Use of local information to ensure good quality decision-making
- Understanding local concerns
- How can information about local concerns be used?
This guidance is supported by the Inclusion and Community Engagement Strategy, which sets out how the CPS will:
- Embed community engagement activity so that it becomes business as usual and supports improvements in casework quality, public confidence and the diversity of its workforce;
- Further engage with communities to understand local community concerns, through a series of ‘Community Conversations’, led by senior leaders;
- Review its Local Scrutiny and Involvement Panels to support improvements to casework quality, locally and nationally;
- Review prosecution data, such as charge rates, to identify any unjustified disproportionality and take action appropriately; and
- Areas, Divisions and Directorates across the CPS will develop and implement local diversity and inclusion action plans as part of their wider people agenda to ensure their local workforce is reflective of the communities it serves.
Understanding local concerns
There are a variety of methods by which CPS Areas may understand local crime and disorder concerns:
- through priorities identified by the police and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs);
- through priorities identified and published by Community Safety Partnerships(CSPs) in their strategic plans;
- through attendance and discussions at Local Criminal Justice Boards (LCJBs);
- through CPS consultation mechanisms such as Local Scrutiny and Involvement Panels, National Scrutiny Panels and the VAWG and Hate Crime External Consultation Groups;
- through direct engagement by the CPS with communities using methods of engagement, including ‘Community Conversations’ where senior leaders engage with ‘Seldom Head’ groups and;
- from the outcomes of the local Area Community and Stakeholder Mapping exercises.
How can information about local concerns be used?
Engaging with the public to listen to local concerns enables the CPS to have a better understanding of the types of crimes experienced by communities, the impact of these crimes, and the real and perceived barriers to engaging with the criminal justice system. It leads to improvements in the quality of casework and decision-making.
Greater community confidence in the criminal justice system must be promoted as an end in itself: as a public service, it must meet the needs of all communities. Greater community confidence also means that victims and witnesses are more likely to report crime and to support a prosecution. The commitment to engaging with communities will manifest itself in relation to CPS decision-making in the following ways:
When considering whether a prosecution is in the public interest
Where there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction, prosecutors will go on to consider whether a prosecution is required in the public interest. A relevant factor to this question provided for by the Code for Crown Prosecutors states at paragraph 4.14(e) is, "What is the impact on the community?" The Code provides for the following principles:
- The greater the impact of the offending on the community, the more likely it is that a prosecution is required.
- The prevalence of an offence in a community may cause particular harm to that community, increasing the seriousness of the offending.
- Community is not restricted to communities defined by location and may relate to a group of people who share certain characteristics, experiences or backgrounds, including an occupational group.
- Evidence of impact on a community may be obtained by way of a Community Impact Statement.
An out-of-court disposal may take the place of a prosecution if it is an appropriate response to the offender and/or the seriousness and consequences of the offending.
The use of conditional cautions is governed by Part 3 (sections 22 to 27) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The Director’s Guidance on Adult Conditional Cautions and Youth Conditional Cautions should be followed.
The conditions attached to a conditional caution should either be rehabilitative, reparative or punitive. Rehabilitative conditions are intended to stop or modify offending behaviour, or help reintegrate the offender into society, and can include attending a referral programme to address specific issues relating to the offending behaviour such as alcohol or drugs. Punitive conditions should be used to punish where there are no other appropriate conditions or those conditions do not provide an appropriate and proportionate response to the offending behaviour. Reparation can take the form of compensation being paid to the victim of the crime, or alternatively, if the crime was one that affected the entire community, such as graffiti, the reparation could be cleaning up the graffiti or compensation payable to a local charity that works in the community.
Prosecutors should only accept the defendant’s plea if:
- the court is able to pass a sentence that matches the seriousness of the offending, particularly where there are aggravating features;
- it enables the court to make a confiscation order in appropriate cases, where a defendant has benefitted from criminal conduct;
- it provides the court with adequate powers to impose other ancillary orders, bearing in mind that these can be made with some offences but not with others.
One factor in assessing the seriousness of the offence is the impact on the community. If an ancillary order would benefit the community, that is one matter to take into account when considering whether the proposed plea will permit such an order to be made.
Assistance to the court when sentencing (including ancillary orders)
The role of the Prosecutor in sentencing is set out in the CPS Legal Guidance: Sentencing – Overview. There is detailed guidance about Ancillary Orders in Sentencing – Ancillary Orders. Prosecutors should address the court at sentence about the impact of criminality on a community and seek any preventative orders for the protection of the community where appropriate.
The Attorney General’s Guidelines on the acceptance of pleas and the prosecutor's role in the sentencing exercise at B4 provide that:
“The appropriate disposal of a criminal case after conviction is as much a part of the criminal justice process as the trial of guilt or innocence. The prosecution advocate represents the public interest, and should be ready to assist the court to reach its decision as to the appropriate sentence. This will include drawing the court’s attention to:
- where appropriate, to any evidence of the impact of the offending on a community”
The case of Bondzie  EWCA Crim 552 provides important guidance where a judge is invited to consider, or is considering, reflecting the prevalence of a particular type of crime in the local community:
“Sentencing levels set in [the Sentencing Council’s guidelines] take account of collective social harm…. Accordingly offenders should normally be sentenced by straightforward application of the guidelines without aggravation for the fact that their activity contributes to a harmful social effect upon a neighbourhood or community. It is not open to the judge to increase sentence for prevalence in ordinary circumstances or in response to his own personal view that there is "too much of this sort of thing going on in this area". [If a judge proposes to do so, they should follow this guidance].
Firstly, there must be evidence provided to the court by a responsible body or by a senior police officer. Secondly, that evidence must be before the court in the specific case being considered with the relevant statements or reports having been made available to the Crown and defence in good time so that meaningful representations about that material can be made. Even if such material is provided, a judge will only be entitled to treat prevalence as an aggravating factor if (a) he is satisfied that the level of harm caused in a particular locality is significantly higher than that caused elsewhere (and thus already inherent in the guideline levels); (b) that the circumstances can properly be described as exceptional and (c) that it is just and proportionate to increase sentence for such a factor in the particular case before him. It is clear therefore, that a court should be hesitant before aggravating a sentence by reason of prevalence… Only if the evidence placed before the court demonstrates a level of harm which clearly exceeds the well understood consequences of [criminality] by a significant margin should courts be prepared to reflect this in sentence. If judges do so, they must clearly state when sentencing that they are doing so.”