If the CPS decide not to prosecute, or to stop a prosecution, victims have the right for that decision to be reviewed under new guidance published this week by the DPP. But is it fairly balanced between those affected by crime and those suspected of committing it?
The Victims’ Right to Review Policy is in force immediately but will be finalised after a three-month consultation period. There are two stages to any review. The first, a local stage, will ask whether the decision was correct and properly communicated to the victim, and address any failings in the communication. If the victim’s dissatisfaction is not resolved, the matter will be referred to an Appeals and Review Unit (ARU). The victim must usually request a review within seven days of being informed of the decision (and no longer than three months afterwards). The ARU should make a final decision within six weeks.
If the ARU considers the Full Code test was not properly applied, with its own two stage process, and that the decision was wrong, it must ask whether the decision should be reversed “for the maintenance of public confidence”. In assessing this second limb, it must consider four factors to achieve a balance between finality and the need to ensure justice is done. It may then be possible for it to either institute or reinstitute proceedings against the former suspect, though in some cases it will be limited to offering the victim an apology and explanation.
The primary impact of this development is to lower the barriers to review by increasing awareness and simplifying the process. However the balance between justice for victims and finality for suspects must be maintained. This new policy should not lead to former suspects, who will often already have waited a long time for the resolution of their case, being left with uncertainty for extended periods of time. It should be made clear that requests for review should be made at the earliest opportunity and that delay will only be tolerated in exceptional circumstances. So as to avoid a double disappointment, victims do need to understand that the CPS strive to make the correct decision in the first instance and that a reversal decision will therefore be rare.
There is no mention in the interim guidance of whether and how suspects will be informed that the decision could be subject to review, that a review has been requested or the outcome of that review. Nor is any consideration given to whether the defendant has a right to reply. The consultation should lead the CPS to consider the role and participation of suspects in this process and ensure that it can adhere to the time limits set out in the guidance so as to be fair to all concerned.