Police, rather than independent prosecution lawyers, should have the power to charge suspects in most cases, three senior police chiefs said, warning of a deepening crisis in the justice system. justice.
The controversial change is being requested by the police chiefs of the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire forces, respectively, the second, third and fourth largest in England after the Met.
They say the Crown Prosecution Service should be stripped of the exclusive power to authorize charges in most cases, which would help pull the justice system out of a worsening crisis. This would include crimes such as domestic abuse, stalking, burglary, theft, robbery, knife crimes, and violent crimes.
Chiefs say delays in charging suspects are letting the culprits go free and delaying justice as victims and witnesses tire of the long waits. They say the CPS, which faced government cuts under austerity measures, should focus on the most serious cases, but is “too spread out” to manage its current workload and increasingly complex cases.
Police chiefs say that “duct tape” no longer works and that a radical change, indeed a return to the way things were before the CPS was created in 1986, is needed and could be quickly enacted.
In an unprecedented intervention, the three police chiefs say: “CPS’s ability to give timely charging advice (ie, while the suspect is under arrest and in jail) is broken; not because of anything the CPS has done, but because they don’t have the resources or the people to do what they did before.
“We’ve been trying to fix it together for the past two years, but the plasters won’t stick and things are getting worse. So, for the sake of victims, witnesses and the entire criminal justice system, we must replace it now, giving police back the ability to charge most crimes while suspects are in jail.”
The call is made by Craig Guildford, who leads the West Midlands force, Stephen Watson, of Greater Manchester Police, and John Robins, of West Yorkshire Police.
The three senior police chiefs told The Guardian: “The director of public prosecution must give back the right to the police to make prosecution decisions on the spot in many more cases: domestic abuse, stalking, robbery, theft, crime with knife, violent crime.
“We used to do this, the officers want it, the victims want it, the defense attorneys want it, and we’re sure the courts want it, but the system keeps saying no. We are trying to help free up the work of CPS and partner agencies to do what they should be doing – prosecute, not manage.”
Causes of the long delays in the justice system include cuts made by the government as part of austerity, which were later exacerbated by covid turmoil and subsequent lockdowns.
Police in England and Wales report that their rates of charging suspects have plummeted in recent years.
The top three police chiefs say, “Where is the evidence to back up our call? In March 2015, 16% of crimes were resolved with an accusation and/or summons and now it is 5.6%.
“This is not because the police have suddenly become less effective. It is due to so-called ‘attrition’ where the disengagement of the victim occurs and results in fewer charges due to time delays and the feeling of not being supported by a seemingly faceless and unresponsive system.”
Watson, who is reputed to be one of Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s favorite police chiefs, told The Guardian that the long waits led to the lifeblood of the justice system – victims and witnesses willing to testify and support the lawsuits) to surrender.
“We lose victims and witnesses in the process. Nothing reassures victims and witnesses more than an accusation: it is validation. Delays cause victims and witnesses to lose faith in the system,” he said.
The claim by the three senior police chiefs that the crisis is getting worse is embarrassing for the Conservatives, who made the cuts in the first place, and also for the government, which claims to be fixing the problem.
Police chiefs say: “The CPS, like many other public bodies including the police and courts, had to change through austerity, we all understand that and it led to a commensurate reduction in capacity. However, it seems that we are trying to do the same things, despite the fact that some elements of the system were broken through no fault of any agency.”
The call will be seen by some critics as self-serving. Police are under fire over scandals involving wrongdoing by their own officers and a perceived decline in effective crime-fighting.
Jo Sidhu KC, a lawyer and former president of the criminal lawyers association, said the police chiefs’ plan was not a replacement for adequate funding and risked simply changing the problem. He said: “Simply giving police more responsibility to charge suspects will do little to reduce the unprecedented delays and enormous backlog that have accumulated in recent years and are now embedded in the criminal justice system as a result of a deliberate government policy of neglect. and divestment.
“If the police make the wrong decision to charge, then it is CPS who will have to step in to reverse it, causing additional unnecessary delays and further distress for complainants. If the police mistakenly fail to charge a suspect, this can also cause a real injustice.”