In the third of our #JusticeWeek2023 guest blogs, Baljit Ubhey OBE, Director of Strategy & Policy at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), sets out the recent work of the CPS to create a system that is accessible, supportive and responsive to the needs of all individuals involved.
A cornerstone of any just society lies in its ability to uphold fairness in its justice system. This means making sure the system is clear and accessible every step of the way for everyone involved. At the CPS, we have several key initiatives to achieve this.
Our Victims Transformation Programme
Being a victim of crime can be deeply traumatic, and for those who find themselves in the criminal justice system the process can feel overwhelming, unfamiliar, and incredibly challenging. We do not underestimate the intense difficulty of navigating this system, or the resilience required to do so. We also know that previously the way we communicated with some victims has fallen short of what they need, and rightly expect. We are committed to changing that – and to transforming the service we provide to every victim.
Our Victims Transformation Programme aims to increase the level of communication and information given to all victims, provide an enhanced service to those with the greatest need, and strengthen victim engagement by building an organisational and leadership culture that prioritises engagement with victims. The programme will be focusing on designing and testing our new Universal Service offer in 2023/2024, progressing with our test and learn approach to developing the enhanced service, and continuing to engage with a Victims’ Reference Group so the programme keeps the voices of victims at its centre.
Suspects and defendants too, deserve to be treated fairly and with respect throughout the life of any case. Not only is it important for the individuals involved, but it’s essential to the interests of justice in a democratic society that every defendant has the opportunity to engage with, and respond to allegations against them.
That's why we were pleased to launch our first ever Defendants Strategy, which sets out our commitment to suspects and defendants and our vision of where we want our service to be by 2025. It’s a clear articulation of the role we play in contributing to a fair and just system, which prosecutes wrongdoing while enabling those defendants with additional needs, or facing additional barriers, to participate fully in the criminal justice process. We are committed to working with partners to serve victims and witnesses and uphold the rights of defendants in a way that is fair and understood by all communities.
The decisions we make at the CPS are at the heart of criminal justice in England and Wales and we know that every decision to charge - or not - has a potentially profound impact on suspects, defendants, victims and the wider public.
We committed to undertake research into disproportionality in charging decisions as part of our 2025 Inclusion and Community Engagement strategy. While previous reviews had reflected favourably on the CPS, we understand how important constant check and challenge is in relation to issues of disproportionality and inclusion.
This latest research has found that there is evidence of disproportionality in the outcomes of our decision-making – this includes disproportionality relating to ethnicity. White British suspects had the lowest charge rate compared to all other ethnicities with 69.9% of cases resulting in a charge. By contrast Mixed Heritage suspects had a charge rate of between 77.3% and 81.3%.
These findings are concerning and we know this feeling will be shared by our colleagues, communities and stakeholders, as well as those involved in the cases that we handle.
The research we have done so far tells us that this disproportionality exists but it cannot tell us anything about what is causing it so we have designed a comprehensive programme of further research to help us identify the factors which may be causing the disproportionality.
Understanding and tackling the drivers of disproportionality is a top priority for our senior leadership team. While issues of disproportionality cut across the whole of the criminal justice system, and wider society, there are no excuses. If there are actions we can take to reduce disproportionality then we will do so, and we will continue to work closely with our partners to ensure the justice system as a whole is transparent, fair and inclusive.
We aim to complete the next phase of research later this year and will share the findings in due course.
Inclusion and community engagement work
The CPS holds Community Accountability Forums (CAFs) approximately every three months. They focus on topics based on the CPS's strategic priorities, or issues we know matter to the communities we serve. The most recent meeting centred on the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy, which is currently being developed. There was a focus on young, D/deaf, and disabled people, and we heard directly from a range of organisations and stakeholders with lived experience about what more we need to do to improve how victims are treated, to ensure the strategy addresses issues of intersectionality.
CAFs are important because they provide us with insight and feedback which allows us to better understand people's experiences of the CPS and the criminal justice system. They give communities the chance to have their voices heard within the CPS, and this in turn helps us improve our policies and the way we work. It is also useful to have voices in the community who can speak about the work the CPS does, as this can help build trust and confidence, as well as aiding transparency.
A fair and functioning justice system is vital for any democratic society. That’s why we strive to create a system that is accessible, supportive and responsive to the needs of all individuals involved. Although there is always more work to be done, these key initiatives reflect our commitment to bringing about positive change and improving experiences throughout the legal process.
Baljit Ubhey OBE is Director of Strategy and Policy at the Crown Prosecution Service. Baljit joined the CPS as a legal trainee in 1992, later qualifying as a prosecutor in London. Baljit has since held many roles including Chief Crown Prosecutor of CPS London and Director of Prosecution Policy & Inclusion.