By Sarah Acres
The Director of Public Prosecutions has this week announced plans to allow victims of crime to appeal decisions by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) not to charge suspects in criminal cases or to discontinue cases once they have started.
The CPS only allows prosecutions to begin or continue if there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute. Decisions not to charge or stop a prosecution on either ground will now be open to review.
Until now, CPS decisions have not generally been open to review so that those accused can be sure of their fate and there can be a sense of finality to an investigation. Victim’s views have been taken into account but they have often been viewed as mere witnesses in their own cases with little control over what happens to those they accuse.
For many victims these changes will be good news. Having suffered the effects of crime, some victims suffer a second time when they learn that no-one will be brought to justice for what has happened to them. These plans give some power to the victims themselves and will give them a voice to fight for justice for themselves or, in fatal cases, members of their family.
However, it isn’t all good news for victims. In many cases, the right of appeal will simply prolong futile litigation and increase the sense of disappointment and injustice when the case later collapses or the suspect is acquitted because there just wasn’t enough evidence to secure a conviction.
In many cases, victims of crime will be so intent on seeking justice that they may find it impossible to look at a case objectively and accept that they may be fighting to bring a case to court that has a poor chance of conviction or is brought against the wrong person.
Time will tell how often this right will be used and how many decisions will eventually be overturned but this announcement is, without doubt, a big step forward for the victims of crime who want their voice to be heard.
Sarah Acres is a specialist criminal lawyer at Hegarty Solicitors with more than 17 years experience. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org; 01733 295630.