Brian Sims

Crown Prosecution Service set to “transform” service for victims

TRANSFORMING THE support offered to the victims of crime such that more individuals remain engaged with the justice process is absolutely key, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has observed, as independent research into victims’ needs and expectations is published.

Conducted by independent body Crest Advisory, the research was commissioned by the CPS to help the organisation build on the positive changes being made to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. In essence, it sought to explore what victims say they want and need in terms of support.

Max Hill QC, director of public prosecutions, explained: “Being a victim of crime can be one of the most challenging things a person will ever experience. We recognise how overwhelming the criminal justice process can be, especially so when people already find themselves in a time of extraordinary stress. We do not underestimate the enormity of this experience and know the resilience many victims show as they navigate the complex route of their case.”

Hill continued: “Many individuals need better support and that’s why we’re taking a comprehensive look at what we offer to make sure that we are meeting those needs. We’re making progress, but remain firmly focused on making sure victims receive the consistent and compassionate service they deserve.”

Meaningful change

Crest Advisory executive director Samantha Cunningham, who led the research, noted: “Victims want a voice. The victims of crime subjected to trauma do not want an impersonal letter that reduces them to a case number. Our research is a powerful evidence base on which the CPS can build to make meaningful change.”

Cunningham added: “The CPS has worked with us every step of the way. What this piece of independent research shows us is that there’s a genuine desire and positive context for change. Although the findings are stark, this report is anchored in a real ambition for change from the leadership at the CPS.”

According to Cunningham, it has never been more important to put the victims’ voice at the front, left and centre of a complete shift in approach. “We look forward to working with the CPS and stakeholders across the criminal justice system and to seeing the recommendations needed to gain momentum.”

Enhanced service

The victims’ need assessment carried out by Crest Advisory is informed by victims, the voices of people who support victims and practitioners across the criminal justice system. Victims’ needs increase according to how vulnerable they are and the severity of the crime, the report suggests. The document calls for an enhanced service for specific vulnerable groups to be developed, such as for victims of serious violence, hate crime or sexual offences.

The independent research has identified four priority areas where improvements can be made for victims. Based on these findings, the CPS will take forward recommendations to:

*improve the quality of communications for all victims, working with criminal justice partners to develop a different model

*enhance the service provided to victims with the greatest needs

*innovate and pilot new ways in which to strengthen engagement with victims

*build an organisational and leadership culture within the CPS that prioritises engagement with victims

The CPS is setting action plans and putting timeframes in place for delivering improvements on each of these areas to continue driving progress on its work to transform the service available for victims.

Claire Waxman, London’s Independent Victims’ Commissioner, said: “This work by Crest Advisory provides fantastic insight into the needs of victims and, most crucially, where these needs remain unmet by the CPS. Consistent, clear and trauma-informed communication with victims is a fundamental element of their justice journey. Any absence of this can push victims to withdraw from the process, and particularly so with cases taking such a long time to reach court.”

Further, Waxman observed: “We know that victims do not all receive the justice outcome they want, but a greater driver of satisfaction is that they are treated with respect, receive timely and effective communications and have their rights met. The CPS plays a crucial role in a victim’s journey. I’m confident that, if the recommendations set out by Crest Advisory are implemented, we will witness a marked improvement in satisfaction and better engagement with the justice system.”

Next steps

The report has helped inform next steps as the CPS seeks to build on the significant programme of work already underway. This includes earlier engagement with the victims of rape and serious sexual assault. The CPS is piloting earlier communication at a pre-charge stage as it recognises victims’ overriding need for more direct and proactive contact.

In addition, a new communications guide has been produced such that staff can build on their skills and improve the language, frequency and timeliness of CPS communication with victims and witnesses alike.

This work will sit alongside the upcoming Victims’ Bill and a wider package of measures specifically designed to improve the experience for victims right across the criminal justice system.

The CPS will be publishing a defendants-focused strategy in the coming weeks.

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