21st century justice: Victims will be able to challenge prosecutors

Victims unhappy with the decision to drop their cases are to be given the chance to challenge prosecutors for the first time.

The Crown Prosecution Service is consulting on a new victims' right to review which will allow them to ask prosecutors to rethink.

It follows a 2011 court ruling which ruled that a right to review existed because the decision not to prosecute is effectively a "final decision" on the case.

"The criminal justice system historically treated victims as bystanders and accordingly gave them little say in their cases," the director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer explained.

"The decisions of prosecutors were rarely reversed because it was considered vital that decisions, even when later shown to be questionable, were final and could be relied upon.

"This approach was intended to inspire confidence, but in reality it had the opposite effect."

The 2011 court of appeal case which triggered the shift involved a man jailed for violent sexual attacks whose case had initially been rejected by CPS prosecutors unwilling to press charges.

Prosecutors will still have to assess whether cases pass the 'realistic prospect of conviction' threshold, giving reassurance to suspects, but the review will mean more uncertainty wherever the CPS decides not to charge, to discontinue proceedings or to offer no evidence.

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

"It is now recognised by the criminal justice system that the interests of justice and the rights of the victim can outweigh the suspect's right to certainty."

This principle is to be applied beyond the code for crown prosecutors, where it is already reflected.

The new scheme will be managed over a three-month period. Starmer told the Today programme a review would then take place "to make sure we've got the balance about right".

"These reviews will be an entirely fresh examination of all the evidence and circumstances of a case," Starmer said.

"If a charge is justified and there are no legal barriers to prosecution, the mistake will be put right. Making fair decisions and delivering justice is the priority."

The right to review will not cover cases dropped by the police, however.