CPS letters to victims ‘lack empathy’

Topics: Criminal justice

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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’.

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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’.

Readers' comments (9)

  • Lack of empathy is just the tip of the Ice-Berg. I know first-hand of a rape victim, who's letter informing them that the CPS would not be taking their matter further, was then addressed and sent to a WITNESS rather than to the victim. And so unknown to them, the victims remained walking around still nervous and waiting to hear an outcome, which they then did around a week or so later from the WITNESS not the CPS, which was naturally to the victims utmost distress and embarrassment. You just can't get the competent services these days.

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  • I can honestly vouch that the standard of competence in Lancashire and Cumbria is on a level with 11 year olds at the highest level.
    The present UK schooling system is not worth the money we spend on it, if you doubt me check up on foreigners education, combining discipline and some respect for each other

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  • If the letters that some of them write to defence solicitors are anything to go by, then that is hardly a surprise. Most communications are professional but then one will receive something that is just downright rude, as for example when I kept writing, without any response, about a forthcoming trial whether a s10 agreement might help with the issues and received an email the night before said trial saying "please feel free to draft one and send it to the Crown for our consideration. This might alleviate you of the need to send us querulous correspondence". I didn't reply - what could I say?

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  • It looks as if the CPS is in denial once again. If only solicitors could say to their regulator - 'I don't really care what your short inspection found. We've looked at our practice, over a long period of time, and seen a markedly different picture. However we've made a few improvements to our service and employed some additional unqualified stafff - sorry, paralegals. Now please go away and let us go on as we were before'.

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  • It is the lack of resources as a result of this and previous Governments' attitudes to pay for the Justice systems that has brought about the near collapse of the systems.
    Unfortunately the Government thinks that Justice is its gift to the nation and those who may need to access it should be grateful for the systems as they are. The concept of self-funding is a thin disguise for cuts and limited access. Less money spent appeals to those who don't believe that access to Justice is a right. Therefore mediation and arbitration and the high costs of lawyers are the whips used to beat the Justice system to death, on the basis that these alternatives are just as effective at delivering Justice.
    So mediation is offered as an alternative to the court battle even though so very few family cases go to trial. A myth has been created and is perpetuated as to why mediation is such an effective alternative to the court battle without any reference to the truth of how family disputes are in fact resolved ie lawyer assisted negotiation.

    However, as a profession, we have failed to ensure the popular discussion is on the issue of access to justice and instead we have been portrayed as being interested only in our fees. The sooner we redirect the conversation to access to justice and stop talking about our fees the sooner the Government's assault on the rights of the citizen will be examined more closely.

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  • I would dearly like to know what the CPS put in letters to complainants where the prosecution case has been kicked out for non-compliance or because it went at half-time as there was never any chance it would live beyond that. Presumably the judge gets the blame? As its a frequent occurrence, such letters must have been written. Anyone shed any light?

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  • Age of austerity applies to manners too I see.

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  • As a former prosecutor, I acknowledge that CPS has many shortcoming but,as one who has had to apologise to victims and witnesses for the deliberate court overlisting, poor police preparation of files, Victim Support failures and defence dirty tricks in the past, I would simply say to you all......If you think it is so easy, go out there and do it. Let's see if you get it right every time with the resources available.
    Grow up and stop looking at the CPS as everyone's whipping boy!

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  • Oh me, oh my! What an age in which we live.
    For upwards of 15 years, the criminal justice system has been dismantled and recycled, turning the wheel into a vague approximation of a square and people now wonder that it no longer moves around reasonably smoothly.
    If you want top quality prosecution services, provide enough resources to get competent legal staff and give them sufficient time to do the job properly.
    The Prosecutors with whom I worked were competent and cared about what they did and the people on whose behalf they believed they were working. Agreed: we didn't always get it right (who does?) but we tried hard.
    I am sure the Prosecutors now are equally motivated - just even more poorly resourced.
    Here's the story....
    Let's try harder to get more public funding into the system in order that the public can get more out of it.
    .....and then he woke up - It had all been a beautiful dream!
    The end.

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