Decision to charge
The Crown Prosecution Service and the police work together to bring criminals to justice.
When a crime is reported the police investigate to find out what has happened. They talk to the victim, the witnesses and the suspects and take statements. They collect evidence about the crime that shows what happened, who did it and why.
The police create a file about the crime. They collect together all the information they have found, the evidence and the statements. When they think they know who did the crime and have enough evidence to prove it, or when they need advice, they show the file to a Prosecutor.
Prosecutors work for the Crown Prosecution Service; they are completely independent of the police. The Prosecutor looks at the file and decides:
- If the evidence is strong enough to provide a reasonable chance of conviction in court - The Evidential Test
- If it is in the public interest to take the case to court - The Public Interest Test
These are called the two tests.
The Evidential Test
Prosecutors must be sure that there is enough evidence to provide a 'realistic prospect of conviction'. They must consider what the defence case may be, and how that is likely to affect the prosecution case.
A realistic prospect of conviction is an objective test. It means that a jury or bench of magistrates or judge hearing a case alone, with the correct advice about the law, is more likely than not to find the defendant guilty.
Prosecutors must ask themselves the following questions:
- Can the evidence be used in court?
- Is it likely that the evidence will be excluded by the court? There are certain legal rules which might mean that evidence which seems relevant cannot be given at a trial. Hearsay evidence is an example of this.
- Is the evidence reliable?
- What explanation has the defendant given?
- Is the evidence about the identity of the defendant strong enough?
- Are there concerns over the accuracy or credibility of a witness?
The Public Interest Test
Once a case has passed the Evidential Test it has to undergo the Public Interest Test.
Public Interest is about the common good. Things that are in the Public Interest affect the wellbeing of the citizens of a country, or groups of the citizens in the country.
A prosecution will usually take place unless there are public interest factors that mean that it would be better to deal with the crime in another way.
Prosecutors think about all the things for and against a prosecution carefully and fairly.
Factors that make it more likely to prosecute include:
- The offence was committed against a person serving the public, e.g. a police or prison officer, a nurse, etc
- The evidence shows that the defendant was a ringleader or an organiser of the offence
- The crime was violent
Factors against prosecution include:
- The offence was committed as a result of a genuine mistake or misunderstanding
- The loss or harm can be described as minor and was the result of a single incident, particularly if it was caused by a misjudgement
You can find out more about the two tests in the Code for Crown Prosecutors
To Prosecute or not to Prosecute - You decide
Just Deserts video
Watch the Just Deserts Video and find out how Prosecutors and the police work together to bring criminals to justice.
This video is in Flash format.
You can find out what happened to Jerome in the rest of the video in the Going to Court section of this website.
As we saw in the video about Jerome sometimes a Prosecutor will look at a case file and suggest collecting other evidence to strengthen the case. The Prosecutor and Police work closely together to make sure that Criminals are brought to justice.
Alternatives to going to Court
Sometimes it is not right to send a case to court.
When we talked about the Public Interest Test we thought about factors against sending someone for trial. These can be things like:
- The suspect admits they did the crime
- The suspect is very young
- It is a first offence
- It is a minor offence and no one was hurt
- It was a genuine mistake
We think about the crime that has been done, what is right for the victim, the community and the person accused of the crime.
If the suspect admits they did the crime and the Prosecutor decides the factors against them going to court outweigh the factors for sending them to court, there are alternatives.
These are called out of court disposals. The purpose of out-of-court disposals is to:
- Punish criminals
- Help them understand what they did was wrong
- Stop them doing it again
Out-of-court disposals can be things like cautions or conditional cautions or fines. To give someone a caution there must be enough evidence to charge them with a crime and they must admit they did it.
If a person is given a caution it is written on their police record. If they are found guilty of another crime in court we can tell the court about the caution before they are sentenced.
- A caution is a warning given by the police to a person who has admitted a crime.
They are told that their behaviour was wrong.
They are warned that if they do another crime they are very likely to go to court.
- Conditional Caution
- A conditional caution is a warning given to a person who admits to a crime.
Conditional Cautions have rules. If you break the rules you have to go to court.
- You are said to have a conviction when you have been found guilty of a crime in a court.
- A defendant is a person accused of a crime.
- Evidence is information that makes it clear that something happened.
- When you are found guilty of a crime it means that the court believes you did the crime and will punish you for it.
- Hearsay Evidence
- Hearsay evidence is information given by one person who heard it from someone else. The person giving the evidence did not see the crime happen.
- The Judge is the head of the court who decides about things to do with the law.
In some courts the Judge decides if the defendant did the crime.
In other courts the Jury tell the Judge if they think the defendant did the crime.
The Judge makes sure the trial is fair, tells the jury about the law and decides the sentence.
- A Jury is a group of 12 men and women who listen to a trial at the Crown Court and decide if the defendant did the crime or not.
- Magistrates are trained volunteers who deal with about 95% of the criminal cases in England and Wales.
Magistrates make decisions in magistrates' courts. They usually work in twos or threes (called a bench). They have a legal adviser to help them with the law.
- Objective Test
- An objective test is a test that is based on evidence. It does not take account of opinion or supposition.
- Prosecutors are lawyers who represent the people. Prosecutors speak in court to accuse a person of a crime.
They show the court the evidence they have found.
They do this to protect the public.
- Magistrates and Judges decide what sentence to give people found guilty of a crime.A sentence is a punishment but it also tries to:
Make things better - restorative justice
Protect the public
Help the defendant understand what they have done and feel sorry
Stop the defendant doing the crime again
- You make a statement by writing down or recording what you saw, or what happened to you.
- The suspect is the person the police think did the crime.
- The victim is the person the crime was done to.
- A witness is a person who sees the crime being done, or sees or knows something that shows who did it.