Crime victims offered right of review of charging decisions
Victims of crime will be able to ask prosecutors to review a case
Victims of crime in England and Wales are being given the right to challenge decisions to stop prosecutions or not charge suspects.
The victims’ right to review covers any decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to pursue a case.
Director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer said victims had been treated as “bystanders” in the past.
Mr Starmer said the move could affect about 70,000 cases a year, but would not cover those dropped by the police.
Ministers and campaigners say it will improve the way the justice system dealt with victims.
BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said the CPS was confident it would not open the floodgates to tens of thousands of victims clogging up the system with appeals and delaying other prosecutions.
The new policy, which is in effect now, follows a 2011 Court of Appeal ruling which stated that “as a decision not to prosecute is in reality a final decision for a victim, there must be a right to seek review of such a decision”.
The ruling referred to the case of Christopher Killick, who was jailed for three-and-a-half years for violent sexual attacks on two people who, like him, had cerebral palsy.
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Danny ShawHome affairs correspondent, BBC News
Times are changing for victims.
Thirty years ago, the DPP’s policy was that charging decisions “should not remain open for reappraisal and possible reversal”.
That was amended after the CPS was established in 1986 to allow prosecutions to be brought where they had previously been ruled out in “exceptional” circumstances.
Later the CPS made clear that decisions could be overturned if they were found to be “wrong”.
But the latest policy goes far further: it charts an official route for victims to contest charging decisions.
Could it open the floodgates at Rose Court, CPS HQ, to tens of thousands of victims, clogging up the system with appeals and delaying other prosecutions?
Keir Starmer doesn’t think so.
But it is an ambitious plan – and will need careful monitoring to ensure it works.
Killick was tried and convicted only when one of his victims complained to the CPS, prompting prosecutors to reverse their earlier decision not to press charges.
Announcing the proposals, Mr Starmer said: “The criminal justice system historically treated victims as bystanders and accordingly gave them little say in their cases.”
He said this approach was supposed to inspire confidence in decisions that, once made, were final.
“But in reality it had the opposite effect,” he said. “Refusing to admit mistakes can seriously undermine public trust in the criminal justice system.”
Mr Starmer said the CPS currently received about 1,600 complaints per year and he expected the number of review requests to be more than that.
But he said the figure was unlikely to be “anything like” the full 70,000 cases not pursued.
The CPS currently pursues cases where its staff believe there is a “reasonable chance” of a conviction, and the same test will apply when reviewing cases.
Mr Starmer said he expected the original decision to be correct in the “vast majority” of cases.
“There’s no right to charge,” he said. “Nobody has that, nor should they.
“If the right decision was made then it has to be upheld.”
Mr Starmer said mistakes were inevitable in a justice system which deals with 800,000 defendants a year.
A CPS spokesman said reviews would be carried out by a different lawyer in the same region where the original decision was made, but if the decision not to pursue a case was upheld it would then be examined at CPS headquarters as well.
The new procedure will only apply to decisions made from now on.
Prosecutors press charges only if there is enough evidence for a realistic chance of conviction and when doing so is in the public interest.
Now victims of crime will be able to ask the CPS to review a case if there is a decision not to bring charges, to discontinue proceedings or to offer no evidence.
Charity Victim Support welcomed the move, saying it would strengthen victims’ rights and “help to reposition victims back at the heart of our justice system”.
Chief executive Javed Khan added: “Too often victims tell us that they don’t have much of a voice in our justice system.”
Helen Grant, Minister for Victims and the Courts, said: “If a victim has the strength to come forward, it is right that we give them every possible chance to get the justice they so deserve.”
The CPS is launching a public consultation on its new policy, to see how it works in practice.
The consultation will last for three months, after which the CPS will decide whether any alterations are needed, a spokesman explained.