Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. What about suitable premises, because I understand that was another concern?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Suitable court premises?

  61. Yes, and premises available for face to face interview.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I think that has been a worry but all the information I am getting is that, albeit in some cases it may mean an inconvenient journey for some witnesses in that they may not be as close to the home as ideally one might like, there will be suitable facilities available.

  62. Will you be updating the 1993 Statement on the treatment of victims and witnesses to reflect recent changes?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) In effect we already have done so far as guidance to our own staff is concerned. We have taken part jointly with the police and the Home Office in a publication dealing with the early special measures meetings, the new meetings that are going to take place, so that I hope is in place, and we are, as I say, underpinning the training. There will be written material which will set out our policy. These measures coincide, fortunately in a way, with our commitment to victims and witnesses generally, which has already led to a re-drafting of our statement to victims and witnesses, whoever they may be, vulnerable or not, which we are rolling out from April, direct communication with victims and witnesses about key decisions in their case, so that the whole concept (which has been hard for some in the Service to accept) of speaking direct to victims is coming in on two fronts at the same time which I think is very helpful.

  63. How do you intend to monitor or give guidance to barristers who are instructed by the CPS?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I have already made it clear at a number of public conferences which followed the launch earlier this month that in cases where there is a vulnerable witness the CPS will only instruct counsel who have been on the training courses (which I believe to be excellent) which the Bar Council is running for its own people. It is becoming more and more common for the CPS to stipulate that its counsel have been trained to a particular standard before we agree to instruct them in cases so that the sometimes wholly inappropriate language and attitudes that I have witnessed for myself, I am ashamed to say, in court in the past, will become a thing of the past.

  64. How long are the training courses for barristers and for others?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) So far as the Bar is concerned the course is a two-day affair. So far as ours is concerned, we have various ways in which we are delivering it. First of all, we start with an e-learning distance learning package for all lawyers and case workers which will simply be an introduction to the legislation, the policy and help in identifying vulnerable witnesses accurately and will simply provide information about law practice and procedure from the beginning of the investigation through to the trial process and beyond. The classroom training will be a three-day programme which will follow the distance learning phase and will be informed by professionals from the learning disability community and those with much greater experience than us of dealing with vulnerable witnesses, children or those with learning disabilities or others. Our lead trainers, that is our in-house trainers, are already in post and ready to go, so that before July when it is implemented all staff will have a basic training and a core of staff in each area will have completed the three-day training so that there will not be any case which will not be dealt with by somebody with the appropriate training.

  65. Will they have the opportunity of meeting directly with people with learning disabilities as part of the training?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Yes. One of the policy changes instituted by the Equality and Diversity Unit generally (but it applies to this field as it does to the field of race or gender) is that whenever we train now we attempt to get the people who are actually concerned—Voice, for instance, the charity, the Ann Craft Trust—to come and give their services to help train so that we get real people who are suffering the vulnerability, whatever it is, to explain their experiences and what they want out of the Prosecution Service.

  66. How far are victims's personal views influencing prosecution decisions?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) The principal way in which the views of the victim are taken into account is, first, of course the willingness of the victim to pursue the case at all if he or she is the principal, or sometimes the only, witness, and I am straying from vulnerable witnesses to domestic violence in particular but that is a particular problem with the domestic violence cases, trying to encourage the victims of domestic violence to go through with it. Clearly the view of the victim plays an important part in the decision as to whether there really is going to be sufficient evidence. Secondly, where there is a public interest decision to be taken, the views of the victim are very important indeed, whether directly or through the victim personal statement, which is now commonplace as a result of the new legislation. For instance, when a plea is offered to a lesser offence or to a limited number of offences on an indictment with a large number of offences, then of course in the public interest the victim's view is of great importance in accepting a plea balanced against all the other competing considerations. As far as I hope is consistent with fairness to the victim and fairness to the accused, because we must not develop into a licensed lynch mob, we take the views of the victim into account.

  67. Is there any danger of the revised Code for Crown Prosecutors giving rise to false expectations because obviously that is saying that the victims' views are taken into account whether or not a prosecution takes place in some instances?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I hope that the language of that paragraph, although I spent hours helping to draft it, is sufficiently clear to make it clear that the core decision in the end has to be ours. That is why we are there and we take our decisions in the public interest in the end, not in the interests of the victim, the defendant, any other interest group, political pressure, the media, etc. I hope that, properly read (and it was very carefully drafted), it does not give too much of an unfair expectation to victims and witnesses. We do take their views very seriously but in the end we have to make the decision on the evidence in the public interest as we see it.

  68. Lastly, are you in favour of establishing a statutory Victim's Ombudsman?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I would prefer to see the current initiatives, that is, the victim personal statement, the far better communication with victims and witnesses in terms simply of keeping them up to date with what is going on on the one hand, and explaining decisions on the other, allowed to work themselves through for an assessment to be made as to whether they are sufficient. If they are not, clearly one would have to look at other solutions, such as a Victim's Ombudsman, or even an alternative legal party to the case, as happens in some continental jurisdictions. At present we as a service feel that we ought to be able to do the job properly with the assistance of the police and the courts. We both have a function to play in all this to safeguard the rights of victims. I am a strong defender of the right of the private citizen to bring a private prosecution so that that right should in my view remain, although there have been calls on occasions for it to be taken away, which is another avenue for a victim at present.

  69. But that could be harder than going to a Victim's Ombudsman, could it not?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Of course. As I say, if it turns out that—and this is a political decision, obviously—that there is still widespread dissatisfaction which could be cured by additional measures, then clearly we would abide by them but we would have to help in their construction.


  70. Is it the responsibility of the CPS to see that when a perpetrator of rape or another serious violent crime is released the victim is given some forewarning?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) No.

  71. Whose job is that?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) The Probation Service carry out that job at the moment in serious offences.

  72. They do not liaise with you about that? They liaise with the Prison Service presumably?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Nobody liaises with us at present about the release of offenders from custody. The only time we know is when we have been present at an appeal against conviction when the person walks from the Court of Appeal. But even on appeals against sentence we do not regularly appear as a party to the proceedings and therefore that is left to the police via the Criminal Appeal Office who let the police know.

  73. Is that as it should be in your view?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I personally think that somehow it should be done better. Whether we should do it or whether it should be done better by others is not for me to say but I think there are still far too many cases where the victim sees the perpetrator of the crime on the high street without any advance warning that that is a likely event. I do believe the situation is much better. I am certainly not attempting to criticise other agencies because I do not have the knowledge to do so, but I believe there are still cases like that because frequently letters I get from some of you or your colleagues in Parliament contain such information, so it is clearly going on and should never happen.

  74. Is that a responsibility you would volunteer for?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I am sorry to be mealy-mouthed about this, but if we were to be paid for it I am sure we would do it.

David Winnick

  75. Do you take incitement to racial hatred as seriously as many would like you to do?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I think we take it extremely seriously. This is not intended to be flippant but it is in fact true, that any case which requires the Attorney General's consent, as incitement to racial hatred does, is always taken extremely seriously because it is after all the Minister superintending the service who takes the final decision and he or she at present always requires the fullest possible attention to be given to such cases and incitement to racial hatred is no exception. The answer is that I am quite certain we do. They are all handled within the headquarters Casework Division of the Service. They are not handled on the areas, so that there is a core of lawyers within the Service who have particular expertise. There has been much concern, and we have tried to evaluate the reasons for this, as to why there has been such a small number year on year of prosecutions under Part 3. It seems to come down to a number of differing factors, some or all of which apply in many cases. One is actually proving who disseminated the leaflet that is left lying around for people to see, actually getting the evidence to fix the responsibility on a particular human being for the incitement. The other is the balance which clearly needs to be struck and is ultimately struck by the law officers, obviously, because it is their consent, between free speech on the one hand and sometimes the forthright expression of free speech with what is clearly beyond the bounds of free speech and is apt to be described by the very strong word, as the courts have held it to be, of "hatred", which is far stronger than "hostility" which appears in the Crime and Disorder Act as a racially aggravated crime.

  76. If someone is said to have said, "Kill the Jews", that would not be within the category of free speech presumably?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) What I did not go on to say was that the other factor which obviously bears on the likelihood of success of a prosecution is the context in which these statements are made. It does seem to me that there are times, and post-September 11 is an obvious one to think of, where statements which might otherwise have been part of the rough and tumble of debate are so clearly said in a particular context that they would be prosecuted whereas perhaps on another occasion they might not. "Kill Jews", if said other than in some stupid television programme in what is supposed to be a comedy programme or something, would clearly fall within that.

  77. That would be taken with the same seriousness as someone who said, "Kill Moslems", "Kill blacks", "Kill whites", all taken equally, no favouritism to any particular group?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Absolutely not, except that—and I do not want to get into political controversy here—there is a question mark about Moslems who have not been ruled to be a racial group and therefore are more likely to be protected if there is an extension of Part 3 to cover religious hostility as well as racial hostility. With that qualification, yes.

  78. Does the law apply to remarks made in religious gatherings?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) It could do, yes.

  79. So if remarks were made, be it in mosques, synagogues or churches of various Christian denominations, or other places, where clearly the cry goes up from whoever is speaking that a particular racial group should be targeted, hurt and indeed put to death, that would be a matter where the Prosecution Service would look very seriously at that?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) We certainly would.

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