The Ministry of Justice recently consulted about the rights of ‘victims of crime’ at Court. Now the CPS have chipped in with their own attempt to ensure that victims are fully engaged with the process.
From 5th June 2013 a victim (including the family of someone who is killed) will have a ‘right of review’ in certain circumstances. This will apply to the following decisions:
- not to charge
- to discontinue a prosecution (at an early stage)
- to ‘offer no evidence’ – ie, invite the Court to enter a verdict of ‘not guilty’
How it will work
At that stage, a victim has a maximum of 3 months to ask for a review (but this should be done in 7 days). At that stage, the decision will be looked at again and an explanation given. If the victim is still not satisfied, then the matter will be fully reviewed (this should take a maximum of six weeks).
The review process will be someone looking at the case afresh. If they decide that the original decision was wrong and that ‘for the maintenance of public confidence, the decision must be reversed‘ then it will be (if legally possible). In some cases – where the prosecution have offered no evidence, and where the offence is ‘summary only‘ and more than six months have elapsed since the offence, there is a legal bar on a prosecution, so the victim will be issued with an apology.
How to respond
The consultation is relatively short, but worth reading and responding to. The deadline is 5th September 2013.
Some questions immediately spring to mind :
- Who will pay for this?
- Can a lawyer, or advocacy group, make representations on a victim’s behalf?
- How many people will take advantage of this?
The CPS state that they do not believe that this will be widely used. That is not a view that we necessarily share. The CPS is already stretched to breaking point – what is the budget for this going to be? Is this an expense that we can afford?
Whilst it may start off as a relatively informal process, it may well be that this becomes more and more formalised. Is that desirable?
Also, will it be long before a victim is able to seek a review before the CPS offer no evidence, causing more delays in the system?
This is aside from the wider point of what role we think that victims should play in the system. It is very important to stress that the CPS does not act for the victim or on their behalf. It is a public prosecution on behalf of the public. What influence should the victim have?
On a separate note, what about the reverse situation. Should a victim be able to challenge a decision to prosecute? Sometimes there will be good reasons for this, sometimes bad. But if we are to give greater prominence to victims, do we need to look at that?