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Police and CPS Relations

Updated: December 2018|Legal Guidance


The relationship between the CPS and the police is an important one. The police have a key role in the prosecution process: they are responsible for the detection and investigation of criminal offences. The police also perform many of the tasks integral to the conduct of a prosecution: warning witnesses to attend court, obtaining further witness statements as required, and keeping victims informed as to the progress of the case. 

It is essential to develop and maintain a constructive working relationship with the police, especially in light of the interaction of Prosecutors and the police within the process of Charging. The CPS will need the cooperation and assistance of the police in many aspects of CPS work. 

A good communications system between the CPS and the police is vital. Both will benefit from a constructive means of exchanging views and information. 

In working closely with the police, it is important not to compromise the independence of the CPS. The functions of the CPS and the police are different and distinct. In giving advice to the police, the prosecutor must not assume the role of investigator or direct police operational procedures. 

However, providing advice to the police in all matters relating to criminal offences is one of the core statutory functions of the CPS. Prosecutors should therefore be alert and open to all appropriate opportunities for giving such advice, where it may contribute to the effectiveness of an investigation and prosecution. 

This chapter does not deal in detail with Charging. Reference should be made to the Director’s Guidance on Charging, elsewhere in the Legal Guidance.


The relationship between the CPS and the police carries with it responsibilities to:

  • inform
  • consult
  • advise

Consultation and the provision of information are two way activities. At many stages in the prosecution process it is essential that both responsibilities are successfully performed: for

example, at review, with proposals to discontinue and in fulfilling the prosecution’s disclosure duties.

The duty to advise the police derives from the provisions of section 3(2)e of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, from paragraph 2.2 of the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the Director’s Guidance on Charging. It is a logical extension of the CPS function to conduct criminal proceedings commenced by the police. Timely advice from the CPS can ensure that, from the start, cases are properly brought. In large, serious and complex cases in particular, the proactive early involvement of the prosecutor can bring considerable benefits to both the police and the CPS in conducting an effective prosecution; refer to the Director’s Guidance on Charging, elsewhere in this guidance.

Advice may be requested by the police, or it may be necessary to give advice without a specific request having been made (for example, where a change in the law may urgently affect the investigation of offences or the presentation of evidence).

General advice or explanations can be given to the police, provided that they are consistent with CPS national guidance.

On most occasions, the police will request advice on specific cases or areas of concern. Such

  • Informal advice
  • Early investigative advice
  • Pre-Charge advice and Charge Decision

Informal Advice

The police may make a request for advice without submitting a file. This may occur during a conversation or by telephone. How the prosecutor deals with an oral request depends upon the particular subject. If the matter is straightforward it would be wrong to insist upon the formal submission of papers which would be time-consuming and unnecessary for both the police and CPS. This will, however, only be in cases where the advice is generic, on general points of law and not case specific. For case specific enquiries and advice it is important that there is an appropriate audit trail for any advice that the police may take in investigating a case.

The prosecutor will need to decide whether the information supplied is sufficient for the request to be dealt with properly. Hasty or ill-considered advice can lead to the wrong decisions being made by the police, will damage confidence in the CPS and may need to be justified at a later stage.

The prosecutor should, therefore, exercise significant caution when dealing with informal requests for advice. If the prosecutor needs to consult others or to research a point of law before advising, a return telephone call may be the answer.

Early Investigative Advice

The police may seek CPS advice at any stage of an investigation. Early Investigative advice

may well save both police and CPS resources and time later on.

In particular the Director’s Guidance on Charging (5th Edition) notes that:

"Prosecutors may provide guidance and advice in serious, sensitive or complex cases and any case where a police supervisor considers it would be of assistance in helping to determine the evidence that will be required to support a prosecution or to decide if a case can proceed to court."

Specific cases involving a death, rape or other serious sexual offence should always be referred to a local Area prosecutor as early as possible and in any case once a suspect has been identified and it appears that continuing investigation will provide evidence upon which a charging decision may be made. Wherever practicable, this should take place within 24 hours in cases where the suspect is being detained in custody or within 7 days where released on bail.

Where a case is referred to CPS at an early stage the prosecutor may determine the information to be provided by the police, the stage at which the evidence will be reviewed and the test to be applied, and this may be in accordance with specific protocols including those relating to cases dealt with by CPS Casework Divisions or Complex Casework Units.

In an investigation which is / is likely to be lengthy, the prosecutor may need to consider the effect of time limits on detention. The passage of time may also cause the prosecutor to anticipate abuse of process arguments (refer to Abuse of Process, elsewhere in the Legal Guidance), or may affect the view as of the prosecutor as to whether it will be in the public interest to prosecute the matter when the investigation is complete (Code for Crown Prosecutors).

Pre-Charge Advice and Charge Decision

The referral to the CPS for a Decision whether to charge a suspect is sometimes referred to as Pre-Charge Advice. This is the most frequent interaction between the police and CPS. It is governed by the Director’s Guidance on Charging, elsewhere in the Legal Guidance, The Guidance is issued under the provisions of section 37A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and sets out arrangements prescribed by the Director of Public Prosecutions for the joint working of police officers and prosecutors during the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases.

On occasion a case referred to the CPS may require further evidence to be obtained before a charge decision can be made. In such circumstances the Prosecutor will advise the officer of the further material required in order to obtain a charging decision.

Information required for Investigative Advice and Charging Decisions

Paragraph 26 of the Director’s Guidance on Charging (5th Edition) sets out the information to be provided where a case is being referred to the prosecutor for investigative advice or guidance on a Charging decision.

Paragraphs 29 and 30 set out the arrangements for the CPS Area consultations in the most serious, sensitive or complex cases and written advice arrangements

Paragraph 32 sets out the information required for prosecution - the National File Standard.

Appropriate and Inappropriate Requests for Advice

It is proper to advise on the legal or evidential effect of any particular operational procedure, whether the activity has taken place or is merely proposed. The prosecutor must not advise on the appropriateness or the efficacy of any operational matter.

CPS advice on appropriate subjects will often affect police operations. But the decision on how to implement the CPS advice (if it is accepted) is a matter entirely for the police.

Advice concerning police operational matters should be confined to:

  • indicating the nature of the evidence required
  • commenting on the likely effect of actual or proposed activity on a prosecution
  • identifying legal or evidential elements which need to be addressed
  • advising on the admissibility of evidence obtained / likely to be obtained
  • highlighting any public interest considerations which may affect any eventual prosecution

The CPS should not advise the police on issues concerning:

  • operational matters
  • questions of civil law
  • cases which are not properly referable under the Director’s Guidance on Charging, which should be dealt with by police supervisors
  • the grant of licences (liquor, gaming, firearms etc)
  • internal disciplinary matters
  • matters relating to traffic control (parking restrictions, PSV licensing etc)

There is sometimes an overlap between criminal offences and matters of civil law (for example, the storage and disposal of property in police possession; the housing and destruction of dangerous dogs). Appropriate advice may be given where the issue is concerned with the conduct of a prosecution (for example, an item may be required as an exhibit). However, where the request for advice is an inappropriate one because it concerns matters of civil, not criminal, law, the police should be referred to their own solicitors: refer to Communications between CPS and police - Legal Professional Privilege or Public Interest Immunity.

Requests for advice may be inappropriate for other reasons: A junior officer might request advice on a matter which could properly be resolved by his supervising officer; or the police might persist in sending advice requests where the decision could and should have been taken by them.

Such requests should be dealt with sensitively. Encourage the police, where possible, to channel all advice requests through a suitable single channel or filter. Local liaison should help resolve any difficulties.

Communications between CPS and police - Legal Professional Privilege or Public Interest Immunity

See the section Communications between CPS and police - Legal Professional Privilege or Public Interest Immunity in the Legal Guidance on Disclosure of Material to Third Parties.


Requests for Police Enquiries

You may receive an allegation, from a person or body other than the police, that a criminal offence has been committed.

Examples might include:

  • a complaint by a private individual
  • a referral by a judge or magistrate regarding matters arising at court
  • a complaint from a local authority

In such cases, you will need to decide whether the police should investigate the matter. Factors which may influence your evaluation may include:

  • the source of the allegation
  • whether any previous complaints have been made
  • whether there has already been a police investigation
  • the nature and seriousness of the offence
  • the likely result if enquiries are made

If you conclude that there should be further investigation, you should refer the matter to the police. If in doubt, it may be preferable to request an enquiry.

Resolution of Disputes

There will be times when the police disagree with CPS decisions. Common instances are likely to include: 

  • charging advice and decisions given by CPS but not followed by the police
  • further investigation requested but not performed (for instance Action Plans on an MG3)
  • disagreement over a proposed discontinuance
  • dissatisfaction by the police about the general conduct of a case by the CPS 

There should be regular informal contact locally at appropriate levels to ensure that difficulties are quickly resolved. In cases of Pre-Charge advice, there is an established escalation procedure set down in the Director’s Guidance on Charging if matters cannot be satisfactorily resolved between the immediate parties. Locally, the police should be able to discuss matters of concern with an identifiable member of CPS staff. Equally, this will enable the prosecutor to raise concerns the other way as and when they occur.

A formal complaint will require a response in accordance with the CPS complaints procedure. Generally, the senior person responsible for that aspect of the case giving rise to the complaint should draft the reply, which should be as clear and open as possible.

On a branch, substantial disputes should be notified to the DCP. Similarly, the draft response to a formal complaint should be passed to the DCP / for approval.

With cases dealt with personally by the DCP / formal complaints and draft responses should be submitted to the CCP (Head of Division Casework Divisions) for approval.

Every effort should be made to resolve matters locally. As a last resort, the Chief Constable can raise his concerns personally with the CCP. If essential, the DPP may become involved.

Associated Guidance

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