HMCPSI (Crown Prosecution Inspectors) have today published a report which finds just 24.1% of letters to victims about their cases are of an acceptable standard. The report follows up on a similar inspection in 2018, which concluded at that time only 24% were acceptable. Despite an action plan and promises to improve, the inspectors report shows an improvement of 0.1%.
Letters to rape and sexual offence victims, which include letters telling them that there will not be a charge, were found to be even worse. Inspectors found them acceptable in only 18.6% of cases, with 58% showing appropriate empathy and 71% showed an explanation for the decision that was easy to understand.
Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, said:
‘These findings are disappointing and, sadly, they re-enforce the findings of my own survey of 491 rape survivors and their engagement with the criminal justice system, which was published on 20 October. Some of the participants in that survey commented on the insensitivity of their treatment by CPS. For example, one survivor, who reported her offence to police last year, wrote that the tone of their letter telling her that there would not be a charge was such that she decided not to attend a meeting with prosecutors. She described the CPS letter as ‘the most damaging part for me’.
Their letters had no indication that they were supportive of victims. The phrasing made me feel as though I was the criminal or as if I were a liar. Small details from the case were highlighted as specific reasons which meant the case couldn’t be moved forward, which only heightens the blame I put on myself as a victim. It was very damaging.
This survivor got two letters, one after the decision not to prosecute and one after they appealed the decision and said that the second was ‘even worse’ than the first.
The importance of the letter was underscored in the comments of another victim who said she couldn’t bring herself to open the CPS letter because she could not face hearing from another CJS professional that she was not ‘good enough’ as a victim.
As these comments show, letters of this nature have a profound impact on victims and it is so important that they display empathy and sensitivity, as well as clarity. Two years after CPS were told that they were failing victims in this way, action plans and determination to improve have failed to make any difference, or to be accurate they have made 0.1% difference. I will want to discuss with the CPS how they plan to remedy this.
When looking at the collapse in rape prosecutions and now this report on CPS communications, I am concerned about the adequacy of the CPS response to rape victims overall. Declarations of actions plans and strategies are not sufficient. As I said when publishing my survey, we need nothing short of a radical, systemic cultural transformation so that all victims of rape feel they can report in the knowledge they will be treated with empathy and respect.