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CPS action to understand disproportionality in charging decisions


The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has launched a programme of research to identify, understand and tackle disproportionality in its charging decisions.

Disproportionality has long been recognised as a criminal justice system-wide issue, and the CPS is committed to ongoing examination of our work to ensure suspects and defendants are treated fairly.

The CPS commissioned the University of Leeds to examine the outcomes of our charging decisions and identify whether demographic factors led to disproportionate outcomes.

The study found that there is evidence of disproportionality in the outcomes of legal decision making, with defendants from minority ethnic backgrounds significantly more likely to be charged for a comparable offence than White British defendants.

The limitations of the study mean it is not possible to identify what factors are causing this disparity, to determine what action may be needed as a result. To address this, the CPS has created an independent Disproportionality Advisory Group, made up of academics and third sector specialists, to oversee and provide expert scrutiny of a comprehensive programme of further research.

Max Hill KC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “A fair justice system is a vital part of any democratic society and the decisions we make at the CPS have a profound impact on suspects, defendants, victims and the wider public. Our decisions must be fair, consistent and transparent for justice to done.

“We undertook this research to ensure that in every case we uphold the highest standards of integrity. It is troubling that it has found evidence of unexplained disproportionality in the outcomes of our legal decision making.

“We cannot yet identify what is driving the disparities we have found, and therefore we must do further work as a matter of urgency. I am committed to taking whatever action is needed and am grateful for the scrutiny of our independent advisors as we prioritise this vital work.”

A summary of the University of Leeds research is published today. The study of almost 195,000 cases used regression analysis - the industry standard - to control for different variables such as age, sex, ethnicity and crime type to find any evidence of disproportionality in decisions that led to a charge, caution or no further action.

When ethnicity was isolated as a variable, the research found that ethnic minority defendants are significantly more likely to be charged for a comparable offence than White British defendants.

This pattern was relatively consistent across England and Wales with White British suspects having the lowest charge rate of 69.9 per cent, compared with Mixed Heritage suspects who had a charge rate of between 77.3 per cent and 81.3 per cent.

Grace Ononiwu CBE, CPS Director of Legal Services and Inclusion Champion, said: “While previous reviews had reflected favourably on the CPS, we understand how important constant check and challenge is in relation to issues of disproportionality and inclusion.

“That is why we commissioned this research and today are publishing its findings.

“And those findings are concerning, so we need to understand and tackle the drivers of disproportionality as a top priority. While issues of disproportionality cut across the whole of the criminal justice system, and wider society, there are no excuses.

“If there are actions we can take to reduce disproportionality then we will do so, and we’ll continue to work closely with our partners to ensure that the justice system as a whole is transparent, fair and inclusive.”

A comprehensive programme of further analysis will help identify reasons for any disparity in charges amongst different groups. This includes identifying information that the Leeds researchers weren’t able to access, such as prior convictions, with a view to seeing whether we can eliminate these as a contributor. Our programme also includes examining in detail the way evidence is presented to us. Our research will examine our processes and our systems to identify whether we need to change these to better support our people. We will use a number of leading-edge research techniques to examine our decision-making process from multiple perspectives, because that gives us the best chance of finding the root causes of the disparity.

An independent Disproportionality Advisory Group (DAG) has been set up to support this work and ensure quality assurance and scrutiny of its findings.

Susie Uppal, Chair of the Independent Disproportionality Advisory Group, said: “Significant further work is needed to identify the drivers behind the concerning findings of this initial research, and to design effective solutions. Independent scrutiny of both the research programme and any planned interventions will be key to addressing racial disparities.

“The Disproportionality Advisory Group brings together a breadth of expertise from the academic and third sectors. It will provide independent and robust challenge through the next phase of this vitally important work, to bring about real and lasting change.”

The group will help guide the scope of the research and ensure the right questions are being asked. The members, who will provide insights and guidance on the actions we need to take to mitigate disproportionality are:

  • Jamie Burton KC, Just Fair 
  • Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe, University of Cambridge 
  • Professor Mustafa Özbilgin, Brunel University  
  • Jason Pitter KC, New Park Court 
  • Fiona Rutherford, Justice 
  • Neena Samota, St Mary’s University, London, StopWatch and Voice4Change England. 
  • Dr Seamus Taylor, Maynooth University.

Work has already begun to understand the disparity found in the Leeds research, including breaking down the results by geographic region to determine whether factors such as local demographics and training offered to prosecutors could have an impact.

This research will be overseen by the DAG and adapted as needed following their guidance to ensure robust action is taken. The next stage of research is expected to be completed by September 2023.

Fiyaz Mughal OBE, Co-Chair of the Community Accountability Forum (CAF) said: “Disproportionality in our justice system seriously impacts individuals and communities. It is encouraging to see the Crown Prosecution Service holding themselves to account and proactively working to find a solution.

“Only by ensuring every voice is heard can justice be delivered, and we will continue to support the CPS through our networks to become the best organisation it can be.”

Notes to editors

You can read our report on examining demographic disparities on the CPS website

The Research Findings

  • The University of Leeds research has found that there is evidence of disproportionality in the outcomes of our legal decision making.

Table: Charge Rates by suspect’s ethnicity

Suspect’s ethnicity% Charge
A1 – Indian71.8
A2 – Pakistani73.5
A3 – Bangladeshi73.3
A4/O1 – Chinese73.3
A9 – Any other Asian73.4
B1 – Caribbean 77.5
B2 – African74.7
B9 – Any other Black76.5
M1 – White and Black Caribbean81.3
M2 – White and Black African79.5
M3 – White and Asian78.4
M9 – Any other Mixed77.3
O9 – Any other77.9
W1 – White British69.6
W2 – White Irish75.3
W9 – Any other White75.5
Not provided52.8
Not stated84.9
  • We will engage with third-sector stakeholders and criminal justice partners in any next steps that emerge from the findings of this further research.
  • Our Inclusion and Community Engagement strategy 2025 demonstrates our commitment to being a diverse and inclusive service, listen to those affected disproportionately by crime, and develop our understanding of disproportionality while working with partners to take action and improve. 
  • In July last year, the CPS published our new Defendants Strategy to ensure fairness in our decision-making, and that the right person is prosecuted for the right offence. The 2022/23 Action Plan sets out a range of practical steps, including creating a new mental health code in the CPS Case Management System, pilot the Joint CPS/National Police Chief’s Council Mental Health and Neurodevelopment checklist for suspects, and updating training for prosecutors dealing with complex youth casework and standard cases involving children.
  • In 2017 the Lammy Review found evidence of widespread evidence of disproportionality in the criminal justice system. However, it found that CPS decision making was broadly proportionate. The CPS undertook to conduct further, more detailed analysis, drawing on developing research best practice. 

Further reading

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