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Proposals being consulted to change prosecutions charging guidelines

Date: (20 July 2012)    |    

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Under a new proposal, charging guidelines for criminals arrested for minor offences like minor assaults, theft and fraud could escape prosecution with prosecutors taking no further action on suspects, if they believe it is not proportionate to take them to court.

This is the biggest shake-up of charging guidelines for 20 years. Factors like cost and the length of trial would be taken into consideration before deciding whether the offender should be charged.

Also the likely punishment of the accused in case convicted will be weighed to decide on charges to be framed.It is the second time in three years that Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has suggested such a move to bring “common sense” to prosecutions.

After this the prosecutor’s code will have seen a dramatic shake up which has been in operation since the 1950s, and would restore a “proportionality test” for the first time since 1992.

John Fassenfelt, chairman of the Magistrate’s Association, warned that such changes could lead to more cases being dropped. The Code for Crown Prosecutors already requires them to consider whether it is in the “public interest” to charge a suspect.

It includes considering factors such as the impact and harm the offence causes, the age of the suspect and his past history of offending.Mr Starmer now wants to add the factor where prosecutors should consider “whether prosecution is proportionate to the likely outcome”.

It would mean considering the “cost” to the Crown Prosecution Service and justice system especially where it could be regarded as excessive when weighed against any likely penalty.

Cost should not be the only factor to drop charges but it does have relevance when making an overall assessment of the public interest.

Mr Starmer suggested that could mean offences that are likely to end in an absolute discharge by the court. However, the CPS was last night unable to expand on other scenarios as each would have to be considered on its merits.

It raises the prospect of low-level crime, such as a very minor assault or theft, being kept out of the courts.
The proposed changes to the code are now open to consultation until October.
Max Hill QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said that if the proportionality meant that only expensive cases leading to long sentences were worth proceeding with then it was wrong.
The proposed changes are part of an attempt to streamline the public interest test in charging decisions, which is now narrowed down to seven broad questions, covering the issues of harm, age and proportionality, rather than a long list of specific factors.

 

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