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The Role of The Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service is the government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

As the principal prosecuting authority in England and Wales, we are responsible for:

  • advising the police on cases for possible prosecution
  • reviewing cases submitted by the police
  • determining any charges in more serious or complex cases
  • preparing cases for court
  • presenting cases at court

Find out more about the role of the Crown Prosecution Service

Decision to Charge

Once the Police have completed their investigations, they will refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for advice on how to proceed. We will then make a decision on whether a suspect should be charged, and what that charge should be.

Find out more about private prosecutions

Head of CPS London plans to turn service around


The new head of the Crown Prosecution Service in London has set in place plans to improve the service CPS London provides to victims and witnesses in the capital.

Alison Saunders, who became CPS London's Chief Crown Prosecutor in December, is recruiting dozens of new lawyers and will be increasing the number of paralegal assistants in Crown Courts over the coming months. This is part of a wide scale improvement plan to address areas where CPS London has been identified as underperforming. Ms Saunders has spent the first months of her appointment identifying and tackling the issues identified in today's Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate report, which highlights a number of areas where CPS London needs to raise its level of service.

In responding to the report, Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the CPS, said:

"I am fully aware that CPS London needs to perform much better than it does now and making that happen is a process which I will be closely involved with. I have confidence that under Alison Saunders' direction CPS London's challenges will be addressed and that our performance in London can be turned around."

CPS London has accepted all of the report's recommendations and Ms Saunders is keen to highlight the advances that have already been made since the inspection was carried out.

She said:

"This report does not make easy reading for us. It confirms the shortcomings that we had already identified and have begun to address. In recent years, CPS London embarked on an ambitious and groundbreaking programme of new projects and initiatives, all of which will deliver, or have already delivered, benefits. Implementing those changes could have been handled better and we will now give those initiatives time to embed before they bring the longer term benefits for London which they were implemented for in the first place.

"While the Inspectorate has identified many areas for improvement, it is heartening that some areas of strength have also been noted such as the commitment and effort they saw in the majority of our staff. In particular, the report identifies that CPS London performs well in adhering to custody time limits and in handling effective, ineffective and cracked trials, and that its Complex Casework Unit handles murder and other complex cases well.

"I, along with my new senior management team, have ensured that our focus now is to enable all who work in CPS London to work most effectively in preparation of cases for court and the core business of prosecuting offenders. We are improving and we now need to increase that momentum."

Steps to improve CPS London performance since the inspection took place include:

  • moving 45 staff from a central team to the front line and to court
  • recruiting 42 more prosecutors to fill the capability
  • redeploying resources to assist in Crown Court case preparation and progression
  • delivering more paralegal assistants and officers to Crown courts so that each paralegal officer is covering only two courts at a time undertaking a legal skills assessment to inform training and development over the next year and to improve the way in which we prepare and progress cases
  • the new CPS Core Quality Standards from April.

Alison Saunders continued:

"Our new Core Quality Standards, which will set out what the public can expect from the CPS at each stage of a prosecution, will help staff to maintain that performance across all areas of their work.

"The report states that convictions in London have increased since 2007, while prosecuting more cases. There was also recognition that CPS London operates with the unique casework challenges associated with being in the economic and political capital and given that many victims and witnesses are in the area on a transient basis.

"We are also pleased that the Inspectorate has recognised that the new senior management team acknowledges, and has already started to tackle, these challenges."

Notes to Editors

1. Alison Saunders may be available for interview. Please contact the press office on 020 7796 8127 to place a bid.

2. The DPP has published his long term vision for the prosecution service and its role within the wider criminal justice system. It includes modernising the service and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice - read The Public Prosecution Service: Setting the Standard at

3.The CPS consists of 42 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). These are organised into 14 Groups, plus CPS London, each overseen by Group Chair, a senior CCP. In addition, there are five specialised national divisions: Counter-Terrorism, Fraud, Organised Crime, Revenue & Customs and Special Crime. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales. The CPS employs around 8,250 people and prosecuted 1,032,598 cases with an overall conviction rate of 86.6% in 2008-2009. Further information can be found on our website:

4. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. The Protocol is published on our website