Prosecutors will be required to have face-to-face meetings with victims of serious crimes before charging offenders under a proposed new law.
Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, wants prosecutors to fully understand the impact of crimes on victims and the suffering it has brought to their lives before they decide on the charges.
He believes it will give victims a bigger say in decisions about prosecuting offenders as well as motivating prosecutors to toughen up charges and speed up justice.
At present, victims only have a right to be offered a meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) following a decision not to charge in specified cases such as child abuse and some hate crimes, though the CPS has a veto. Bereaved close relatives of a victim also have a right to meet the CPS.
The new right is likely to cover serious offences of violence and sexual assault as well as crimes such as aggravated burglary where a thief breaks in with the family still at home. “It could be any crime where there’s a big personal impact,” said a Ministry of Justice source.
Spared the trauma of appearing in court
The move, announced on Thursday, is part of Mr Raab’s new victims’ law which will enshrine 12 rights in statute ranging from being kept regularly informed of the progress of an offender’s case to getting support and compensation.
“Too many victims feel that the system does not deliver justice for them. Too many feel let down by the system, which can compound the pain and suffering from the original crime,” said Mr Raab.
“I want to guarantee that victims are at the heart of the criminal justice system. Rather than feeling peripheral to the process, we want victims to be supported so that they can participate properly at every step.”
As part of his shake-up, victims could also get greater rights to challenge decisions by the police and prosecutors. There are currently limited rights to ask for a review, with just 1,996 requests in 2019/20 of which only 14 per cent led to the decision being overturned.
All victims of rape, sexual assaults and modern slavery will get the right to give pre-recorded video evidence to spare them the trauma of appearing in court amid indications that it improves conviction rates and generates more guilty pleas.
Police, prosecutors and courts will be held more accountable through “scorecards” which will show victims where they face the biggest delays in the criminal justice system and where they are most likely to see their case collapse.
Mr Raab said he wanted to beef up complaints procedures and inspection regimes including strengthening the legal duty of police and crime commissioners to stand up for victims.
The victims’ surcharge will be increased to a minimum of £100 irrespective of the crime or sentence. At present offenders can pay as little as £22 for a conditional discharge. The money raised goes direct to victims’ services.
The consultation document revealed that in 2019/20, 19.3 per cent of adults were victims of a crime and 6.6 per cent of children aged 10 to 15.