New rights will let victims, including bereaved families, challenge CPS moves not to charge suspects or to drop cases.
Victims are to be given new rights to challenge the Crown Prosecution Service's decision not to charge a suspect or to drop a prosecution.
A public consultation on how the policy – called Victims' Right to Review (VRR) – should work is being launched on Wednesday by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC.
Any victim of crime, including bereaved family members, will in future be able to ask the CPS to look again at a case following a decision not to charge, to discontinue proceedings or offer no evidence.
"The criminal justice system historically treated victims as bystanders and accordingly gave them little say in their cases," Starmer said. "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. Refusing to admit mistakes can seriously undermine public trust in the criminal justice system.
"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 is already reflected in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, but more needs to be done to correct this historic imbalance and ensure that the people affected by our decisions can hold us to account. It recognises that victims are active participants in the criminal justice process, with both interests to protect and rights to enforce."
Starmer continued: "These reviews will be an entirely fresh examination of all the evidence and circumstances of a case. 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."
Some lawyers have warned that the changes will leave defendants' in a prolonged state of uncertainty. But Javed Khan, chief executive Victim Support, said: "The Right to Review strengthens the rights of victims during the criminal justice process and is welcomed by Victim Support. Too often victims tell us that they don't have much of a voice in our justice system. "
VRR does not apply to cases where the police have decided to take no further action and a file of evidence has not been submitted to the CPS. The CPS only allows prosecutions to begin or continue if there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute.
Helen Grant, minister for victims and the courts, said: "Too often victims feel intimidated and treated as an afterthought by a 'system' that makes their already horrific experiences worse – the Victims' Right to Review is an important step towards changing this.
"All victims deserve to know that the criminal justice system will work as hard as possible to deliver justice for them and help them recover and move on with their lives. That's why if a victim has the strength to come forward, it is right that we give them every possible chance to get the justice they so deserve."
Bowcott, Owen. (Wednesday 5 June 2013). Crime victims allowed to challenge prosecutors. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/law/2013/jun/05/crime-victims-challenge-cps-decisions