SEVEN victims of sexual offences in Yorkshire have had the decision not to prosecute their alleged attacker overturned after applying for a review under the same scheme that has seen Labour peer Lord Janner charged with 22 counts of abuse.
Since the Crown Prosecution Service launched its Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) scheme in 2013, 17 of the 163 applications made in Yorkshire and the Humber, just over a tenth, have seen the decision not to prosecute overturned.
But according to figures seen by The Yorkshire Post, the proportion overturned is much higher for sexual offences, where seven of the 33 cases that have been appealed have seen the decision not to charge or to discontinue a criminal case reversed by prosecutors.
Earlier this week it was announced that 86-year-old Lord Janner, a former MP for Leicester West, will be prosecuted over claims of historical child sexual abuse after a review overturned a decision by the director of public prosecutions.
Alison Saunders initially ruled that a case against him could not proceed because of the extent of the 86-year-old’s dementia, despite sufficient evidence to bring a case.
Lord Janner, who has previously denied any wrongdoing, will face criminal proceedings relating to 22 allegations of historical sexual abuse against nine children during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Among the 163 cases considered by the CPS in Yorkshire since 2013, when the VRR scheme was launched, are appeals relating to murders, public order offences and fraud or forgery offences.
The scheme was established in June 2013 to give victims the opportunity to seek a review of a CPS decision not to bring charges or to terminate proceedings. A victims’ charity has now called for this to be extended to decisions by police.
A spokeswoman for the CPS Yorkshire and Humberside said the figures for the number of decisions overturned “have to be put into context of the proportion of sexual offences in our overall caseload”, adding: “In Yorkshire and Humberside we handle many hundreds of sexual offence cases every year”.
She said: “Rape and serious sexual offences form a significant and increasing proportion of our caseload as more victims have the confidence to trust in the criminal justice system.
“These are sensitive and often finely balanced cases, and the purpose of the Victim’s Right to review is to ensure that our decision-making can be held to account, and if it is found that we have made a wrong decision, that decision can, in certain circumstances, be overturned.
“We welcome that review both for the development of our lawyers but also to ensure justice for the victims. We have specialist rape and serious sexual offence prosecutors in all CPS areas and their training is regularly refreshed as a matter of course.
“Where individual cases demonstrate development needs, this will be taken up with the lawyer and their manager.”
In the 2014/15 financial year, 1,674 cases were reviewed under the VRR scheme nationwide and 210 decisions, or one in eight of those reviewed, was overturned.
During this period the CPS made 126,589 decisions that could have been challenged, meaning that 0.17 per cent of the overall number of decisions made were overturned.
Lesley McLean, manager for independent charity Victim Support in Yorkshire, said: “As a charity supporting over 50,000 victims of sexual offences every year, we know that victims are often kept in the dark about how and why important decisions have been made in their case. This can make a time of great stress and anxiety even more difficult.
“By giving victims the opportunity to challenge a decision that’s been made, the Victims’ Right to Review gives victims a voice in a process where they often find it hard to have their views heard, and that’s a positive step.
“The Victims’ Right to Review can also be a particularly valuable tool for victims of sexual offences, as these figures show.
“However, we’d like to see this right to review extended so that victims can challenge all charging decisions made by the CPS as well as decisions made by the police, such as to use a caution instead of sending a file to the CPS to consider a charge.
“Victims deserve to be kept fully informed about the progress of their case and should have decisions properly explained to them. Every effort should be made to prosecute where there is sufficient evidence to do so.”