Victim Liaison Units: letters sent to the public by the CPS (Nov 18)

Date of publication
08 November 2018
Inspection
Organisation
Crown Prosecution Service
CPS Region
England and Wales
Inspection type
CPS Themed Reports

HMCPSI’s themed inspection report on communications between the CPS’s Victim Liaison Units and the public.

Victim Liaison Units (VLUs) were set up by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 2014. The aim of the units was to create a dedicated and professional service to victims and to ensure that victims were provided with high quality, timely, effective and empathetic communications after a case has concluded. The objective of this inspection was to evaluate the effectiveness of the CPS’s communications with victims and to assess the quality, process and timeliness of letters sent to the public.

VLUs are responsible for managing three key areas: the Victim Communication and Liaison (VCL) scheme, local resolution of Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) cases and finally the feedback and complaints policy. During the course of the fieldwork, inspectors looked at a total of 340 letters – this encompassed 200 VCL letters, 70 local resolution VRR cases and 70 responses to letters of complaint. They chose six CPS Areas for fieldwork – these were CPS North East, CPS South East, CPS South West, CPS Cymru-Wales, CPS Wessex and CPS Yorkshire and Humberside. Inspectors spoke to a range of Area staff responsible for victim and witness issues.

Victim Communication and Liaison scheme
A victim in a case should be informed by the CPS of any decision taken not to prosecute, to stop a case or substantially alter a charge. In the main victims are informed by letter. Inspectors assessed the quality of letters sent and found that in 24% of cases the quality was of the standard expected. Some of the letters contained simple mistakes that could have been picked up in proof-reading, occasionally incorrect names were used, and in some letters inspectors even found that incorrect cases were identified. However the single most common problem was that too many letters did not contain any level of empathy, they were often cold and factual, and in many instances a template was used and often was not personalised. There is a national process identifying how and when prosecutors should inform VLUs of the need for a letter and explanation for a decision in cases. In a quarter of cases the prosecutor actually failed to provide information to the VLU about the reason for the decision in the first place. Inspectors found that there was real inconsistency in performance between Areas; the worst performing Areas only notified the VLU in a quarter of cases, whilst the best performing Areas notified the VLU in all cases. Letters were only sent out on time in 72% of the cases examined and performance for those cases requiring an enhanced one day service was worse, with only 64% of letters being timely.

Victims’ Right to Review
CPS policy states that a response to a VRR request should be sent to the victim within ten working days. The average in the six Areas visited was 11 working days and the worst performing Area had an average of 15 working days for the letter to be sent. Inspectors identified that the lateness of letters was often as a result of a varied interpretation of timescales. Inspectors also found that the language used was often heavy with legal jargon, which would likely leave the recipient confused. Only 12% of letters sent to victims were deemed as a quality response. Similar to letters sent under the VCL scheme, these letters contained simple mistakes including: incorrect gender of victim, incorrect spelling of names, confusing the victim with other witnesses or defendants, and dates of the letters and offences being incorrect.

Complaints
Inspectors found that the CPS guidance about the Victim Liaison Units’ involvement in the management of complaints was unclear. Overall only a quarter of letters (25.7%) sent out were of the expected quality, some of the letters contained spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and legal jargon which made them difficult to understand. Given that these letters were a response to a complaint this lack of care would likely exacerbate the situation and portray a service that did not care.

Key issues to address include

  • the CPS needs to improve the quality of the letters it sends
  • the CPS needs to ensure that there is a clear and effective system for prosecutors to notify the Victim Liaison Unit of decisions in a case
  • there needs to be a better system to measure and track timeliness of letters sent to victims
  • letters being sent to victims must be properly quality assured
  • the CPS should re-circulate and reinforce the guidance on how timeliness of complaints should be accounted for.

VCLs: letters sent to the public by the CPS (Nov 18) (150.73 kB)