Using the Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) scheme
In 2015, as a result of an earlier court decision in R v Killick and the coming into force of the EU Directive on Victims, new legal duties were imposed upon police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). These bodies must now offer a victims' right to review in relation to prosecution decisions. Put simply, where a decision is made to not prosecute a suspect, the victim of the offence (or the victims' family, or a nominated representative) can have that decision reviewed.
The review must be carried out by an individual who has had no previous involvement in the case, and in relation to police decisions, should be of a higher rank than the officer who made the original decision.
The VRR scheme is particularly useful when it comes to the sorts of offences that the police/CPS have a poor track record for prosecuting, for example sexual offences or domestic violence. The majority of offences will be generally covered by the scheme but this is subject to the following exceptions:
- Decisions not to prosecute made before 1 April 2015
- Where no crime is recorded (i.e. the police have not acknowledged that a crime has in fact taken place).
- Cases where a suspect has not been identified and interviewed under caution (unless questioning has taken place following the incident, such as a stop and search)
- Cases where a suspect is charged but with a lesser offence (for example common assault instead of GBH) and the victim wants them to be charged with the more serious offence
- Cases where charges are brought against some but not all of a group of multiple suspects
- Cases dealt with by out of court disposals
- Cases where the victim retracts their complaint or does not cooperate with the investigation
For a VRR challenge to be successful it must be demonstrated that the original decision was wrong. The reviewer will look at the following factors:
- The original decision unreasonably disregarded compelling evidence
- Significant misinterpretations of the evidence
- Failure to consider (or unreasonably ignoring) relevant policy
- Incorrect application of the law.
There are a number of possible outcomes:
- The original decision to take no further action is upheld
- The original decision is overturned and the suspect is prosecuted
- The original decision is overturned and the suspect received an out of court disposal (if appropriate)
- Further enquiries need to be completed before a review decision can be made
- The original decision is overturned but the case is statute-barred and so no prosecution can be brought
There are important deadlines involved. Police forces allow 3 months from the date on which the victim was notified of the decision. The CPS states that it prefers to receive applications within 5 working days but will consider them within 3 months, however it should be noted that long delays could result in the suspect raising an 'abuse of process' argument at court which could result in the proceedings being dropped.
Whilst the scheme is designed to enable victims to bring these challenges themselves, specialist legal advice is often required to draft the arguments and bring a successful challenge. At Saunders Law, our solicitors have expertise in this type of work, often where the most serious crimes have been committed. If you would like to discuss a VRR challenge with us please contact us today.