Charging decisions used to always rest with the police. We would investigate, arrest, interview, charge and despatch to court whether on bail or on remand.
Maybe we were rubbish at it. Maybe we were perhaps too close to the investigation and the victim to view the charges we decided upon dispassionately. This was part of the reason why the custody sgt was and still is independent of the investigation. Even so, we are still police after all and so perhaps still too close?
We all know the phrases “The police stitched me up” and “they’ve got me on trumped up charges”. Both indicate, suggest or imply that the police have not played fairly, been underhand, used trickery or simply inflated the charges beyond the evidence. There is a great deal of evidence during my service where the Crown Prosecution Service took the charges applied by the police and downgraded them at court. A burglary became theft, GBH was reduced to ABH and robbery became a theft from the person.
I have blogged previously on this topic using “Erosion Control” as a way of describing how matters are constantly talked down.
Have the police a history of stepping up the charges one level which the CPS have then corrected or are the police getting it right and the prosecutors always talk it down? In truth I have always thought that on occasion we get it wrong and so do the CPS. Many times I have read a prosecutors charging decision on an MG3 and accepted their rationale as better than mine. There are also occasions when the CPS and I are in complete agreement. As many of my police colleagues around the country will testify, there are also occasions where we totally disagree with their analysis.
It has to be said that independent people with different backgrounds and experience will regularly disagree over evidence. It comes with the territory. Prosecutors and the police regularly lock horns over the difference between the threshold test and the full code test. This can be the difference between us charging and remanding someone into custody and bailing them whilst we tackle an evidential action plan the CPS feel is necessary. Again this is the system we work in and sometimes we have to take such decisions on the chin.
The CPS have, no doubt, over the years been subject to targets. It often seemed like absolute conviction certainties would be pounced upon. If a case looked complicated however, particularly offences in the Magistrates, then discontinuing the case early would attract no criticism whilst a loss after trial would. There may be prosecutors who will object to this analysis but that’s how it felt.
As the previous blog states. Matters routinely processed as ABH have now become common assaults. Burglaries become thefts from dwellings and robberies a theft from the person. It doesn’t apply to all cases but it seems, more often than not, that the CPS take the line of least resistance.
A regular offence that is avoided like the plague is Affray. Contrary to s3 of the Public Order Act this offence can be progressed to Crown Court and all the expense that comes with it. Prosecutors are reluctant to charge and will often authorise a s4 offence instead. The CPS charging standards are here.
I recently viewed some CCTV footage of a particularly nasty fight in a take away. Some initial posturing, led to a bit of push and shove and then an all out scrap between 4 young men. The take away was packed. People were struggling to get out of the way and all the staff retreated away from the counter. I’m used to seeing violence like this so I always try to imagine how my wife or mother would feel if they were present. Would they have been in fear of their own personal safety? Yes they would. It was an awful example of young drunken behaviour that blights our towns and cities and needs stamping on. Each and every one deserved to go to court an have the magistrates or jury see what they had done. The CPS chose s4 over affray. Why? Because the offence wasn’t made out or because they were taking the line of least resistance and avoiding crown court? You decide. The MG3 said the s3 offence was not made out.
This week I dealt with another matter. A very serious, indictable only offence and a very determined effort by the suspect that was only thwarted by a very fast reaction by the officer. I sent him off to CPS and in due course he returned with a charge authorised for a lesser offence. To add insult to injury the MG3 actually said, “I agree with the custody sgt. All the elements of the offence are present and the offence is complete.” They then went on to authorise charge with a lesser, summary only offence. This was crown court avoidance at its best and making an inappropriate offence fit what it was never legislated to cover. It was akin to forcing a square peg into a round hole.
criminal fraternity have always been very quick to say they have been stitched up. These days it seems that maybe their professional pride should get in the way and they should be offended when their efforts are minimised.
“It was a bloody good burglary, not a sodding theft. The cops have ‘stitched me down’ the bastards!“