Withdrawal of Warrants

Legal Guidance

Withdrawal of Bench Warrants

The primary responsibility for reviewing outstanding warrants lies with the police. However, in practice, the CPS has a continuing duty of review to ascertain whether the proceedings and the warrant should be withdrawn. In addition, the judiciary and magistracy have to consider each warrant withdrawal.

Decision to withdraw a Warrant - factors to consider

Each case must be reviewed on its own facts and on its own merits. The factors to consider will vary from case to case but are likely to include the following:

  • the gravity of the offence;
  • the staleness of the offence;
  • the likely penalty, bearing in mind the delay between offence and sentence;
  • the strength of the evidence, bearing in mind the passage of time;
  • the accused's character and antecedents (including bail history);
  • the nature of the offence and its impact upon the victim, and the redress available to him or her;
  • the likelihood of the victim being traced and/or attending court.

Representations as to bail are part of the conduct of proceedings for which the CPS is responsible, so the police should be discouraged from making their own applications to withdraw warrants (with the exception of Police led Prosecution cases, which are not dealt with by the CPS until the case has become de-specified upon the entry of a not guilty plea).

It should be noted that if the defendant was not on bail when the warrant was issued (e.g. because the case began by summons or first instance warrant), a Bail Act 1976 offence will not have been committed.

Timeline and Procedure to withdraw a magistrates' court warrant

The CPS Area will ask their Police Force to provide the information on each outstanding warrant case as set out above. The CPS should also ask the police:

  • whether the accused has appeared and been sentenced at another court since the warrant was issued (it is not unknown for outstanding warrants to be overlooked);
  • what efforts have been made to execute the warrant; and what the view of the police is if the warrant were to be withdrawn;
  • whether there is any realistic prospect of arresting the defendant in the future;
  • whether there has been any change of circumstances, e.g. whether witnesses are no longer available or no longer willing to give evidence;
  • whether the victim's views have been requested and taken into consideration;
  • any other applicable public interest factors in the Code that should be borne in mind.

The Police will provide the CPS the results of their enquiries. This will include a list of warrants that they think should be withdrawn, and a list of warrants that they think should continue in force, providing reasons in each case.

CPS prosecutors will review the substantive offences in accordance with the Full Code Test of the Code for Crown Prosecutors, i.e. the evidential and public interest stages. They must bear in mind that mere lapse of time does not itself mean that either of these stages can no longer be satisfied.

If the reviewer decides that the substantive offence should be discontinued, any Bail Act offence should be reviewed. Failure to surrender to bail granted by a court is a serious offence. It is important that the CPS is not seen to diminish its gravity. If the reviewer decides that the substantive offence is to continue, the warrant should also continue.

The CPS will produce a standard form report in each matter, setting out:

  • the results of the police enquiries;
  • their recommendation to the Court;
  • their decision and the reasons for it, i.e. why the warrant should be withdrawn, or why the warrant should continue in force.

The CPS will provide the courts with their recommendations. They will provide a list of warrants that they think should be withdrawn, and a list of warrants that they think should continue in force, providing reasons in each case.

Courts will list cases for consideration of renewal/withdrawal of warrants in specific sessions on a regular basis, dependent on the volume of casework in that Area.

A withdrawal of warrants court session can be in the form of separate sessions for each magistrates' court, or a combined session for all courts in a local Area.

An Associate Prosecutor will attend the warrant withdrawal court on behalf of the CPS. The court will be provided with the reviewing lawyer's reports to support their applications. The court will hear representations from the Crown Prosecution Service/relevant prosecuting authority as to how they wish to proceed.

The following options are available to the court:

  • the warrant is withdrawn; or
  • the warrant is not withdrawn, and the matter is set down for trial; or
  • the warrant is not withdrawn, the prosecution offers no evidence and the magistrates dismiss the case; or
  • the warrant is not withdrawn, but the case is put over for further enquiries to be made, or for further attempts at executing the warrant to be carried out.

If the defendant has been convicted prior to the warrant being issued, either in person or in his absence, the court may wish to proceed to sentence in the defendant's absence. It may be that the matters will need to be passed on to the enforcement authorities.

The court will make a decision in open court whether or not the warrant is to be withdrawn.

If the warrant is to be withdrawn, the court must immediately notify the police, in order that the force can update the PNC to reflect that the defendant is no longer on warrant. The police must then return the warrant to the court and notify CPS when done.

The CPS will write any Direct Communication with Victims (DCV) letters as required.

Levels of Decision Making

A decision to withdraw a bench warrant should be endorsed by an experienced prosecutor. Where the warrant relates to a charge which must be dealt with by a prosecutor of a suitable grade, the decision to withdraw a bench warrant should be endorsed by that prosecutor.