The Chief Constables of Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and West Midlands police forces have called for police to be given the right to charge suspects, a power currently reserved for independent prosecutors.
As reported by the Guardian, the police chiefs have argued that the crisis in the criminal justice system is leading to guilty people walking free when complainants withdraw cooperation during long waits for Crown Prosecution Service lawyers to authorise charges.
The senior officers told the Guardian ‘the Director of Public Prosecutions needs to give the right back to the police to make charging decisions there and then in far more cases: domestic abuse, harassment, burglary, robbery, theft, knife crime, violent crime.’
‘We used to do this, officers want it, victims want it, defence lawyers want it, and we are sure the courts do too, but the system keeps saying no. We are trying to help free up CPS and partner agency work to do what they should be doing – prosecuting, not administration.’
In an article published in The Guardian, the officers maintain that the urgency for the change is reflected within the statistics as in ‘March 2015, 16% of crimes were resolved with a charge and/or summons and now it is 5.6%.’
They deny that the reduction is due to a decrease in police efficiency, but instead attribute it to time delays within the CPS causing complainants to become disengaged with cases. They suggest a mentality of hopelessness has arisen due to feelings of being “unsupported by a seemingly faceless and insensitive system.”
The Guardian notes that the officers call for increased powers “will be seen by some critics as self-serving” in light of recent scandals involving police officers such as Wayne Couzens and David Carrick and “a perceived decline in effective crime-fighting.”
Barrister and former chair of the criminal bar association, Jo Sidhu KC argues that transferring charging powers back to the police is not going to solve the problem, but merely shift it to another part of the system and fears it would create an increased risk of injustice:
‘Simply giving the police more responsibility for charging suspects will do little to reduce the unprecedented delays and huge backlog that have accumulated over recent years and which are now baked into the criminal justice system as a result of a deliberate government policy of neglect and disinvestment.
‘If a wrong decision to charge is made by the police then it is the CPS who will have to step in to reverse it, causing unnecessary additional delays and further distress to complainants. If the police wrongly fail to charge a suspect then this can also cause real injustice.’