Covid-19: New guidance on Whether to Prosecute

Updated: Covid-19

It is the job of the Crown Prosecution Service to decide which crimes, or allegations of crime, brought to their attention by the police are prosecuted. When making that decision a prosecutor must have in mind The Code for Crown Prosecutors which provides them with the necessary guidance.

At its heart the guidance contains a two-fold test – is there enough evidence for the case to go to court and, is it in the public interest to prosecute the suspect?

Add though into the mix the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic and there is suddenly even more for a prosecutor to think about. The closures of many of our Crown and Magistrate’s Courts during the crisis and the wholesale decision to adjourn albeit the most urgent of cases until it is safe for them to be tried, is storing up a whole lot of problems for the future.

When the restrictions are lifted, and the crisis abates, an already busy system that creaks at the best of times will be overwhelmed with cases. With an eye on this and in an effort to avert for the Criminal Justice System a crisis of its own The Crown Prosecution Service has this week issued further guidance to its lawyers by suggesting they take a proactive approach to existing case loads, and consider the implications of Covid-19 upon them.

The new guidance puts it in this way:

‘When reviewing a case and considering this question, prosecutors should do so in the context of the ongoing impact on the criminal justice system of the Covid-19 pandemic, as set out above. In particular, prosecutors should note:

  • The crisis is producing an expanding pipeline of cases waiting to be heard.
  • Criminal proceedings and case progression are likely to be delayed. Significant delay may impact adversely on victims, witnesses and defendants, in some cases, may reduce the likelihood of a conviction.
  • Each case that is introduced into the system, or kept in the system, will contribute to the expanding pipeline and delay.’

This guidance  published earlier this week (14 April) means that prosecutors will have to think much more carefully about how to approach each case that lands on their desk. To review the guidance see here.

With this in mind and based on the new guidance expect to see:

  • More people being offered out of court penalties for cases which would in normal times be going to court
  • More ‘plea bargaining’ between prosecution and defence
  • More cases where the offence is denied being dropped following an even more thorough review of the available  evidence

Cartwright King has lawyers practicing in many areas of the law, and the current information we are sharing is written by criminal lawyer and the firm’s co-founder Steve Gelsthorpe.

If you have any further queries around the above topic or if arising out of it would like to talk about a case in confidence to one of our lawyers, contact the firm here.

Legal Disclaimer.

All advice is correct at time of publication.