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Victims and their families given right to challenge CPS decisions

Decisions not to charge suspects can be challenged under Victims' Right to Review...

Victims of crimes in England and Wales are to have the right to challenge Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decisions not to charge suspects, in a move that is hoped to stop victims feeling like 'bystanders'. It's called the Victims' Right to Review.

Any victim of crime, which includes bereaved family members or other representatives, can now ask the CPS to look again at a case following a decision not to charge, to discontinue proceedings, or to offer no evidence.

Although the ruling was made around the case of Christopher Killick, a disabled sex attacker whose case was only heard at the insistence of his victims, it may have wide-ranging implications in relation to cases involving cyclists who have been killed or injured.

Although historical cases cannot be reopened, the case of Eilidh Cairns in 2009 could be a model of what might happen if the process worked well.

Joao Lopes, the driver of the lorry that killed Eilidh, faced only one charge over his eyesight, which meant he was on the road and able to kill a second time - this time 97-year-old pedestrian Nora Gutmann.

At the time, Eilidh's sister Kate railed against a justice system that she said failed the families of victims. We reported her saying:

“For three years I have battled the whole way through an inadequate system which assumes the guilt of the cyclist, and which is rife with incompetence and complacency and which has failed us all on so many levels,” said Kate Cairns in the family’s statement released in reaction to Lopes pleading guilty in the Nora Gutmann case.

“There was no interest in carrying out a proper investigation nor in finding witnesses. The police report was riddled with assumptions, omissions and conclusions contrary to evidence, obvious even to a layperson but there was no interest from the CPS in questioning it.

"Only after the death of someone else, three years later, have the police acknowledge the report was inadequate and reviewed the case of Eilidh’s death.

Important details about the new CPS ruling include the fact that the victim will only have the chance to challenge the decision to charge, rather than the verdict or sentence in a trial - as there are other pathways for that already.

In addition, a police decision not to hand over a case file to the CPS can not, at this point in time, be challenged.

The CPS's Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer, told the BBC that the ruling gave victims more say in the complex legal process.

He said: "The criminal justice system historically treated victims as bystanders and accordingly gave them little say in their cases.

"Refusing to admit mistakes can seriously undermine public trust in the criminal justice system."

He added that he was sure that not 'anything like' the full 70,000 cases not followed up on in a year would be reviewed, but that in some cases there were wrong decisions that needed to be righted.

Although charging and sentencing are separate processes, the new move ties in with a longstanding campaign by cycling groups to encourage tougher sentences for drivers who kill.

Last year, we reported comments by Martin Gibbs, director of policy and legal affairs at British Cycling, on the prospect of a review of sentencing in criminal cases where cyclists are the victims.

He said: "People need to feel that they are protected by the law. It is clear to us that the current justice system often delivers results which send the wrong message about the right of people to ride safely on the roads.

“We need to take action now to make the government take this issue seriously.”

Of course, the new ruling won't affect charges that are made - so the issue of the CPS charging suspects with the lesser crime of death by careless driving, as opposed to death by dangerous driving, which requires more evidence in court - won't be resolved at this point.

That means cases like that of 20 year old animation student Tom Ridgway won't be affected.

In that case, 54-year-old Solihull taxi driver Ichhapal Bhamra collided with Tom and then carried him for a further 90 metres on the bonnet of his car, striking traffic signs and eventually hitting a tree.

We reported how he was charged with the much lesser offence of driving without due care and attention rather than facing the more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving - which usually carries a custodial sentence, or causing death by careless driving which results in a long ban, heavy fine and community service.

The Crown Prosecution Service opted for the lesser charge because it could not determine the cause of the initial collision nor whether Mr Ridgeway had been killed as a result of that impact or from being carried on the bonnet of the car until it collided with the tree.

The Victims' Right to Review is already in place, but a three-month public consultation on the scope and workings of the policy began this week.

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davidtcycle | 10 years ago

The CPS like so many institutions need a kick up the arse and start doing what they are paid to do.

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