The police, rather than independent prosecutors, should be empowered to charge suspects in most cases, three senior police chiefs said, warning of a worsening crisis in the justice system.
The controversial change is being requested by police chiefs of the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire forces, respectively the second, third and fourth largest in England after the Met.
They say the Crown Prosecution Service should be stripped of its exclusive power to authorize prosecutions in most cases, helping to drag the justice system out of a deepening crisis. This would include crimes such as domestic abuse, harassment, burglary, larceny, larceny, knife crime and violent crime.
Chiefs say delays in prosecuting suspects are leading to culprits being released and justice delayed as victims and witnesses grow weary of long waits. They say the CPS – which has faced government cuts under austerity – should be focusing on the most serious cases, but is “too spread out” to manage its current workload and increasingly complex cases.
Police chiefs say pasting “plasters” no longer works and a radical change – in effect, a return to the way things were before the CPS was created in 1986 – is needed and can be implemented quickly.
In an unprecedented intervention, the three chiefs of police state: “The ability of the CPS to provide timely advice to the collection (namely while the suspect is detained and in cells) is broken; not because of anything CPS has done, but because they don’t have the resources or the people to do what they used to do.
“We’ve been trying to fix it together for the past two years, but the plasters aren’t holding and things are getting worse. So, for the sake of victims, witnesses and everyone in the criminal justice system, we need to replace it now, restoring police the ability to prosecute most crimes while suspects are in jail.”
The call is made by Craig Guildford, who leads the West Midlands force, Stephen Watson, Greater Manchester Police, and John Robins, West Yorkshire Police.
All three senior police chiefs told the Guardian: “The Director of Public Prosecutions needs to hand the right back to the police to make prosecution decisions there and then in many more cases: domestic violence, harassment, theft, theft, larceny, crime. with knife, violent crime.
“We used to do it, the cops want it, the victims want it, the defense lawyers want it, and we’re sure the courts want it, but the system keeps saying no. We are trying to help free up CPS and the work of partner agencies to do what they are supposed to do – process, not administer.”
Causes of major delays in the justice system include cuts made by the government as part of austerity, exacerbated by the turmoil caused by Covid and subsequent lockdowns.
England and Wales Police report that suspect collection rates have plummeted in recent years.
The three senior police chiefs say, “Where is the evidence to support our claim? In March 2015, 16% of crimes were solved with prosecution and/or citation and now it is 5.6%.
“This is not because the police have suddenly become less effective. It is because of so-called ‘attrition’ that victim disengagement occurs and results in less billing due to delays and a feeling of being unsupported by a seemingly faceless and insensitive system.”
Watson, considered one of Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s favorite police chiefs, told the Guardian that long waits had driven the lifeblood of the justice system – victims and witnesses willing to testify and support prosecutions – to give up.
“We lost victims and witnesses in the process. Nothing reassures victims and witnesses more than an accusation – it’s validation. Delays lead victims and witnesses to lose faith in the system,” he said.
The assertion of the three senior police chiefs – that the crisis is getting worse – is embarrassing for the Conservatives – who made the cuts in the first place, and also for the government, which claims to be solving the problem.
Police chiefs say: “The CPS, like many other public bodies including the police and the courts, has had to change through austerity, we all understand that and this has led to a commensurate reduction in capacity. However, it seems that we are trying to do the same things, even though some elements of the system have been broken through no agency’s fault.”
The call will be seen by some critics as self-serving. Policing is under fire for scandals involving wrongdoing by its own officers and a perceived decline in effective crime fighting.
Jo Sidhu KC, a lawyer and former chairman of the criminal association, said the police chiefs’ plan is no substitute for adequate funding and risks only changing the problem. He said: “Simply giving the police more responsibility for prosecuting suspects will do little to reduce the unprecedented delays and huge backlog accumulated over recent years and which are now embedded in the criminal justice system as a result of a deliberate government policy of negligence. . and divestment.
“If the police make a wrong charging decision, then it is the CPS who will have to step in to reverse it, causing additional unnecessary delays and further pain for whistleblowers. If the police wrongly fail to charge a suspect, that too can cause real injustice.”