Police to get more discretion on charging suspects (in England and Wales)

At The Guardian‘s Law blog Afua Hirsch assesses the Home Secretary Theresa May’s announcement that police officers in England and Wales are to get more power to decide whether crime suspects should be charged for minor offences

The Conservatives believe that the current system is inefficient. The police have to prepare a “pre-trial file” for prosecutors anyway, but then hand over the actual decision whether to charge, which the Conservatives regard as a waste of time and man-hours.

Involving prosecutors also leads to inconsistency. And there are concerns that the CPS are too tempted to advise against charging in cases that might not result in a conviction at court, to boost their performance figures – something the Guardian has documented.

The Conservatives’ concerns are to some extent supported by a 2008 report by the CPS Inspectorate which found that the process of police consulting prosecutors on whether to charge was “inconsistent, overly complex, inefficient and lacking in pragmatism.”

And whilst our own Justice Minister, and the PSNI Chief Constable, have yet to respond, a former Chief Constable is quoted in the BBC report – in his new role as president of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said it would mark a return to a tried and tested system.

He told BBC Radio 5 live: “As a sergeant in Brixton in 1982 I was responsible for charging all cases and then a decision was made whether to continue them or not at a later stage so this is nothing new.

“It is welcomed because it’ll take away a lot of unnecessary work. It puts more responsibility again on the role of sergeant which is vital as the gatekeeper in this particular process.”

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  • Danny Boy

    I wonder what effect this will have on the proportion of rape cases that go to trial? I’ve heard the CPS blamed for not allowing cases with less than clear-cut evidence to go ahead so many times, it’ll be interesting to see whether the decisions police officers make are any better.

  • Munsterview

    There is much merit in the system followed in most of the United States system practiced in most major urban centers where drunken yobos, vandals, street tugs etc are taken straight into custody and to court before a Sitting Judge of a court in session.

    These courts are the ‘bear-pits’ where a lot of Judges first learn practice, they quickly build up a feel for the kind of alleged offender in front of them. There is a big difference between a blood covered street brawler in torn clothes brought immediately before the courts ‘as is’ from the streets and the well dressed, perfectly presentable person that can come before the courts weeks later.

    How much street drunken yoboism would we have if Mammy and Daddy got a call at 2.30 AM to come down to the district court to see state of their little darlings for themselves and hear first hand of their activities? Two or three such parental visits and I am sure that the Judge would have a few pertinent words for such parents and their responsibilities.