Once the police have arrested a suspect and gathered evidence on a crime, the case is then handed over to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS - www.cps.gov.uk) so that a prosecution can be brought in court.
The CPS is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales. It prosecutes all sorts of crimes, from assault to espionage.
It is responsible for advising the police on possible prosecutions, reviewing cases submitted by the police, deciding what charges should be brought, and preparing and presenting cases at court.
Every year the CPS deals with more than 1.3 million cases in the magistrates’ court, and about 115,000 in the Crown Court.
The CPS was set up in 1986 (previously, the police prosecuted criminal cases), and employs about 8,775 people, about 30 per cent of whom are prosecutors—solicitors or barristers who prosecute criminal suspects.
It is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, currently Keir Starmer QC. He is accountable to the Attorney General, who is in turn accountable to Parliament for the running of the service.
Prosecutors are solicitors or barristers who prepare and bring the criminal case in court against the accused on behalf of the Crown. They are the people who stand up in court and cross-examine witnesses. In a criminal case, the prosecution tries to prove the person in the dock is guilty of the crime, and the defence barrister or solicitor tries to defend the person.
Associate prosecutors do the same as prosecutors, but in a more limited range of cases and only in the magistrates’ courts.
Caseworkers help with the preparation of the cases, and may in some circumstances present cases in the magistrates’ courts.
Administrators support the prosecutors with financial, managerial and information technology support.
The CPS has its headquarters in London, York and Birmingham, but is divided into 42 different areas across England and Wales. Each of these areas is headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor, who is responsible for the delivery of prosecution services within that area.
Three special casework divisions were set up in October 2005, to deal with organised crime, counterterrorism and specialised crime.
One of the key jobs of the CPS is deciding whether or not to charge a case. Even if the police have gathered evidence and captured suspects, the CPS may decide not to go ahead and take the suspects to court.
The CPS bases its reasoning on two tests.
‘The evidential test’: the case must have a realistic prospect of conviction.
‘The public interest test’: the case must be in the public interest.
In considering the first test, the prosecutors will assess whether the evidence the police have gathered can be used and whether it is reliable. They will try to work out what the defence case will be. A ‘realistic prospect of conviction’ means that a jury or bench of magistrates will be more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged. If this test is not met, no charges will be brought.
The second test is whether it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution. While a crime may have been committed, the CPS may decide prosecution is not the best course of action. This happened in the case of a rugby player paralysed after an accident who was assisted in committing suicide at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. The CPS decided it was not in the public interest to bring a prosecution against the family, who had attended the clinic with him.
In recent years, the CPS has gone out of its way to establish links with members of the public, reach out to various communities, and to encourage the public to have faith in its ability to prosecute crime. It has introduced various initiatives to help protect victims and witnesses of crime and to encourage witnesses to come forward. Its stated aim is to make itself as transparent and accountable as possible.
In Scotland, the role of the CPS is taken by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (www.copfs.gov.uk).
The Service is divided into 11 areas, each of which has an Area Procurator Fiscal. These areas normally coincide with the boundaries of the eight Scottish police forces (except for Strathclyde, which has four areas all to itself).
The Lord Advocate, currently Elish Angiolini QC, is the ministerial head of the Service. Her deputy is the Solicitor General, currently Frank Mulholland QC. The Crown Agent, currently Norman McFadyen, is the head of department of the Service.
There are also Advocate Deputes, who prosecute the most serious crimes in Scotland at the High Court (Scotland’s highest criminal court). The Lord Advocate and Solicitor General also prosecute crimes.
Less serious crimes are prosecuted locally by Areas and District Procurators Fiscal.
In Northern Ireland, crimes are prosecuted by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS - www.ppsni.gov.uk). This is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions. There is also a Deputy Director.
The service is divided into four regions, each of which is headed by a Regional Prosecutor, who has overall responsibility for decision making and the conduct of prosecutions.
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