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Prosecuting Terrorism

Terrorism, race hate, crimes against humanity, war crimes, violent extremism, hijacking and espionage cases are tackled by a specialist team of Crown Prosecutors. The Counter Terrorism Division of the CPS includes highly experienced prosecutors, advocates and caseworkers who work closely with the police to bring offenders to justice.

Find out more about how we prosecute cases of terrorism.

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

Our rights are priceless in the relentless struggle against terrorism says Sir Ken Macdonald


A call for level headedness and legislative restraint in an age of danger and risk was made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald QC in the inaugural CPS Lecture.

Sir Ken said that technology had brought the State enormous powers of access to information but this needs to be used with great care.

"We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom's back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security State," said Sir Ken.

"Technology gives the State enormous powers of access to knowledge and information about each of us, and the ability to collect and store it at will. Of course, modern technology is of critical importance to the struggle against serious crime. Used wisely, it can protect us.

"But we need to understand that it is in the nature of State power that decisions taken in the next few months and years about how the State may use these powers, and to what extent, are likely to be irreversible. They will be with us forever. And they in turn will be built upon.

"So we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can't bear."

Describing his period as DPP as a relentless prosecutorial struggle against terrorism, Sir Ken said he regarded people's rights as priceless. Sir Ken said the best way to face down security threats is to strengthen our institutions rather than to degrade them.

"Our struggle has been absolutely grounded in due process," said Sir Ken. "We all know that this has worked. Our conviction rate for terrorism cases is in excess of 90 per cent - unmatched in the fair trial world.

"So we have been absolutely right to resist, whenever they have been suggested, special courts, vetted judges and all the other paraphernalia of paranoia. On the streets of our country, violent law-breaking is dealt with as crime. It is taken through the courts as crime. It is dealt with in accordance with our constitution. We would do well not to insult ourselves and all of our institutions and our processes of law in the face of medieval delusions."

Sir Ken described how the CPS had reinvented itself from the organisation that was set up in 1986, when it was under-funded, under-staffed and caught between strongly competing interests.

Additional funding had helped the CPS to turn itself around, but just as important was the ground-breaking proposal that the CPS should become responsible for charging in all but the most minor cases.

Before this initiative had come into operation, 36 per cent of cases in magistrates' courts were discontinued. In March 2008 the figure was 13.2 per cent.

"Decisions about which cases to prosecute need to be sound," said Sir Ken. "Our role in charging makes it more likely that investigations will comply with the rules and that abuses of police power will be avoided.

"In recent months, we have heard calls for some offences to return to police charging. It is said that the prosecutor's role increases the burdens of bureaucracy for the police.

"The gathering of evidence to bring home a fair prosecution is not an exercise in bureaucracy. It is not paperwork. It is part of the vital process of obtaining justice for the victims of crime.

"The police's role in criminal justice is not discharged simply by taking people off the streets and processing them blindly through some convenient but inept allegation to inevitable case dismissal.

"If we move backwards and return charging to the police we shall see the consequences daily in our courts. I urge Parliamentarians to exercise real caution here."

Sir Ken also called for prosecutors to be allowed to become judges, and described the current route to the circuit bench as an "unnecessary and outdated straitjacket". Opening up the judiciary to prosecutors would bring in enormous talent and flair, and radically increase the judiciary's diversity, he said.

  1. Media enquiries to CPS Press Office on 020 7796 8106.
  2. This CPS lecture is published on our website - Coming Out Of The Shadows - Sir Ken Macdonald, QC, Director of Public Prosecutions
  3. 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

    The CPS consists of 42 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales. The CPS employs around 8,400 people and prosecuted 1,091,250 cases with an overall conviction rate of 85.1% in 2007-2008.

    More about the CPS

    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