Call for road death prosecutors

Published: Wednesday 4th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Specially trained prosecutors should deal with road death cases to address failings in the way they are handled, the service watchdog said.

Michael Fuller, the Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service, spoke after a report criticised the CPS’s handling of cases involving crash fatalities, saying more than one in 10 charges laid was wrong and often led to prosecutions collapsing.

He highlighted the role specialists have played in rape and terror cases, saying that since a previous review of road death cases in 2008, the CPS had made “poor” progress “with little being achieved”.

The report a lso recommended the CPS improve the way it dealt with bereaved families, rating it as “poor” in 75% of cases examined.

Mr Fuller, the former chief constable of Kent Police, said: “Although the findings of today’s report show a genuine desire on the part of prosecutors to deliver a specialist role and quality of service, the structures in place do not make this possible. The CPS must reinvigorate its approach to handling prosecutions arising from fatal road traffic incidents and recognise the pressing need for a specialist prosecutor role.”

Talking about specialist prosecutors, he added: “We certainly have seen better performance in relation to other types of crime, complex crime – rape is a case in point – (and) terrorist offences.”

Police were also urged to make changes in the report by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, released today.

While road deaths were well investigated, Mr Fuller said there was a need for “greater recognition and support” for the “crucial” role of family liaison officers, who often felt they fitted the role around other police work. He also said road accident probes were under-resourced compared to other death investigations.

The report was commissioned after lobbying from road safety groups and MPs. It looked at six forces and their local CPS operations: Durham, Lancashire, Devon and Cornwall, the Metropolitan Police, Kent and Hampshire. It examined prosecution files, interviewed police officers and CPS staff and surveyed crash victims’ relatives.

It made 15 recommendations in total, nine for the CPS, four for police and two for the College of Policing.

CPS staff often did not follow its own guidelines regarding dealing with families or were not even aware they existed, Mr Fuller said. Problems included not keeping families informed of decisions that had been made, or what was happening during the court process.

He added that the CPS did not have “a clear model and a clear system” for dealing with road deaths and at local level co-operation between prosecutors and police was “variable and sometimes lacking”.

He said that 11.1% of charging decisions in road death cases failed the test set out in the code for Crown Prosecutors, although the report did not find that prosecutors were “under-charging” to get a successful prosecution. He said it was vital that existing prosecutors should be specially trained because of the “reputational cost” and effect on families of getting it wrong.

“We are not talking about having extra people, we are having dedicated people who might be doing other prosecutorial types of work, but also trained and specialised in this decision-making. It is decision-making around these cases that is so important,” he added.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive of road safety charity Brake, said: “Crown prosecutors and police investigators do difficult and hugely important jobs.

“It is vital they fulfil their roles as professionally and consistently as possible, to ensure devastated victims of road crime feel informed and supported, and that justice has been done.

“Brake has been at the forefront of supporting crash victims for many years and we know that many are left feeling betrayed and distressed by their experiences of the justice system.

“We are very encouraged by the significant progress that has been made by police forces in liaising with road-crash victims and hope they will continue to improve and provide victims with a passionate and dedicated service.

“However, as is made painfully clear by this report, the service being provided by the CPS is inadequate, in terms of decision-making and communication with victims.

“The CPS needs to implement the HMCPSI recommendations as a matter of urgency.”

Steve Chappell, the CPS chief crown prosecutor, said the report acknowledged it had improved support to victims over the last decade.

He added: “Since the previous Inspection in 2008 much of the recommended improvements have been achieved through more general development of our casework and guidance, but there is clearly more which needs to be done.

“Work has already begun on a new training package which will be mandatory to complete over the next year for those handling these cases.

“This will mean that all relevant prosecutors will be accredited and have specific training on all of the areas highlighted in the review.

“In order to provide a consistent approach to these cases we are introducing teams of specialist prosecutors, from existing staff, in each of our areas who will be allocated these cases, owning them from start to finish.

“Area co-ordinators will have responsibility for ensuring that these sensitive and difficult cases receive the specialist attention they deserve and attract good-quality, consistent decision-making.”

Published: Wednesday 4th February 2015 by The News Editor

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