West Midlands CPS - Public Protection Unit
The West Midlands CPS Public Protection unit (PPU) is committed to improving the way in which we prosecute rape, serious sexual offences, and child abuse and child homicides.
These types of offences have their own particular sensitivities and we want to improve public confidence in the way in which we review and progress cases of this nature.
As these cases are often complex involving difficult and sensitive family relationships and it was decided that such cases should be managed by specialised lawyers and support staff who have received the appropriate training. The cases at court needed to be dealt with by Barristers and Advocates who had the appropriate experience and ability and who had received the proper training.
With this in mind, the Area's PPU was first formed in 2008 in Birmingham. In December 2012 the Unit was centralised to include all the work from the West Midlands metropolitan area, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and West Mercia.
All the following types of criminal offences are referred to the PPU:
- Serious sexual offences
- Child abuse including child neglect and cruelty
- Indecent photographs
- Extreme pornography
- Honour Crimes
- Sexual abuse of vulnerable adults including those committed within a care facility.
- Homicides where the victims are under the age of 16.
The West Midlands PPU, pictured below, is managed by Hayley Firman and consists of 16 lawyers, four paralegal officers, an admin manager and three administrative support staff.
They are a dedicated and specialised team chosen because they possess the requisite experience of prosecution work and have demonstrated a commitment and interest in dealing with these difficult and often traumatic cases. They all have a great deal of understanding of the sensitivities of prosecuting cases of this nature, and how difficult and harrowing it can be for a victim from the first step of making a complaint to the police through to giving evidence in a trial.
The team comes from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Some spent many years in defence doing criminal, family or social work before joining the CPS. All of the lawyers have experience prosecuting cases in either the magistrates or the Crown Court.
All prosecutors have undertaken relevant training courses around rape and serious sexual offences, youth offenders, domestic violence awareness and victim and witness training. The Barristers and Advocates who prosecute PPU work have had to attend a mandatory rape training course.
Due to this level of expertise, every case of rape is now handled by a rape specialist who will advise and have responsibility for that case from the pre charge advice through to the case at court.
The common factor with the team is that they are all committed to this area of work. They are dedicated to working with the police and other support agencies to build the best cases possible. As a Service, we are committed to providing the best level of support to victims and witnesses The following demonstrate some of the tools which are available to victims and witnesses:
There are variety things a court can do to enable the victims and witnesses experience in court to be more comfortable to help them give the best evidence possible. If granted by the Judge a witness can give evidence behind a screen in court, give evidence over a live TV link or have the original video recorded interview with the police played as their evidence in chief.
If children are involved then Barristers and Judges can remove their wigs and gowns. An independent intermediary can also sit with the victim and witness to assist them with the process if they are particularly vulnerable or if they have particular difficulties.
Witnesses will also have the opportunity to use the services of the Witness Care Units. This can include a court familiarization visit or a pre trial meeting with the Advocate who will be dealing with the case in court.
The use engagement of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAS) and support from other specialist teams of support interested parties ISVAS are a network of advisors who are set up to assist, provide advice and support to victims throughout the prosecution process. There are many other organizations which will also assist and aid victims. The PPU staff work and maintain links with any agency that provides support to victims and witnesses.
Pre Trial Witness Interview
This is a process in which a specially trained lawyer can conduct an interview with a witness or victim to enable the lawyer to reach a better informed decision about an aspect of a case.
Our lawyers have conducted a number of such interviews and the feedback from the witnesses who have participated have been positive. The meeting has enabled them to feel part of the process and they have felt that they have been kept informed. This is particularly the case if, after the interview, a decision is made not to proceed as the case no longer meets the evidential test.
As a matter of law, victims of rape and serious sexual offence are entitled to anonymity in the media, even if their name is given in court. Witnesses' addresses are not disclosed to defendants and will not, as a rule, be mentioned in the court room.
Questioning in the trial
The Barrister/Advocate in court should and can challenge offensive and irrelevant questioning and deal with inappropriate cross examination of the victim about any previous sexual experience.
Direct communication with victim and witnesses
Every attempt will be made to keep victims and witnesses informed of what is happening with their case. This is done by our dedicated Witness Care Unit or by the lawyer or paralegal officer direct by a letter or a meeting with the victim after or during the case.
We always ask the police to see the victim to obtain a victim impact statement to put before the court when an offender is sentenced so that the effect of the offence on the victim is clearly stated.
Victims should not be suffering in silence as there is a lot of support. We need victims and witnesses to be brave and have the courage to report the crimes. Then, through the constant dedication of the professionals, more offenders can be bought to justice.