Alison Saunders – the Director of Public Prosecutions – has launched a wide-ranging support package for the victims of crime. Dedicated units of trained staff are now up-and-running across England and Wales. In addition, the final Victims’ Right to Review scheme is being published alongside almost a year’s worth of statistics from the interim scheme launched in June 2013.
“There has been a lot of focus on the victims of sexual offences in recent months,” commented Saunders, “but all crimes – from burglary and muggings through to harassment and fraud – serve to undermine confidence, create fear and damage the fabric of our society. My focus is on improving our service to anyone who has suffered at the hands of criminals.”
More than 70 Victim Liaison Officers (VLOs) will staff units across England and Wales, with around 80 completing training alongside experts from the Victim Support charity in handling the specific needs of crime victims. Members of staff have also been provided with disability awareness training by the Business Disability Forum.
Victim Liaison Units were piloted in three CPS Areas from March 2014 with feedback from victims on the amount of information they wanted to receive on their cases. The CPS will now always offer a meeting to victims and their families when it stops or changes the charges in cases involving the following offence types: homicide cases, sexual offences, child abuse cases, offences aggravated by hostility based on disability, racially/religiously aggravated offences, cases with a homophobic, transphobic or sexual orientation element and offences motivated by hostility based on age.
Alison Saunders continued: “On my first day as the Director of Public Prosecutions, I spoke of my intention to set up Victim Liaison Units across the CPS. I’m really pleased to announce this roll-out after a successful pilot. These specialist members of staff are receiving bespoke training from one of the charities that know victims best – the charity Victim Support, whose professionalism I witnessed when I visited its centre last year. I hope people will see this collaboration as a sign of a modern and responsive prosecution service.”
The Victims’ Right to Review Scheme
As stated earlier, the Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) Scheme was first launched in June 2013, and details of the final scheme have now been published on the CPS website. Between 5 June 2013 and 31 March 2014, the CPS reviewed 1,186 cases and decisions in 1,024 of those cases were found to be the right one.
In total, 162 decisions have been overturned (which accounts for 0.14% of all qualifying decisions finalised in the period). A breakdown of the reviews by offence category has also been published on the CPS website.
The DPP has now committed to ensuring that CPS policy and guidance will be updated wherever necessary due to any issues identified through the VRR process.
Alison Saunders stated: “It’s hard to think of a scheme that gives more power to victims than the Victims’ Right to Review. Having the right to challenge our work and hold us to account is fundamental to instilling greater confidence among victims. We made 113,952 qualifying decisions during the period covered by these latest figures, and so less than 0.14% of those decisions have been overturned. This should be seen as a sign of confidence in our decision-making and also our ability to act swiftly where mistakes may have been made.”
The CPS is also publishing Complaints and Community Engagement Standards for all members of staff. The document sets out clear benchmarks of quality by which the CPS’ performance on handling complaints and engaging with the wider community can be measured by victims and the wider public. The standards will be subject to a public consultation.
“The work we are setting out here,” concluded Saunders, “is a major step forward in addressing the balance of power towards the victim within criminal justice. Empowering and supporting the victims of crime is an absolute priority for me as Director of Public Prosecutions, and was the very reason I became a prosecutor more than 25 years ago. The right to review and specialist Victim Liaison Officers will make a very real and tangible difference to those whom we serve.”
Public confidence – the critical factor
The Rt Hon Jeremy Wright MP – the newly-installed Attorney General – said: “Public confidence in the criminal justice system is the critical factor in helping victims of crime to come forward. Victims need to know that they will be listened to, taken seriously and supported so that justice can be done. That’s why the package of measures that the Director of Public Prosecutions has announced is so significant. It’s a clear statement that the prosecution will put victims first, and will make a real difference to the way in which individuals are supported through the justice process.”
Victims’ Commissioner Baroness Newlove, who has also welcomed the announcement, said: “Victims need to be listened to and have open and honest conversations about what is happening to them. I welcome the efforts of the CPS to do this in a compassionate, clear and timely way. The right to review is a crucial and essential tool for those who want to challenge a court decision and hold the CPS to account, which is why it’s so important to get it right. I will be looking very closely at how both are being delivered to ensure they are in compliance with the Victims’ Code and are delivered at a standard that victims deserve.”