Saturday, 31 January 2015

False allegations: a short case study

Justice: weeding out the truth from the lies... well trying to at least

When we think of false allegations the thing that comes to mind, for me at least, is rape.  Everything about sexual offences is controversial.  There are people who believe that false rape allegations are rife and their polar opposites who cannot accept that anybody would ever lie about such a thing.  For what it’s worth, I fall in the middle.  I know that some people lie about being the victim of sexual offences (and all sorts of other offences for that matter) and I also think that most complainants are honest. 

When I say I know some people make false complaints I mean I have acted in two cases where I have no doubt at all that false allegations of sexual assaults were made – I’ve also acted in far more where I believed every word spoken by the victim(s).  But, today’s blog isn’t about sex (sorry if that disappoints you); today is about a false allegation of another type.

I recently advised a man who I am very confident had been the victim of a false allegation that he held a knife to the throat of a woman and threatened to kill her.  The complainant named the suspect saying that she had known him for many years as a neighbour, albeit that they had not had contact for nearly a decade.

Why do I say that this was a false allegation?  Well for a start he had an alibi and not one from his mum!  His alibi is that he was home awaiting a delivery and the delivery slot has been confirmed by the delivery company.  My second reason is that the complainant has made multiple false allegations against this man in the past and has been convicted of wasting police time after she falsely claimed he had a gun, causing armed police to kick in the door of the home he shares with his partner and children.

The frustrating thing is that there isn’t very much the police can do to help this man.  As the officer said, the police cannot prove conclusively that the allegation is malicious.  It’s possible that it did happen and the suspect is very convincing; it’s also possible that it never happened.  It might even be that it did happen by the complainant really was threatened but misidentified the suspect.  The police just cannot prove it one way or another.

As a police officer once told me, “people make false complaints to us all the time”.  The real problem for everyone (because any of us might receive a letter on Monday morning requiring us to attend court to sit on a jury) is separating the false complaints from the genuine.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

How do the police decide whether to charge a suspect?

Islington Police case you weren't sure

A question I’m often asked by clients (and in a roundabout way by people arriving at this blog using searches that ask the question in a variety of ways), is “how do the police decide whether to charge or take no further action (NFA)?”

What are the options?

Let’s have a quick think about what options are available to the police at the end of an investigation.

First, they can charge or report you for summons to attend court.  Charging means that you are given police bail and are required to attend court in person.  A summons is an order from the court for you to attend or for you to send a solicitor on your behalf.  In many cases where a person is summonsed, the court will allow you the option of entering a plea by post.

Second, you may be given a caution.  These can be a simple caution, which on the face of it is a warning not to be naughty in future, or it can be a conditional caution.  Conditions could include a requirement to pay for the cost of damage or compensation, etc.  Either way, you should ALWAYS take legal advice from an experienced solicitor before accepting a police caution.  Cautions may prevent you working in certain areas, such as with children or vulnerable adults and may prevent you entering some countries like Australia and the USA.

Third, the police can issue you with a fixed penalty notice.  If you decide to accept the notice – and there’s not usually a good reason to refuse to accept one – then you can decide whether to admit the offence or contest it and ask for a court date.  Accepting the fixed penalty notice does not mean you accept you committed a crime.

Finally, the police may decide to take no further action.  This means that they have not been able to find sufficient evidence to choose one of the other options and so the case is finished.  If they receive further evidence in future the case can be resurrected.

How do they decide whether to charge?


First, the police or a CPS solicitor will consider the evidence obtained by the police and decide whether there is sufficient evidence to charge.

They should consider whether the evidence is admissible, reliable and credible.  Experience makes me wonder how well versed in the law of evidence the decision makers are since they frequently seek to rely upon inadmissible evidence – in one case I’m handling at the moment they have failed to serve any admissible evidence whatsoever!

Once the CPS solicitor has identified the relevant evidence they should move on to consider whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction if the evidence were to be put before a jury or magistrate.  If the answer is “no” then the decision should be to take no further action.  If they answer is “yes” then the solicitor should move on to the public interest test.

Public interest

Lord Shawcross was Attorney General in 1951 when he said, “[i]t has never been the rule in this country, I hope it never will be, that suspected criminal offences must automatically be the subject of prosecution.”  The point he is getting at is that just because somebody has committed a crime it does not mean that it is always in the public interest to prosecute them.

The Crown Prosecution Service takes the view that crimes should always be prosecuted unless there is a good reason not to.  Good reasons typically mean some kind of infirmity or disability of the defendant, the fact that they are already serving a lengthy sentence and national security issues.  In cases of mercy killings it is common for the CPS to decide that pursuing the relative who ended their loved one’s life is not in the public interest.

Putting it together

Once the prosecutor has decided that there is sufficient evidence to charge and that it is in the public interest he or she will make a final decision on the outcome.  If the offence is minor and the suspect has made a full confession then it is likely that the decision will be to caution.  If the offence is more serious or there has not been a confession then the prosecutor will authorise the police to charge and bail (or hold in custody) the person to appear in court.

This process is called the Full Code Test and should be applied before any decision is made to charge a person with an offence or continue with a prosecution after one has begun.


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Prison UK: An Insider's View

I have just discovered this blog, written by an ex-prisoner.

I've only had the chance to skim through some of what Alex has to say but it looks like a very interesting read and one I'd like to recommend to anybody with an interest  in the Criminal Justice System.