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CPS fights back against claims of ‘inadequate’ communication to victims

15th Jan 2016

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has responded to criticism from Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) that its communications were “inadequate” and “lacked empathy”.

HMCPSI recommended that the CPS improve the quality of its service to victims and witnesses in a new communicating with victims report. HMCPSI examined 160 cases and found that victims in 43% of cases experienced “very slow” communications.

19% of letters were found to have failed to inform the victim of their right to seek a review of a decision not to prosecute. In 96% of letters, there was no evidence that victims of domestic abuse had been provided with details of support services. Furthermore, in 72% of cases, the views of the victim were not taken into account when deciding to discontinue one or more charges.

Chief inspector Kevin McGinty said that “It is important that the CPS makes sure that all its communications are both timely and effective, and that they live up to their duty of care in making sure that victims feel supported.”

However, the prosecution service has provided its own data to suggest a much better picture for victims.

Last year, the agency carried a survey of 7,700 victims and witnesses which revealed that over two thirds were “very” or ‘fairly’ satisfied with the service they received. 81% of victims were satisfied with the clarity of Victim Communication and Liaison (VCL) communications. However, only 47% said they were ‘very clear’.

On the issue of timeliness, the CPS national performance measures show that VCL letters were sent in 80% of those cases where required within one day, and 89% of those cases where required within five days.

Chief crown prosecutor Martin Goldman said the HMCPSI had acknowledged the marked difference in results and stressed that the CPS was committed to supporting victims and witnesses.

However, Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said victims and witnesses of crime can be left feeling at sea in the justice system without the right support: “Seven in ten victims we help through the Witness Service do not know their rights under the Victims’ Code, including guarantees of timely information and the right to review a decision not to prosecute. This gap underlines the importance of clear communication from criminal justice agencies like the CPS, so people are confident providing evidence,” she said. Guy continued to note that “By giving victims and witnesses the right information, their experience of the justice system can be made empowering instead of confusing.”