CPS (The Crown Prosecution Service)
The Crown Prosecution Service or CPS is a non-ministerial government department which is directly accountable for the prosecution of criminal cases which are investigated by the Police throughout England and Wales.
In 1985, The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 was introduced after recommendations from the Royal Commission who advised that there should be a central body to coordinate all public prosecutions. These recommendations resulted in a merger between existing police prosecutions division with the DPP which collectively formed the Crown Prosecution Service which came into being in 1986.
The role of the CPS
Once a case has been investigated by the Police, they may consult with the Crown Prosecution Service who will offer advice on whether there are suitable grounds for prosecution. The CPS can also conduct case reviews which have been sent through from the Police, decide charges in every offence except minor charges as well as preparing and presenting cases in the Magistrates or Crown Court.
From the initial stages which are usually referred to as the pre-charge procedure through to the investigative and prosecution phase of any case, the CPS will often work with the police offering advice and guidance on the process of investigating and prosecution. They can also advise on what additional work or evidence that the police may need to carry out to allow charges to be made and eliminate any deficiencies in evidence.
After the evidence has been collated, the CPS will then make an informed decision as to whether the case is strong enough to proceed further or whether it should be dropped. Once the CPS are satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to instigate formal legal proceedings they will begin in the Magistrates and if the offence is serious enough, escalate it to the Crown Court.
Once at Crown Court the CPS will instruct an advocate who will form the prosecution or make use of a dedicated, in house legal team. Any decisions in regard to casework have to be reached based on fairness, integrity and from an impartial perspective.
Crown Prosecutors Code
Under Section 10 of the Prosecution of Offenders Act formed in 1985, a code for Crown Prosecutors was defined. This code explains the procedure for reaching decisions in relation to prosecutions. On occasions when the police determine the charge, they are accountable for following the code.
The most recent version of the crown prosecutor’s code is the fifth version and is a document that the public can view. This document describes the reasons why prosecutions are discontinued, refused or continued and it is intended to reach fair, objective, consistent and fair decisions about a prosecution.
Each case presented to the CPS must be considered on its own merits. There are also guidelines that Crown Prosecutors must follow;
- They must act objectively and independently and avoid making decisions based on personal opinion or views about the victim, witness or suspect and not be influenced by pressure from one or more parties.
- A Crown Prosecutor must conduct the necessary checks to ensure that the right individual is being prosecuted for the right offence and act in such a way which will achieve justice rather than to simply secure a conviction
- Crown Prosecutors are required to offer advice and guidance to any investigators during the prosecution and information gathering process, completing regular reviews to reassess the case taking into consideration any changes
- The Crown Prosecutor must make sure that the law has been adequately and correctly applied. Evidence that has been provided in court and all obligations for disclosure have been properly addressed.
Decision to Prosecute
When a decision is being made as to whether to charge an individual with an offence, it must be subject to the Full Code Test. The Threshold Test is carried out when it is not acceptable to release the defendant on bail but where adequate evidence is not currently available.
However there must be reasonable suspicion that the individual has committed an office and it is in the interest of the public to charge the individual. There are stringent limits on how long suspects can remain in police custody a Crown Prosecutor can only enforce the Threshold Test for a short period of time and a case must be reviewed in line with the Full Code Test as a matter of urgency.
The Full Code Test is divided not two elements. The CPS can only prosecute if there is strong enough evidence to indicate that there is a reasonable prospect of success which will result in a conviction and secondly, it is in the interest of the public to present the case to the court.
When reaching a decision about whether there is sufficient evidence, a Crown Prosecutor should evaluate the reliability of the evidence which has been presented to the court. When reaching a decision about whether it is in the public interest, a Crown Prosecutor must evaluate factors in favour and against the prosecution fairly.
Although the CPS cannot act for a victim or the family of a victim, they do act on behalf of the public. When considering whether a case is in the interests of the public Crown Prosecutors should always consider any consequences which the victim may incur and any opinions which have been expressed by the victim or a family member.
Crimes which will incur significant sentences include;
- The use of violence
- An offence committed against an individual serving the public
- The offence was premeditated
- An offence which was carried out by a group or fuelled by discrimination
- If the defendant has committed similar offences
- If reoffending is likely
When the CPS is deciding whether or not to prosecute, the Crown Prosecutor should factor in any alternatives to the prosecution such as a caution or conditional caution. Where the offenders are young people, Crown Prosecutors should not avoid a prosecution because of their age, it is just a factor that they should take into consideration along with the seriousness of the incident and/or the behaviour of the youth in the past.
A criminal case which concerns youths are only passed to the CPS for consideration if the individual has already received a reprimand and final warning or if the offence is extremely serious, these are not appropriate or the youth will not admit to committing the offence.
If there are multiple charges and the defendant pleads guilty to some of them or perhaps pleads guilty to a lesser charge, the Crown Prosecutor should only accept a plea if they believe that the court can hand down a sentence which is adequate for the seriousness of the crime. A Crown Prosecutor cannot simply accept a guilty plea because it is the easiest option. Additionally, the public interest should be taken into consideration as well as the views of the victim and/or their family.
The Crown Prosecutor can provide assistance to the court, highlighting any mitigating or aggravating factors which have been disclosed by the prosecution or in any personal statement from the victim. A Crown Prosecutor should also challenge anything which the defence may say during mitigation which is misleading, derogatory or inaccurate.
The Crown Prosecution Service are there to facilitate the process of prosecution following on from Police investigations. Their role is crucial in any case which is to be brought before a criminal court. The role of the CPS has evolved somewhat since its launch and it will undoubtedly continue to do so as processes and legislation adapts in response to a variety of external factors.
About the author:
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.