CPS letters to victims ‘lack empathy’
Topics: Criminal justice
A government inspection of the Crown Prosecution Service’s communication with victims has highlighted concerns over a lack of empathy.
HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate’s report says the quality of correspondence to victims was ‘inconsistent’.
According to its report, Communicating with Victims, template paragraphs are used in victim communication and liaison scheme letters.
‘These may make the job of putting letters together quicker and easier but that is at a cost,’ the report states. ‘Too many letters lack empathy because of their use.’
The inspectorate said 19% of letters in its file sample ‘still failed’ to inform the victim of their right to seek a review of the decision not to prosecute. Nearly all letters in its file sample (95.7%) failed to provide details of sources of support for victims of domestic abuse.
Prosecutors are required to draft a short paragraph explaining the decision to discontinue a case or substantially alter charges against a defendant. The paragraph is emailed to the victim liaison unit to be inserted into a letter to victims.
The inspectorate said the quality of explanations was ‘variable and often inadequate’. The reason for the decision was ‘clearly explained’ in 47.9% of its file sample. The reason was ‘partially’ explained in 36.5% of cases.
Communications with victims was not timely in 43.4% of its file sample.
Victim liaison officers missed one-day or five-day time limits to send letters because prosecutors ‘do not always send these paragraphs promptly’.
But the inspectorate said it recognised that more recent CPS data suggested timeliness was improving.
Face-to-face communication with victims at court was ‘inconsistent’, though the report notes this has been recognised by the CPS and is reflected in new guidance.
‘CPS staff cuts and courts listing more than one trial in the same courtroom have put a strain on the ability of prosecutors to meet victims and witnesses before they are called to give evidence,’ the report states.
The ability of prosecutors to ‘engage effectively’ with victims and witnesses had been ‘adversely affected’ by the withdrawal of CPS paralegal officers from the Crown court.
The inspectorate said the CPS faced a ‘huge challenge’ in trying to improve the quality of its service to victims. ‘Areas are struggling to balance the management of performance with the loss of staff and this resourcing shortage is having an adverse impact on performance across the service.’
The CPS ‘needs to be realistic’ about what is achievable ‘given the ongoing financial constraints’, the inspectorate said.
Recommendations include an ‘effective process’ to ensure victim liaison unit staff ‘are alerted promptly’ of cases where the charge against the defendant is substantially altered, triggering a requirement for a victim communication and liaison scheme letter.
Chief Crown prosecutor Martin Goldman said the CPS’s national performance data showed a ‘markedly different picture’ from the ‘small’ sample in the inspectorate’s report.
Goldman said 80% of letters due to reach victims within one day met the target; 89% of letters due to reach victims within five days met the target.
He said the CPS had introduced a number of initiatives to improve its service to victims. These include dedicated professional victim liaison teams, the victim right-to-review scheme and a victim complaint procedure.
Goldman announced that 350 paralegal staff and managers would be put in Crown courts ‘to make sure victims and witnesses are properly supported’.