HC Deb 17 September 2004 vol 424 cc1784-5W
David Taylor

To ask the Solicitor-General what plans there are to review the status of witnesses in the Crown Prosecution Service's decisions on prosecuting cases. [187386]

The Solicitor-General

Crown Prosecutors apply the principles set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors ("the Code") when they make prosecution decisions.

Paragraph 6.7 of the Code sets out, "The Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes cases on behalf of the public at large and not just in the interests of any particular individual. However, when considering the public interest test Crown Prosecutors should always take into account the consequences for the victim of the decision whether or not to prosecute, and any views expressed by the victim or victim's family". While this paragraph applies to victims, similar considerations apply to witnesses.

The Code is currently subject of a review. The review has involved consultation with, among others, victim and witness interest groups.

The Bar Written Standards for the Conduct of Professional Work prohibits prosecution counsel in trials from interviewing a witness about that or any other witness's evidence. Crown Prosecutors follow this practice in all cases.

In 2002, the Attorney General asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether the time had come for prosecutors to interview key witnesses before trial in order to establish the reliability of their evidence. The Crown Prosecution Service conducted a public consultation in 2003. The Attorney General is in the process of considering the responses to that consultation before reaching a final conclusion as to the appropriate way forward.

The Direct Communications with Victims initiative was successfully rolled out nationally in 2002. Under the scheme, where a charge is discontinued or substantially altered the prosecutors will write to the victim to explain the reasons for the decision. Additionally, a meeting will be offered to explain the decision in cases where a death has occurred, cases of child abuse, sexual offences, racially and religiously aggravated offences and offences with a homophobic or transphobic element.

The No Witness No Justice project is currently being rolled out nationally in CPS Areas. Under the project police officers will consider the specific needs of witnesses. This information will be passed to a prosecutor and to witness care units operated by police and CPS staff. The witness care units will take such action as is necessary to address the needs of the witness.

Significant steps have also been made to ensure that vulnerable and intimidated witnesses can give their best evidence when attending court as a witness through the ongoing implementation of special measures.

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