Victims' right of review scheme sees 146 charged

By Danny Shaw
Home affairs correspondent, BBC News

media captionThe Victims Right of Review scheme, set up last June by the CPS, applies to England and Wales

Nearly 150 suspects have been charged with offences after their alleged victims appealed against initial decisions not to prosecute, BBC News has learned.

The decisions were reversed under the right to review scheme, brought in last year in England and Wales.

It is part of an effort to improve confidence in the justice system.

Among the 146 successful victims' appeals were 80 cases of violence and 27 involving alleged sexual offences.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said the scheme gave victims the power to challenge and hold prosecutors to account - but one expert said it was not independent enough because it involved CPS lawyers.

Reverse decisions

Under the system, victims can appeal against a decision not to bring charges or to discontinue a case once a prosecution has begun.

The first appeal is heard by a managing lawyer from the area where the original decision was made.

If the victim is still not satisfied, the CPS appeals and review unit, based in London, or a senior prosecutor elsewhere will review the case again.

media captionAlison Saunders from CPS: "We are open and transparent and accountable so will reverse decisions where we can"

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders told the BBC it was reassuring "so few" cases had been overturned.

"But equally it's reassuring for victims that when they do question decisions, we will look at them," she said.

"And if we find them to be wrong then we will reverse that decision and prosecute the cases that we should have been doing in the first place."

Between June 2013 - when the scheme started - and this March, 1,186 appeals were lodged, of which 162 were upheld, a success rate of 13.7%.

Sixteen of the successful appeals involved cases where charges had been brought and then dropped, so a prosecution could not be re-started. The alleged victims in these cases received an apology.

In the remaining cases, at least 146 suspects were charged with offences for which they had initially escaped prosecution.

In two cases in which charges were brought the victims had died. One followed an alleged "road rage" incident; the other involved a pedestrian who was hit by a car while crossing a road.

Friends concern

The proportion of decisions that were quashed was a tiny fraction of the total number of cases over the nine-month period.

The CPS made 113,952 decisions that could have been reviewed; less than 0.14% were overturned.

Mrs Saunders denied that this suggested the system was not robust enough.

But Nicole Westmarland, professor of criminology at Durham University, told the BBC: "What we essentially have is a panel of colleagues reviewing the decision of somebody who they may be personally friends with."

She said third sector organisations should be involved in the appeals process.

But Ms Saunders said: "It's wrong to say it's looked at by colleagues who may be friends. The scheme is that it will be looked at by somebody different, initially within the office, normally somebody more senior."

Adam Pemberton, assistant chief executive of Victim Support, welcomed the scheme but said it was too limited.

"We'd like to see this right to review extended so that victims can challenge a decision by the CPS to charge a suspect with a lesser offence and challenge a decision by a police officer to use an out of court disposal, such as a caution, instead of sending a file to the CPS to consider a charge," he said.

Victims' Commissioner Baroness Newlove welcomed the measures but said she would be "looking very closely" to ensure the scheme was properly implemented.

The CPS has also set up dedicated units to liaise with victims of crime, following criticism that victims were not getting enough information on the progress of their case, sometimes had to wait too long to be contacted and were not always dealt with appropriately.

More than 70 victim liaison officers will staff units across England and Wales, with around 80 completing training in handling the specific needs of victims of crime.

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