Police to prosecute 50% magistrate court cases

I have just noticed a press release from the Home Office that explains the police are to be given more powers to prosecute certain types of offences.  It even says in bold at the top that the police will handle 50% of magistrate court cases!

I must admit that I am completely perplexed by the rationale behind this, which may be the result of a badly worded press release.  It seems that police officers are having their time wasted by sitting about at court and so to solve this the Home Office wants police officers to do all the work in court.... that's my reading of it any way.  The press release says, "The bureaucracy cutting move will see about 500,000 cases taken through the courts by officers" (my emphasis).  That looks like it is saying that the police will be expected to stand up and present cases, which should be a laugh although I can't see how that will either save police officers time nor speed up justice.

Currently, police officers prepare the evidence, which is handed to the Crown Prosecution Service.  At court a CPS lawyer will stand up and present the case to the magistrates.  It looks as if the Home Office is suggesting that now the CPS lawyers will eventually be replaced by police officers in court.  I'm sure that can't be right since police officers lack the legal knowledge to conduct a trial or manage a sentencing hearing and, I suspect, most of them probably didn't sign up to do those jobs anyway.

The press release is confusing because, on the one hand motoring offences account for about double all the other criminal offences put together, so allowing the police to prosecute them all will give you the 50% figure talked of at the start... although that would make the claim somewhat misleading if you ask me.  The move will begin with uncontested traffic offences (99% of which neither a defendant nor police officer is required to attend - so making the police attend them to prosecute seems counter-productive), the implication being that it will be extended beyond uncontested traffic offences to either contested traffic offences OR non-traffic offences where a guilty plea is anticipated.

In any event, I'm sure that the CPS staff will be pleased to hear them selves described as bureaucrats by Theresa May when she said, "[o]ur model of more power for the police and the public and less for the bureaucrats will free up the finest officers in the world to fight crime."  It's interesting that Theresa May should be so against bureaucrats given that her last job was with the Association of Payment Clearing Services, which is... er... a company dedicated to the bureaucratic elements of processing card payments.  Even more worrying is the contempt in which she appears to hold the lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service, who are employed to fight for justice in the courts for victims.

If this heralds a swing against jobs in the CPS (recruitment for which has been virtually frozen for years) then expect to see the numbers of convictions swiftly drop in its wake.

Comments

  1. I'm not sure this is news. The police have been prosecuting all summary motoring cases in my court for quite some time.

    The prosecutor is normally a civilian who brings some 150+ cases on an average motoring court day.

    Any matters requiring CPS involvement are transferred to an adjacent court where a prosecutor is on duty. These are normally special reasons and exceptional hardship applications.

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  2. Anon, I am inclined to agree with your comment about this not being news... but, it was released as news by the Home Office, which means either it's actual news or another example of a Government trying to look as though it is doing something!

    It's worth noting that this press release appears to be suggesting the police officers will be taking up the prosecution rather than a civilian employee and, importantly that the scheme will be extended beyond just motoring offences, which is how it worked pre-CPS.

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  3. What happened before the CPS was invented?

    I believe the police prosecuted all their cases.

    I also think the police are very critical of the time spent preparing papers for the CPS which, of course, wasn't necessary when the people who had all the information first hand did the prosecution.

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  4. Well, I suppose we will as ever have to see how it all shakes out, but I'm inclined at the moment to think that a) I don't see this working well without an investment into police funding / training because even though there used to be police officers with the skills required, there surely aren't many now being as prosecuting cases isn't a component part of the current job, and b) there's a reason prosecution of cases was made independent of the police; given the recent and persistent issues in the Met and elsewhere, I don't think that the reason is no longer valid.

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  5. This is actually a good idea. What currently happens in the traffic courts, certainly in London, is that both the police and the CPS send a prosecutor to attend the first hearing lists (for the police these are dedicated civilians). The reason is that the majority of the motoring cases are 'specified offences' and remain police, not CPS, prosecutions. If the defendant turns up and pleads guilty, or pleads guilty by post, then it remains a police prosecution and the officer reads out the facts to the Court.

    The main difficulty is when the defendant fails to show up and so the case becomes a proof in absence. In those circumstances the case is now a contested one, and, as if by some piece of statutory magic, the case immediately switches from being a police prosecution to being a CPS one and the civilian police officer no longer has the power to proceed. So what happens is that the file is handed over to the CPS prosecutor (who will have been sitting next to the officer quietly dozing off), and they stand up and read the s.9 statement to prove the case.

    Bare in mind that at this point all the CPS lawyer or AP is doing is reading out statements (usually just the one) and, unless the police have made a silly mistake in preparing the case (unlikely, given that the statements are generally a pro forma), there is absolutely nothing that actually requires two dedicated prosecutors to manage. It's a complete duplication of resources that a police prosecutor, who has been perfectly adequately dealing with everything else all morning, isn't allowed to just carry on in the same way with the proofs in absence.

    When you also chuck in the fact that the police usually send TWO of these civilian officers along for the day (one for in Court, one to speak to any defendant who turns up outside) you now have three prosecutors dealing with what are usually very routine cases.

    The CPS will be extremely happy with this as they will no longer have to cover a large number of Courts that really don't need its specialist input and the lawyers can be redistributed elsewhere. The police won't mind doing the extra bit as they are there already and so it's not really any extra work. Taxpayers can be happy as their money is no longer being spent on the current duplication. All in all, it will be a welcome change as it is that exceptionally rare thing - something that will save resources without actually having any impact on quality.

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  6. In reality though, i dont think that Police Forces have the resouces or officers to supply officers to courts.

    Secondly, there is the issue of training.

    Just another dumb idea from the Government.

    PS, WTF are the CPS meant to be doing. Sleeping?

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  7. For and against it.
    When I joined in the 80s it was the back end of having to turn up at court for most cases and for every crown court case even just to read the antecedents.Which meant being constantly deviated from my planned duties and the job couldn't care less so in effect a complete waste of time.

    However what is also a waste of time is the pointless repetitive form filling that CPS don't even bother reading other than the summary of the offence.

    Plus I would have great interest in seeing my jobs home at court rather than consistently dropped or watered down by an inexperienced CPS lawyer despite attaching guidelines showing the case was actually well above the required standards of the evidential and public interest test.CPS and police are natural enemies but CPS seem to be a law un to themselves and the police powerless to make them change their minds.

    However the vast majority of police officers hardly ever attend court. I know a chief super who has never been to court who went to pieces faster than a hand grenade when presenting 'evidence' in a disciplinary hearing and actually used the power of rank to have the room moved around to avoid eye contact with the 'accused' officers.

    So it would have to be a case of rolling back the years and having designated police officers ( a role I would love) who would be top end at the full 42 k with rent allowance and extra payments which is probably more expensive than a junior CPS lawyer.

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