Society Magazine

‘Re-inventing the Wheel’ Or Just ‘Strapping Two U-turns Together’

Posted on the 24 October 2012 by Minimumcover @minimumcover

I want us to be bold and imaginative about transforming policing and the wider criminal justice system to save time and money and deliver a better service for the public

These are the words of our ‘beloved’ Home Secretary which she used to describe her latest improvement to the way Police investigate and prosecute offences. This bold and imaginative move introduces the power for Police to independently charge a number of offences that currently require consultation with the CPS. These offences include criminal damage cases under the value of £5,000, some alcohol and public order offences and driving without due care and attention. There is a caveat to this new found freedom however. The offender must be expected to offer a guilty plea in order for the powers to become available.

Now I may be missing something here, but I though this was the way it used to be before the Director’s Guidance on Charging came into force a number of years ago. This previous ‘innovative’ change in working practices resulted in officers spending hours on the phone to Duty and Out-of-Hours CPS teams. This is how that system worked:

  • Geoff gets grumpy with the latest love of his life when she refuses to walk to the other end of town for a kebab
  • Due to his limited social skills, he expresses his anger by punching the window of the newsagents, causing it to break
  • Due to his alcohol inhibited observation skills he fails to notice two fluorescent jackets standing ten feet away and is surprised when he feels a hand on his shoulder and is led away to a van
  • The next day, sober and full of remorse, Geoff admits everything and even offers to pay for the damage to the window
  • Because of previous offending he is not eligible for a Fixed Penalty or other non-court disposal
  • The Police transcribe a summary of the interview, the evidence obtained, obtain the offending history, copy all the statements and put together all the other documents that the CPS will require
  • Police either contact the duty or out-of-hours CPS prosecutors (at significant cost to the Constabulary) providing them, eventually, with their evidential package
  • Time passes
  • The CPS prosecutor agrees that his admissions are suitable and that the Police have done their job properly and authorises a charge
  • The Custody Sgt charges Geoff with Criminal Damage and off he goes to court

Fixed Penalty tickets and other disposal options have removed part of this burden in respect of some offences, but the system has always been, and will continue to be, fraught with delay and unnecessary bureaucracy. I agree with the Home Secretary that it is about time that some of the charging powers were returned to the Police, but putting things back to [almost] how they used to be can hardly be called bold and imaginative.

If the figures are to be believed, an extra 91,000 cases will now be prosecuted without CPS involvement prior to charge. With an average CPS call time of 30 minutes for these simple cases and perhaps 30 minutes of prep time these changes could represent a saving of up to 50 years of officer time – every year. This is not, in my mind, an improvement on the current system, but the reversal of a small part of the problem created by the DPP Guidance in the first place. Let’s hope that this is, as it appears, a step in the right direction and that the bosses don’t feel it necessary to introduce too many forms to mitigate the risk of allowing Police Officers to make a few decisions now and again!

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