How cases are prosecuted in the CPS: From charge to conviction - a case study

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The CPS prosecuted 533,161 cases last year. Here, see how we prosecuted a man for murder from the first phone call through to conviction.

On the evening of Friday 26 May 2018, a young woman should have been celebrating her 29th birthday with friends. When she failed to show, concern started to grow for her whereabouts. Her friends became so worried they travelled to her home and, after there was no answer at the door, they decided to call the police.

After forcing entry to the flat, the police discovered two people inside - the young woman, Christina Abbotts, on the bed with significant injuries on the back of her head, and Zahid Naseem, who was semi-conscious.

The flat was locked from the inside.

The police contacted the CPS’s national 24-hour service, CPS Direct, for a charging decision.

Here is what happened next.

Timeline

28 May 2018

CPS Direct Senior Crown Prosecutor David Gossip is on shift. It is after 9pm on a Sunday evening before a bank holiday.

“May bank holiday is a notoriously busy shift at CPS Direct, and that night was no exception,” said David.

“As soon as the case came in I evaluated all the evidence in the file from the police. It was clear to me there was enough evidence to charge Zahid Naseem and it was in the public interest to do so (see the Code for Crown Prosecutors).

“In line with normal procedure I contacted the manager on shift with the case information. She agreed with my decision to authorise charging Zahid Naseem with the murder of Christina Abbotts.

“Sometimes we will need to ask the police for further evidence before we can authorise a charge, but in this case it wasn’t necessary. Every case is different. When authorising the charge, I discussed the case thoroughly with the officer. Information I was looking for was: whether there were any mental health issues we needed to be aware of; what further inquiries the police were planning to make; and whether they foresaw any issues with the case.

“Homicide cases are always saddening. This one was particularly so as the victim was so young and the attack was so incomprehensible.”

4 June 2018

The case is transferred from CPS Direct to the regional team in the South East. Senior Crown Prosecutor Jayne Cioffi is allocated the case.

“The handover of this case worked in the same way as the thousands of others dealt with by CPS Direct each year,” explains Jayne.

"After David made the charging decision, the case was given to me as reviewing lawyer. I kept it under continual review until the trial date. This included keeping in regular contact with the police officers on the case, the defence lawyer representing Zahid Naseem, and the barrister instructed to prosecute the case our behalf, Christopher Tehrani QC, and meeting with the bereaved family.

“Originally we were told Zahid Naseem claimed he could not remember events. Seven weeks before the start of the trial, we were contacted by the defence lawyer who said self-defence and/or loss of control were the likely defences to be put forward. However, due to the ferocity of the attack he launched on his victim we were able to convince the jury otherwise.”

11 December 2018

The trial of Zahid Naseem for the murder of Christina Abbotts begins at Lewes Crown Court, prosecuted by Christopher Tehrani QC from Exchange Chambers.

He said: “I was instructed to prosecute this case shortly before the plea and trial preparation hearing. Before this hearing I liaised with defence counsel to identify what the true issues at trial were to be, and the CPS and the police regarding any outstanding matters and issues that needed to be addressed in view of the identification of the true issues in the case.

“In advance of the hearing, I prepared a full note for the court outlining what the true issues at trial were to be, outlining the further evidence that the prosecution expected to serve with a timetable for service of the material.

“At the conclusion of the hearing, I had a consultation with the CPS and the police where other matters, including disclosure, were addressed. In the lead up to the trial, I liaised closely with the reviewing lawyer, the CPS paralegal officer and the police to ensure that the trial proceeded smoothly. Due to the close co-operation between the prosecution team, the trial proceeded smoothly with no delays.”

20 December 2018

Zahid Naseem is convicted of murder and jailed for 19 years.

January 2019

David and Jayne revisit the case now the defendant has been convicted. David said: “It is really instructive to evaluate cases you’ve worked on once they have finalised to see how we could have improved. What I noticed in particular in this case was the way Jayne and the team handled this case and the close contact they maintained with the family to support them.”

Jayne said: “Having met the family on several occasions, I was particularly pleased that we were able to bring a murderer to justice through a real team effort and I hope that, in some small way, we have helped Christina’s family and friends to get some closure, so that they can start to move on with their lives.”

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