'Misrepresentation' Claim over Crime Victims Pledge; Government Promises Are Likely to Disappoint, Committee of MPs Says

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Byline: Jack Doyle

GOVERNMENT claims that crime victims are at the centre of the criminal justice system are a "damaging misrepresentation of reality", a committee of MPs says today.

Ministers who tell victims that the system is being "re-balanced" in their favour are likely to leave them disappointed, the House of Commons Justice Committee says.

Their report, a wide-ranging examination of the role of the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales, dismisses attempts to portray prosecutors as "victims' champions".

Instead, the CPS should be an "independent arbiter" representing the public interest.

The report concluded: "The prosecutor's role in relation to victims seems to be generally misunderstood.

"The prosecutor is not able to be an advocate for the victim in the way that the defence counsel is for the defendant, yet government proclamations that the prosecutor is the champion of victims' rights may falsely give this impression.

"Telling a victim that their views are central to the criminal justice system, or that the prosecutor is their champion, is a damaging misrepresentation of reality.

"Expectations have been raised that will inevitably be disappointed."

The committee calls on the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, to conduct a review of charging decisions, amid concerns prosecutors may be opting for lesser charges in order to secure a conviction.

Police officers told the committee some prosecutors were "risk averse" to hit conviction targets.

The MPs concluded that perceptions of over or under-charging were "damaging to public confidence".

And they warned against drifting into wider use of plea bargaining, in which prosecutors negotiate with the defendant over charge and likely sentence. …