legally compliant way.

The types of cases this could apply to

With regard to the question of whether a requirement should apply to “a case or types of cases”, it is our position that it would not be a feasible or appropriate to introduce this type of measure in all cases – even if the requirement were simply to offer a meeting.  Some cases may have hundreds of victims, and it would present substantial difficulties for a prosecutor to meet all victims in these circumstances. A similar challenge is presented by volume crime and the overwhelming additional burden this would place on prosecutors and the inevitable consequence that this may have on case progression.

The offer of meetings would need to be targeted very carefully to ensure it is beneficial for the victim and considers the impact on prosecutors’ (and other staff’s) time and workload.

c) What changes, if any, could be made to the Code in relation to information about the Victims’ Right to Review Scheme? 

Whilst the Victims’ Code sets out that victims have the right to request a review of CPS decision not to bring charges or to terminate all proceedings, the CPS Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) Scheme was introduced prior to and separately of the Victims’ Code.  

The CPS VRR Scheme was launched in June 2013. This followed a decision by the Divisional Court in the case of R v Killick [2011] EWCA Crim 1608, which required a right for a victim to have a decision not to prosecute reviewed.  Given that the obligation for the CPS to have such a scheme comes from the common law, it is appropriate to highlight that the CPS is responsible for the scope and operation of its own VRR scheme.

We note that the consultation references the fact that “there is currently no duty on either the CPS or police to invite the victim to make representations…”. The CPS VRR scheme is compliant with current case law (R (FNM) v Director of Public Prosecutions [2020] EWHC 870 (Admin)), which clarified that the DPP does not need to invite representations as part of the review process. However, we would highlight that where representations are made, these will be considered as part of the review. 

We recognise that victims of crime are often vulnerable and, as a result, the CPS VRR scheme has deliberately been made as simple as possible to access. CPS guidance states “There is no requirement for a victim to seek legal advice or representation or to provide reasons for requesting a review.” The only action a victim needs to take is to notify the CPS of their request for review, or simply ask us to look again at the case, (for example, via a phone call or email) within the agreed time frame to trigger the full review process. Victims are entitled to make representations if they wish, and in many cases they do. These representations are considered by the reviewing lawyer and, if the original decision is upheld, the CPS Appeals and Review Unit responds to the representations in full at the final stage of the VRR.  

To introduce a duty to invite representations from the victim may have the unintended consequence of giving victims the impression that they have to justify their request for a review (which would be more than we currently require), or that they need to instruct a solicitor in order to make representations. This could result in putting off the most vulnerable from coming forward to seek a review. This would be counter to what we aim to achieve in having a scheme where there is no perceived disadvantage of not making representations.

A duty to actively invite representations would in our view need to be very carefully considered. A prosecutor reviewing a decision needs act in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and must objectively decide whether there is sufficient evidence to support a charge. Representations from victims will not necessarily impact the outcome of the review, which would need to be made very clear to victims in order to avoid giving a misleading or disingenuous impression.

Question 6: a) What are the benefits and costs to greater or different use of Community Impact Statements? 

The CPS has published guidance that recognises the role of community impact statements in helping criminal justice agencies to understand the wider impact of offending and sets out how they can be useful for the CPS specifically.  

From a CPS perspective, a community impact statement should not be used as part of the evidential test when deciding whether to charge a suspect, but it can inform the public interest stage of the Code for Crown Prosecutors. Their use could also have the potential to result in more compensation and ancillary orders.

The CPS has also published separate guidelines on ‘Community Impact Statements and their use in Hate Crime cases’, approved by the MoJ, which highlights that the use of community impact statements allows for both the prevalence and impact of these crimes to be fully understood and taken into account in appropriate hate crime cases.

Community impact statements could be beneficial in cases where the overall impact may affect a wider community as well as an individual known victim. We received some feedback from our staff that further guidance may be helpful to provide clarity regarding the role and purpose of community impact statements.

Relevant case law has established that a judge may only take account of the prevalence of an offence if satisfied that:

  • The harm caused in a particular locality is significantly higher than elsewhere,
  • The circumstances can properly be described as exceptional, and
  • It is just and proportionate to increase the sentence in the particular case.

It is often very difficult to prove that the offence is statistically prevalent. Reliable data to demonstrate this is not available for many offences.

b) Can you provide an example of where one has been used effectively?

Some of the instances in which we are aware of community impact statements being used are: 

  • Cases of burglaries where it was possible to prove that there were particularly high levels of burglaries in the area.
  • Serious hate crime cases where the offence has caused fear and concern amongst a whole community e.g R v David Parnham (2019), where the defendant sent hundreds of letters calling for attacks on Muslims as part of ‘Punish a Muslim Day’.

Chapter 2 – Improving oversight and driving better performance

Question 9: a) Local-level partnership working is vital to ensuring the delivery of a quality service to victims. How can agencies better collaborate locally to deliver and monitor compliance with the Code? 

Individual CPS Areas have local arrangements designed to look at criminal justice performance. These arrangements may be standalone or report into wider structures such as Local Criminal Justice Boards. Arrangements will differ by area; some examples are:

  • Meetings between CPS and police Witness Care Units to share positive messaging around impacts of work and the outcomes on victims/witnesses 
  • Collectively dip-sampling specific cases by theme with partners to consider performance under the Victims’ Code 
  • VAWG panels and Local Scrutiny and Involvement Panels (LSIPs)  

Feedback we have received from our own staff indicates that these regular meetings, which cover victim and witness issues, can be useful in facilitating meaningful conversations between partners and sharing best practice. Practices such as dip sampling cases can be a helpful tool in allowing criminal justice agencies to understand performance and give feedback/inform learning.

b) How could agencies be encouraged to consistently share data at local and national levels to support monitoring of Code compliance and drive improvements? 

The CPS is currently establishing a data-sharing policy, which will allow us to share data appropriately and securely with partners. We encourage all partners to do the same.

Question 11: a) Do you think the current inspectorate frameworks and programmes adequately focus on and prioritise victims’ issues and experiences and collaborate effectively across the criminal justice system to do so? 

HMCPSI has a statutory duty to inspect the operation of the CPS and can work with other criminal justice inspectorates to inspect issues that cut across the criminal justice system.

HMCPSI has taken a considerable interest in the effectiveness of CPS communication with victims, publishing two recent reports with recommendations on the issue in November 2018 and December 2020.

Although HMCPSI does not have the ability to enforce compliance with their recommendations, it would be in rare circumstances that the CPS would not comply with recommendations made. The CPS takes very seriously the findings and recommendations of inspectorate reports and takes action as a result. Furthermore, it is open to the Attorney General, as the CPS’s superintending Minister, to ask us to account for the way in which we implement findings and recommendations from the inspectorate. We have taken significant action in response to the inspectorate’s two latest reports on victim communications. This includes commissioning a piece of user needs research to inform our understanding of what victims want and need from CPS communications and using this to inform a wider redesign of our victim communication and liaison scheme.

The research we commissioned into victims’ needs looked at how CPS performance is measured with regard to the service we provide to victims and witnesses. It noted that, while the current HMCPSI inspectorate framework does cover the Victims’ Code, the inspectorate looks at victim and witness issues predominantly through a process/casework quality lens rather than from the perspective of victim satisfaction and experience. An effective inspectorate framework requires inspectorates to remain independent and to have the ability to set their own inspection framework.

b) Could inspectorates be reinforced further in relation to victims? 

A victim’s journey through the criminal justice system involves contact with multiple criminal justice partners who are responsible for various aspects of a victim’s experience. There are elements of the criminal justice system that are not currently subject to third party, independent oversight which makes a holistic independent assessment of the issues impacting victims more difficult.

Question 14: Are there any oversight mechanisms, measures or powers used in other sectors (for example by the CQC, Ofsted, and FCA) which would be beneficial and appropriate to be used within the criminal justice system to ensure that victims receive a high-quality service? 

Question 15: Would a more standardised and consistent approach to oversight, and to incentivising and supporting agencies in relation to delivery of a quality service for victims across the criminal justice system, be beneficial? 

We would like to work with the MoJ on the development of any proposals in this area and to see more detail, which will enable us to provide clearer CPS insights as to the feasibility and impact of any measures.

Oversight bodies such as CQC, Ofsted and FCA operate in an entirely different context to that of the criminal justice system, which has constitutionally independent parts. Furthermore, it is unclear how any oversight mechanisms would impact on the current superintendence relationship between the Attorney General and CPS.

A standardised approach to oversight may be problematic given the very different roles and purposes of agencies within the criminal justice system.

Question 16: What should the consequences be for significant failures in relation to delivering a quality service for victims, including complaints relating to the Victims’ Code? Should those consequences be directed at criminal justice agencies as a whole and/or individuals responsible for the failure(s)? 

We consider that any consequences for failures in relation to delivering a quality service for victims should not be directed at individuals working in the criminal justice system. The CPS, as an operationally independent agency, should maintain the ability to performance manage its own staff and to implement any learning and improvements that may be required at an individual level.

Within the CPS, managers are already able to address individual issues in response to complaints relating to the service provided to victims. This is done through providing feedback to staff at individual or team level, considering what additional steps such as training may be required as well as more formal performance management procedures.

Our view is that performance management and the consequences flowing from it are better owned and implemented by the relevant agency. That is because we can tailor the actions required by the individual circumstances and, ultimately, have the strongest ability to rectify poor performance by virtue of the employer/employee relationship. It also means we can implement systemic change and/or development for teams or cohorts of individuals where our managers spot patterns of behaviour, even when that behaviour would not be of such a degree to trigger consequences as envisaged by this proposal/under the Victims’ Code.

We consider that the current mechanisms we have in place are the most appropriate and effective way of addressing issues around service quality and think anything that goes significantly further with regard to individual consequences could also dissuade individuals from wanting to take up or remain in these posts and will ultimately impact on capacity within the criminal justice system.

In our experience, failures in relation to service quality may not lie squarely with one individual or one agency, which means that organisational/corporate responsibility should be the preferred approach.

Question 17: What do you consider to be the best ways for ensuring that victims’ voices, including those of children and young people, are heard by criminal justice agencies?

The Victim Personal Statement (VPS) provides an important platform for victims of crime to clearly set out the impact of the offending on them.

For those who for whatever reason do not feel comfortable, or whose impairments or circumstances mean that making a VPS or reading this out in court is not possible, criminal justice agencies should consider alternative ways of enabling these victims to make a VPS – for example, considering how best to enable disabled victims to make and deliver their statements. This may also involve the use of registered intermediaries and Children and Young People’s Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (CHISVAs) who play a vital role in supporting children through the criminal justice process to give their best evidence. Explanation around the VPS process could be improved so that victims fully understand their options and how the information they provide can be used.

The CPS is currently piloting an increase in the number of meetings between CPS staff and victims, including children and young people, to ensure victims’ voices are heard as part of Operation Soteria in the South West and East Midlands, with the impact being evaluated. As outlined in the consultation document, each CPS Area hosts local scrutiny and involvement panels, where local issues are discussed with people from the community. They allow the CPS to hear the community’s voice directly and clearly. Local advisory panels also offer victims an opportunity to feed into the delivery of services.

More broadly, allowing victims to have some agency over how they are communicated with by criminal justice agencies may be beneficial, and is an approach the CPS is actively considering in the redesign of its victim communications.

The work responding to our victims needs assessment is likely to include consideration of models of service which allow for much better feedback from victims on the service they have received. We intend to work with partners on this after the publication of the evidence in our victims needs assessment.

Question 18: a) What data should criminal justice agencies collect about victims’ experiences, and at what key points in the process? 

As part of our plans to redesign the way the CPS communicates with victims, we will consider what data and feedback we should collect about victims’ experiences to support our understanding and inform further improvements. Understanding victim experience throughout the criminal justice process (not just at the end) is important and could assist criminal justice agencies in addressing victim concerns ahead of time and delivering a more tailored approach.

Question 19: How might victims provide immediate feedback on the service they receive and its quality (such as text message, online surveys etc.)

As part of the plans to redesign the way the CPS communicates with victims, we will consider what data and feedback we should collect about victims’ experiences to support our understanding and inform further improvements. Victim support services may be one way of facilitating victim feedback and could ensure a more personable approach, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Question 20: How do you think we could simplify the existing complaints processes to make them more transparent and easier for victims to use? How could we secure a swifter resolution while allowing for a more consistent approach? 

Question 21: What more can be done to improve oversight of complaints handling, including where victims are dissatisfied with the outcome of the complaint process? 

Question 22: What more might agencies do to embed complaints relating to the Victims’ Code into their operational and performance management processes?

We can receive complaints relating to our legal decision-making or complaints about the level of service received. The CPS website sets out clearly who can make a complaint, how to do so and within what timescales, as well as detail on the complaints process.

In our view, the CPS complaints process is fit for purpose and allows for sufficient escalation if a complainant if dissatisfied.  This includes referral to the CPS Independent Assessor of Complaints (IAC) for service complaints. To support transparency, the IAC publishes an annual report on the cases they receive including key themes arising out of these complaints.

Given the independence of our legal decision-making, it is not appropriate for an external body to make assessments as to whether our decision-making in an individual case was wrong. Complaints relating to our legal decision making can be escalated to senior managers within the CPS.

Chapters 3 & 4 – Supporting victims of crime and Improving Advocacy Support

Our recent victim needs assessment highlighted the value of specialist victim support services, which were viewed very positively by most victims in our research.

The standard of service provided by ISVAs and IDVAs can vary, and we are aware of the challenges these services face relating to the levels of funding available, and the timescales attached to funding.

We think there is benefit in clearly defining the standards for these advocate roles, which would in turn help other agencies to understand their remit and could promote a joined-up approach amongst partners.

Our victim needs assessment found that the CPS could make better use of specialist external support services such as ISVAs and IDVAs. We are already working on ways to improve how we engage with these kinds of specialist support services and, in June 2021 together with the NPCC, we published a National Framework for working with Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and support services. The Framework is for use by the CPS and police across England and Wales and outlines minimum standards on liaising and communicating with ISVAs and local services supporting victims who work within the criminal justice system context. In addition, there is work ongoing through Operation Soteria to increase engagement with ISVAs in RASSO cases.

Although Chapter 4 of this consultation has a focus on ISVAs and IDVAs, there are wider crime types and communities to consider in the victim support landscape. For example, our victim strategic needs assessment emphasised that there are marginalised communities that are particularly wary of engaging with the criminal justice system. This can include victims of hate crime, for whom there is currently only one hate crime advocacy service operating in England and Wales, serving the London area.

How the CPS effectively engages with specialist victim support services as part of our communications with victims is an important issue we will be considering as part of the redesign of our approach to victim communication.

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