The Victims’ Commissioner (VC) and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) held a routine meeting to discuss support given to victims by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Issues discussed

Use of registered intermediaries

In January the VC published a review into registered intermediaries (RIs). It found a number of failings, including poor management of the scheme, a shortage of RIs, delays in victims having access to RIs, inconsistent practices on the part of criminal justice agencies across the country and the fact that many practitioners failed to understand the purpose and few are actually trained on the work undertaken by RIs.

Nine prosecutors gave evidence as part of the review and this was very helpful. There were two recommendations arising from the review that related to the CPS.

  • Inspections of how the CPS and police work with RIs should be included in regular inspections by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.
  • Awareness of the role of RIs should be promoted to judges, magistrates, CPS and police; in addition, training on their role and how to work them should be a mandatory part of training on special measures.

The DPP responded that the recommendation for the CPS regarding training and promoting the role of Registered Intermediaries has been very carefully considered. In light of this, the special measures e-learning has been recently updated. The course has been improved to incorporate the recommendation to highlight the helpful guidance in the relevant CPD rule, so that the need to engage a Registered Intermediary can be identified at the earliest stage in all appropriate cases.

To raise awareness of the Registered Intermediary role further, the CPS will arrange interactive webinar sessions with experienced Registered Intermediaries who can talk about their role and highlight how they can assist vulnerable witnesses in the Criminal Justice System.

The CPS is also working closely with the Ministry of Justice to develop training for newly recruited Registered Intermediaries and has a representative on the two governance boards to ensure any CPS issues are resolved promptly.

An update on the review of pending rape prosecutions in light of the collapsed trials arising from failure to disclose material to the defence

Since the last meeting between the VC and the DPP there have been a number of high profile rape trials collapsing due to a failure to disclose mobile phone data to the defence. These cases had serious and unacceptable ramifications for defendants.

The VC was also concerned that these failures and the resulting reviews of ongoing prosecutions are likely to have a wider detrimental impact on the wellbeing of victims and would also undermine the confidence of future juries in the competence of criminal investigations.

The VC has raised this with the police and is aware that the issue of disclosure is a national one with both the Police and the CPS reviewing their approaches.

The DPP referred to the review conducted by the CPS into ongoing rape and serious sexual offence (RASSO) cases which was published on 5 June. The review wanted to ensure that the cases were being managed in accordance with guidelines.

Whilst the review resulted in 47 prosecutions being dropped due to disclosure issues, many of these cases were likely to have been closed when reviewed under routine procedures. However, the review meant that the disclosure issues came to light earlier in the process. A high proportion of the cases charged were “threshold cases” meaning that the suspect had been identified as presenting a high risk if released on bail and were therefore charged before all of the evidence was available.

Practices around threshold cases were under review and the number of cases charged under this process were falling. The CPS had also introduced tighter management oversight of the cases.

Both the VC and the DPP acknowledged the fact that victims are under significant pressure due to the fact that every part of their lives comes under scrutiny through the process of police trawling their mobile phone data.

Furthermore, the amount of additional data needing to be scrutinised must inevitably mean that the period between charge and trial will get longer.

Update on police bail changes

At their last meeting, the VC and the DPP discussed changes to police bail. Subsequent to that meeting, the VC met with Home Office officials and they have advised that the impact of the changes is being evaluated. The VC is concerned that the sharp drop in the use of police bail has left certain vulnerable victims at risk of harm. This is one of the issues that has come to light during her consultation on domestic abuse.

The DPP acknowledged that in some cases, the decision not to put the alleged perpetrator on bail must be nerve wracking for the victims. Her understanding is that the police guidance on handling “high risk cases” is about to be re-issued. The use of police bail varied significantly across the country.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that since the changes were made, the number of defendants failing to turn up for trial had increased.

It was agreed that this was an ongoing issue of concern.

Feedback from bereaved victims of mentally disordered offenders on the advice given by prosecutors in respect of the implications of offenders being given an indefinite hospital detention order

The VC’s forthcoming review on the entitlements given to victims of mentally disordered offenders is due to be published shortly. It makes disappointing reading. These victims do not have the same entitlements under the Victims Code.

One issue is that victims are being told by prosecutors that an indefinite order to detain under the MHA is a severe penalty and that the offender is unlikely to be released for a significant period of time. Victims are understandably shocked and distraught when a few months later they are notified that the offender has been referred to a mental health review tribunal.

One of the recommendations is likely to be that the CPS reviews the guidance to prosecutors in respect of these orders so that they are able to advise victims with accuracy, thereby creating realistic expectations from the outset.

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