As a suspect who has been arrested on suspicion of committing a crime, you might be wondering about the criteria for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to charge you. You may also be curious about the CPS’s function and how it collaborates with the police. This article aims to clarify the role of the CPS, the implications of being charged, and the minimum amount of evidence required for the CPS to pursue a charge. We also delve into the factors that influence the charging decision.
If you are involved in the criminal justice process as a suspect a criminal defence solicitor can help you assert your rights and ensure your voice is heard during the court proceedings.
What does the CPS do?
The main prosecuting authority in England and Wales is the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). This body is tasked with prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police or other investigative organisations. The CPS plays a critical role in deciding which cases should be prosecuted and determining the appropriate charge, particularly in complex or serious cases. Additionally, they offer guidance to law enforcement on the legal aspects of criminal investigations.
Does the CPS always carry out prosecutions in England and Wales?
Most criminal prosecutions in England and Wales are handled by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Still, other government organisations have the statutory authority to prosecute as well. These include the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency, the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office, the Service Prosecuting Authority, and Local Authorities. However, like the CPS, these prosecuting bodies must apply the Full Code Test and/or the Threshold Test when deciding whether to charge a suspect with an offence.
What does it mean when you are charged with an offence?
Being charged with a criminal offence means legal proceedings have been initiated against you. The decision to charge you can be made either by the police or the CPS, depending on the specifics of the case. Typically, the charging decision is made after the police conduct an initial investigation. As per the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Guidance to Police Officers and Crown Prosecutors issued under S37A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the police are responsible for pursuing all reasonable lines of inquiry to collect any evidence or information that could weaken the prosecution’s case or aid the defence, ensuring that the prosecutor can make a well-informed decision. We strongly suggest contacting a criminal defence solicitor as soon as possible.
What is the standard of evidence needed for the CPS or the police to charge?
The Code for Crown Prosecutors outlines the standard of evidence required for the CPS or police to charge a suspect. This involves meeting the Full Code Test, which has two stages:
The evidential stage is a crucial part of the criminal justice process. It involves the prosecutor assessing whether there is enough evidence to bring a suspect to trial and obtain a conviction. The prosecutor must objectively evaluate the evidence, considering any potential defences the suspect may raise. They must consider whether a reasonable jury or judge will likely convict the defendant of the alleged charge based on the evidence presented.
The prosecutor must evaluate the evidence objectively rather than relying on personal opinions. To do so, they must ask themselves specific questions:
- Can the evidence be used in court?
- Is the evidence reliable?
- Is the evidence credible?
- Is there other material in existence that might affect the sufficiency of the evidence?
If the evidential test is not met, the police or CPS (as appropriate) must not continue with the prosecution.
Public interest Stage
After passing the evidential stage, the CPS must proceed to evaluate whether prosecution is in the public interest. The prosecutor should weigh the benefits and drawbacks of pursuing the case and consider alternative options, such as an out-of-court disposal, such as a caution.. When determining the public interest, the prosecutor must consider a range of factors, including:
- How serious is the offence committed?
- What is the level of culpability of the suspect?
- What are the circumstances of and the harm caused to the victim?
- What was the suspect’s age and maturity at the time of the offence?
- What is the impact on the community?
- Is prosecution a proportionate response?
- Do sources of information require protecting
However, this list is not exhaustive, and some factors may outweigh others in certain cases.
If the Full Code Test is met, the prosecutor can proceed with the case, and if not, and the suspect is in police custody, the Custody Officer must determine the next course of action. This may include releasing the suspect on bail, continuing their detention, or taking No Further Action. In some cases, when the Full Code Test is not met, the Threshold Test may be applied.
The Threshold Test
The Threshold Test is a charging decision-making process used in certain exceptional cases where the Full Code Test does not apply. This occurs when the seriousness or circumstances of the case justify an immediate charging decision, and there are substantial grounds to object to bail. The Threshold Test consists of five elements, which must all be met to be applied.
- There must be reasonable grounds to suspect that the person charged committed the offence.
- It must be possible to obtain further evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.
- The seriousness or circumstances of the case warrant an immediate charging decision.
- There are continuing substantial grounds to object to bail, which is deemed appropriate.
- Charging the suspect is in the public interest.
The police/CPS must constantly review a charging decision made under the Threshold Test, and once the awaited evidence is obtained, the Full Code Test should be applied immediately.
Can the police charge without CPS?
The police have the authority to make charging decisions in less serious cases without consulting the CPS. These cases include:
Cases that are classified as a summary only are typically heard in the Magistrates’ Court and carry a maximum sentence of six months. This category includes cases of criminal damage where the loss or damage is below £5000 and shoplifting offences. Either way, offences where a guilty plea is expected and can be sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court, may also be charged by the police without the involvement of the CPS. However, there are some exceptions to this. The following types of cases must always be referred to the CPS:
- Those that involve a death
- Those connected to terrorist activity or official secrets
- Those classified as Hate Crime or Domestic Violence
- Those causing Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) or wounding, or Actual Bodily Harm (ABH)
- Those involving sexual offences committed by or upon a person under the age of 18
- Those involving the Licensing Act 2003
What cases do the CPS deal with?
The CPS is responsible for making charging decisions in cases where the police cannot make the decision. If the police have already made a charging decision, the case will be handed over to the CPS for prosecution. Upon receiving the case file, the CPS is tasked with preparing and presenting the case in court. They are also responsible for offering support and information to prosecution witnesses and victims.
Where to get further help
If you are awaiting a charging decision, obtaining advice and representation from a criminal defence solicitor will give you the best possible chance of having your case dropped before it gets to court. Solicitors can engage with the police and CPS and take proactive steps on behalf of their clients by use of the “pre-charge engagement” protocol and liaison with investigators in suggesting new lines of enquiry and monitoring the investigation. To discuss a serious crime offence with our team, please call our Manchester office on 0161 827 9500, We have solicitors working around the clock to provide support to those facing allegations. You can also fill in our online contact form and let us know a suitable time for us to get back to you.