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.”