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Letters to UK crime victims from CPS 'unsatisfactory'

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA</span>
Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Letters to victims of rape and other crimes sent by the Crown Prosecution Service explaining legal decisions are of poor quality, lack human empathy and are frequently late, according to an official watchdog.

In a highly critical follow-up report, Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) concludes that two years after making similar findings there has been no improvement.

Of 490 letters that were checked, fewer than one in four letters (24.1%) were rated as being of a satisfactory standard – an improvement of 0.1 percentage point since 2018.

Among those sent to victims in cases involving rape and serious sexual offences, the proportion deemed to be adequate was only 19%. For victims in domestic abuse cases, the satisfactory level reached 28%.

Related: Rape victims are being badly let down by prosecutors. They need justice | Vera Baird

Inspectors also discovered delays had grown since 2018. Only 65.1% of letters were deemed to be timely, compared with 72% in the inspection two years ago.

Often the explanation of a CPS decision did not describe the circumstances sufficiently and included legal terms that were difficult for victims to understand.

In one example a 16-year-old girl, who was said to be in a relationship with the defendant, received a note stating: “I have taken the decision not to continue with the one charge of rape of a child under 13 in relation to you.”

Often letters did not apologise when decisions were delivered late. In some cases, it was said the tone of the letter included “victim-blaming language”. One letter highlighted the words “and you” in bold, which could have been perceived as accusatory.

The number of spelling mistakes has declined, but the opening line of one letter read: “I am the prosecutor in the case of XXXX and am writing to tell u the decision I have taken in this case.”

DCI Anthony Rogers said: “Although the CPS has worked hard to try to improve the quality of letters sent to victims, this inspection shows that this has resulted in no improvement.

“Victims of crime deserve to be treated with proper care and attention, so I’m disappointed that the letters received by victims from the CPS have not improved.”

Ellie Reeves MP, the shadow solicitor general, said: “Communication with survivors of rape and domestic abuse is essential to maintain confidence in the criminal justice system. But this report shows a stark deterioration and a lack of government action over the last two years.”

A CPS spokesperson said: “Communicating clearly and with empathy with victims of crime is vital to ensuring they have confidence in the justice system. We are therefore disappointed that changes we put in place since the last inspection have not delivered the improvements we wanted.”