The Crown Prosecution Service (“CPS”) has launched its ‘CPS Defendants: Fairness For All Strategy 2025’ which will focus on three key areas: mental health, youth justice and the proportionality of their decision-making.
For the full CPS strategy, please see here.
For guidance on fighting racial injustice see Fighting Racial Injustice: Background, childhood, legal representation & trauma
The CPS has launched its 3-year ‘Defendants strategy’ in its commitment to fairness for all parties and protecting the rights of suspects and defendants. The decision to focus on the areas of mental health, youth justice and disproportionality in decision making was made following recent inspections in these areas.
In carrying out the Serious Youth Crime Review, inspectors found that more needed to be done when prosecuting youth casework. The review showed that only 35% of cases received a proper and proportionate initial or post-sending review and that a more consistent approach to the use of youth specialist lawyers to deliver charging advice and post-charge reviews was required.
The CPS have indicated that over the next 12 months they will:
- Refresh CPS training and guidance on conversations with youth or child defendants at Court so language is child friendly.
- Review and update the CPS Youth Justice Specialist role and training to upskill prosecutors dealing with complex youth casework or standard cases involving children.
- Inform the Ministry of Justice review of the Youth Justice System and the role of the CPS and suggest ways in which the system can be improved to assist child suspects and defendants.
In 2021, the Criminal Justice Joint Inspection concluded that a third of people in police custody have some form of mental health difficulty and that there was poor support of people with mental health conditions as they progress through the Criminal Justice System. In a CPS review of nearly 400 cases in 2017, it was found that about one in five cases involved a victim, witness or defendant with a mental health difficulty.
The CPS strategy indicates that over the next 12 months they will:
- Create a new mental health monitoring code on the CPS Case Management to allow closer monitoring of cases where mental health is an issue.
- Pilot the new joint CPS/National Police Chief’s Council Mental Health and Neurodevelopmental checklist for suspects.
- Create a Mental Health stakeholder forum bringing together experts and interested parties in the field of mental health to ensure best practice is up to date.
- Review how decisions are made on virtual hearings and how a defendant’s needs are identified and supported during the process.
Disproportionality in decision making
Just over a quarter of the UK Prison Population are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds. The Lammy Review indicated that CPS charging decisions were broadly proportionate. However, the CPS have commissioned a substantial independent academic review of disproportionality in the outcomes of their decision-making to identify both national and local trends. They will use the results of this review to drive change across the justice system where needed.
The CPS decision to focus on these three areas is very much welcomed. The representation of children and young people in the Criminal Justice System is rightly recognised as a specialist area of law. It follows that those making the decisions to prosecute children and young people should also be youth specialist lawyers. The focus on the language used in Court is also important to ensure that children and young people are able to understand what is happening in the Court room and that they are able to effectively participate in the proceedings. Clearly both mental health and disproportionality are also crucial areas affecting children in the criminal justice system.
Whilst the highlighting of these issues is welcome, practitioners will have concerns about how impactful these changes will be. Within all three areas, but perhaps youth justice in particular, the strategy fails to address outcomes or acknowledge the significant cultural shift that the relevant institutions will need to make to achieve real change. Training and guidance need to re-frame how reviewing prosecution lawyers measure success: reviews need to be conducted by prosecutors who appreciate that diversion signifies a successful outcome in the majority of cases involving children.
Written by Sabrina Neves, GT Stewart Solicitors and Ruth McGregor Hamann, Just For Kids Law