Lawyers are split over prosecution guide

Lawyers in Bradford have given a mixed reaction to a new code for prosecutors which takes cost into account when deciding which cases are prosecuted.

Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has published the latest Code for Crown Prosecutors, which guides police and prosecutors in deciding whether or not to charge a suspect. It follows a three-month public consultation.

Changes to the Code include getting additional clarification on whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute; greater clarity on the effect of a prosecution on the victim’s health; and reference to the Crown Prosecution Service website.

It also includes a proportionality test to ensure the right cases are prosecuted and avoid bringing cases into the criminal system which could be addressed by other means. Cost to the CPS and wider criminal justice system may be relevant, the Code says.

The test has been criticised by the Centre for Crime Prevention, whose chief executive Peter Cuthbertson said: “Already the great majority of crimes lead to no-one being charged, so it is very worrying that new reasons to avoid prosecutions are being proposed. Crime should not be shrugged off on grounds of proportionality.”

But barrister Stephen Wood, based at Broadway House Chambers in Bradford, said: “This is not a new concept. A proportionality ‘test’ existed in the Code in 1992.

“The proposals are to be welcomed. I do not take them as meaning that only cases resulting in long sentences following convictions will be instituted.

“It is an attempt to bring more common sense to proceedings. I do not believe it will mean expensive cases will not necessarily be brought. For example the John Terry prosecution was ultimately very expensive. If convicted he could only have been fined, but there was an obvious public interest in that prosecution being brought.

“It is to stop those cases where objectively you might think ‘why are you bothering with this?’ – cases which are perhaps glorified neighbour disputes better off in the County Court. Hopefully it is cases like that, which would result in sentences of an ‘absolute discharge’, which are being weeded out at an early stage.”

But solicitor Atta Rehman, of Bradford criminal law firm Harris Solicitors, said the proportionality test could lead to cases not being prosecuted which should be.

Mr Rehman said: “I have represented clients when the prosecution have dropped cases that perhaps should have gone to trial. This could lead to more cases like that.”

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