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Prosecution Principles

Prosecution Principles

The Crown Prosecution Service has this week launched a 12 week public consultation on important changes to the Code for Crown Prosecutors, which is the document that sets out the principles which prosecutors must follow when they decide whether or not to prosecute an individual. The test set out in the Code is applied in every case and it requires prosecutors to consider whether there is sufficient evidence to charge an individual with a criminal offence and whether a prosecution is needed in the public interest.

In announcing the consultation, Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said “Following the announcement of the merger between the CPS and the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office (RCPO) earlier this year, I have considered further what changes to the Code for Crown Prosecutors should be made in order to ensure that all prosecutors in the new public prosecution service, along with police officers, are making fair and consistent decisions”. The main changes are:

  • Prosecutors will have a discretion to determine whether, where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute, a prosecution is a proportionate response to the specific offending.
  • Prosecutors will have a discretion to stop a prosecution in the public interest, in exceptional circumstances, before all of the evidence is available.
  • A fuller section explaining the Threshold Test.
  • A fuller section explaining the use of out-of-court disposals for both adults and youths.
  • A fuller explanation of how the public interest is assessed.
  • Further public interest factors are identified both tending in favour and against prosecution.

According to ‘The Times’, the consultation will fuel the debate on the numbers of cases escaping prosecution in the courts, which they estimate to be half the 1.4 million offenders dealt with by the justice system each year. A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman is reported as accepting that some offenders could be let off under the guidelines. ‘The Times’ also reports that the proposals were immediately condemned by the Magistrates’ Association, which said that it was yet another instance of the blurring of the respective duties of courts and prosecutors. John Howson, deputy chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, is reported as saying that the new discretion for prosecutors seemed to be “part of the complete muddle in the way we treat offenders and over the boundaries between where the prosecutors and the courts lie”, adding that “if someone has offended, they should be brought before the courts, where we have a range of penalties from an absolute discharge to custody. The job of prosecutors is to find the evidence, not to assess the weight of it”.

The consultation period ends on 11 January 2010 and a summary of the responses received will be published. The full text of the consultation can be found at:-

http://www.cps.gov.uk/consultations/rccp2_consultation.pdf

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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