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Decision to Charge

Once the Police have completed their investigations, they will refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for advice on how to proceed. We will then make a decision on whether a suspect should be charged, and what that charge should be.

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The Role of The Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service is the government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

As the principal prosecuting authority in England and Wales, we are responsible for:

  • advising the police on cases for possible prosecution
  • reviewing cases submitted by the police
  • determining any charges in more serious or complex cases
  • preparing cases for court
  • presenting cases at court

Find out more about the role of the Crown Prosecution Service

No charges following deaths of Sir Edward and Lady Downes


The Crown Prosecution Service has decided that, while there is sufficient evidence to charge Caractacus Downes with an offence of assisting the suicide of his parents, Sir Edward and Lady Joan Downes, it is not in the public interest to do so.

Sir Edward and Lady Downes died at the Dignitas Clinic, in Switzerland, on 10 July 2009. A short time later, solicitors acting on behalf of Mr Downes contacted the Metropolitan Police to report his parents' suicide. The police investigated the matter and a file of evidence was provided to the CPS for consideration.

Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: "The evidence indicated that, while in England and Wales, Mr Downes booked a hotel room in Switzerland for his parents' use before they attended the Dignitas Clinic and that he accompanied his parents from England to Switzerland. These acts, taken together, are capable of constituting assistance and there is sufficient evidence to charge him with an offence contrary to section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961, more commonly known as assisting suicide.

"Having decided there is sufficient evidence to charge Mr Downes, it has been necessary to go on and consider whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.

"The factor tending in favour of prosecution, in the specific circumstances of this case, is that it is clear that both Sir Edward and Lady Downes were able to book the hotel room themselves and that, nevertheless, Mr Downes undertook that act.

"However, looking at the factors against prosecution, the available evidence indicates that Mr Downes' parents had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to take their own lives and in assisting them, Mr Downes was wholly motivated by compassion. Although his parents' wills show that Mr Downes stood to gain substantial benefit upon the death of his parents, there is no evidence to indicate that he was motivated by this prospect.

"Other factors against prosecution are that Mr Downes' actions in booking the hotel room can be characterised as being of minor assistance and, after reporting the matter to the police, he fully assisted them in their enquiries into the circumstances of his parents' suicide.

"Having assessed the public interest factors in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the Policy for Prosecutors in respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide, we have decided that the public interest factors tending against prosecution outweigh those tending in favour and we have advised the police to take no further action in relation to Mr Downes."

The CPS was also provided with evidence in relation to Sir Edward and Lady Downes' daughter, Boudicca Downes, but there was no evidence that she undertook any act in England and Wales that could have assisted her parents in committing suicide.


  1. This is the first case where the public interest factors outlined in the Policy for Prosecutors in respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide have been applied.
  2. A fuller explanation of this decision is available on the CPS website: Statement by Keir Starmer QC regarding the death of Sir Edward and Lady Downes
  3. The Policy for Prosecutors in respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide was published on 25 February 2010.
  4. The Code for Crown Prosecutors is on the CPS website.
  5. It is not a criminal offence in England or Wales to attempt or to commit suicide.
  6. A person commits an offence if he or she does an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person, and his or her act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide. The act of encouragement or assistance must take place in England or Wales regardless of where the suicide or attempted suicide may take place.
  7. Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 has been amended by section 59 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 which came into force on 1 February 2010.
  8. All media enquiries to CPS Press Office on 020 7796 8127 or 020 7796 8102.
  9. The Crown Prosecution Service is the independent authority responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales. It is responsible for:
    • Advising the police and reviewing the evidence on cases for possible prosecution
    • Deciding the charge where the decision is to prosecute
    • Preparing cases for court
    • Presenting cases at court
  10. The CPS consists of 42 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). These are organised into 14 Groups, plus CPS London, each overseen by Group Chair, a senior CCP. In addition there are five specialised national divisions: Organised Crime, Special Crime, Counter-Terrorism, Fraud Prosecution, and Revenue and Customs. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales. The CPS employs around 8,250 people and prosecuted 1,032,598 cases with an overall conviction rate of 86.6% in 2008-2009. Further information can be found on our website.

    More about the CPS

  11. The DPP has published his long term vision for the prosecution service and its role within the wider criminal justice system. It includes modernising the service and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice - read "The Public Prosecution Service: Setting the Standard" at
  12. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests.

    Publicity and the Criminal Justice System protocol