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DPP seeks public views on bringing non-recent cases to court - where a nominal penalty is likely

27/02/2014

The Director of Public Prosecutions has today instructed prosecutors not to dismiss complaints about crimes allegedly committed decades ago just because of the lapse in time of reporting, in a shift of focus towards ensuring potential victims have their day in court.

Alison Saunders is asking Crown Prosecution Service lawyers to carefully consider the impact of the alleged offending on the victim concerned, as well as the views of the victim on whether bringing a prosecution will help them come to terms with what they say happened to them.

Previously, the length of time passed and the fact that an offender may only receive a nominal penalty could have dissuaded prosecutors from charging a non-recent case as they may have considered it not in the public interest.

New legal guidance is now in force in relation to cases where a nominal penalty is likely to be passed, often because an offender has been prosecuted and sentenced for similar offending previously. The Director is asking for public views on the approach for the next three months. This guidance will also be applied immediately to cases currently being considered by the joint CPS/ACPO National Child Sexual Abuse Panel .

The new approach requires prosecutors to consider that "the impact over time might have become greater and led to adverse effects on the victim's physical or mental health and their circumstances in general. A prosecution, especially for a more serious non-recent offence, may help the victim through the offender being brought to justice even if the courts are likely to only impose a nominal penalty. An admission or finding of guilt may help the victim come to terms with the offence committed against them."

Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, said the guidance makes clear that a sense of justice for the victim is a crucial factor for prosecutors to consider:

"I want potential victims of crime to know that it doesn't matter how long ago a crime is alleged to have been committed, we will take it seriously and we will take the views of the victims, or their families where appropriate, into account when deciding if we should prosecute.

"Of course, where the most serious offences are being alleged, it is nearly always in the public interest to prosecute, and the evidential test remains the same - only those cases where there is sufficient evidence will be considered for prosecution. But whereas previously we have thought that the passage of time in certain cases lessened the public interest in prosecuting, that is not the case anymore. We will consider cases in the same way be they 30 days or 30 years old. I am determined that victims of these crimes get their day in court, where appropriate."

The guidance also reminds prosecutors that ancillary orders should not necessarily be considered as a nominal penalty and therefore where they are likely following conviction, it may be in the public interest to bring a prosecution.

These include (but are not restricted to):

  • Disqualification from working with children
  • Compensation orders for victims
  • Sexual offences prevention orders
  • Financial reporting orders
  • Deportation orders

Alison Saunders continued: "I want the public's views on this shift in approach, which I believe is necessary, not only for new complainants bravely coming forward for the first time, but also because we are seeing cases coming forward to the joint CPS ACPO child sexual abuse panel for review, where the allegations are in relation to offending some years ago.

"Victims may not have come forward in the past due to a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system, or for many other reasons, but this is changing. The passage of time is not a barrier to prosecution and I hope this guidance will give prosecutors the tools to help us get justice for victims who may have been living with the trauma of the past offending for many decades.

"I urge all those with an interest in tackling these crimes to respond to the consultation."

The guidance has been published for consultation on the CPS website.

Ends

Notes to Editors

  1. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  2. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are four national casework divisions: Central Fraud, Welfare Rural & Health, Special Crime & Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime. A 'virtual' 14th Area is CPS Direct which provides charging decisions to all police forces and other investigators across England and Wales - it operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  3. At 31 March 2013 we employed a workforce of approximately 6840 staff (full time equivalent), including around 2350 prosecutors and 4110 caseworkers and administrators. Further information can be found on our website:  www.cps.gov.uk.
  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. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.