Ministerial claims 'mislead' crime victims

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The Independent Online

Government claims that crime victims are at the centre of the criminal justice system are a "damaging misrepresentation of reality", a committee of MPs claims today.

Victims are likely to be disappointed by ministers who tell them that the system is being "re-balanced" in their favour, the House of Commons Justice Committee states.

Its report on the role of the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales dismisses attempts to portray prosecutors as "victims' champions". Instead, the service should be an "independent arbiter" representing the public interest.

The report states: "The prosecutor's role in relation to victims... seems to be generally misunderstood. The prosecutor is not able to be an advocate for the victim in the way that the defence counsel is for the defendant, yet government proclamations that the prosecutor is the champion of victims' rights may falsely give this impression."

The committee calls on the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, to conduct a review of charging decisions, amid concerns prosecutors may be opting for lesser charges, to secure a conviction. Police officers told the committee that some prosecutors were "risk averse" to hit conviction targets.

The committee warns against wider use of plea bargaining, in which prosecutors negotiate with the defendant over their charge and likely sentence.

And it says it is "deeply concerned" at prosecutors' treatment of victims and witnesses with mental health problems, who were often not seen as potential witnesses, and the committee calls for special measures to be put in place to help them fulfil that role.