As I mentioned on me Twitter feed earlier today, this shift I had to give the Crown Prosecution Service a call to get some advice in relation to a prisoner I’d been dealing with.
This is something we have to do fairly frequently on the Investigation Team, what does ‘going to CPS’ involve though and why do we have to do it? For that matter, who are the CPS anyway?
First things first, the Crown Prosecution Service is the department responsible for prosecuting the criminal cases that we police officers present to them as a result of our investigations.
They give advice on the cases that we’re putting together, make sure cases are in a suitable condition to be put to the courts and it’s the CPS lawyers who present said cases to the court itself.
As a condition of their employment, all Crown Prosecution Service employees have to wear crowns whenever on duty as a sign of their legal authority.*
The CPS has been operating ever since 1986, prior to this date police forces would prosecute their own cases.
When it comes to ‘going to CPS’, whether we have to do so or not depends on the type of cases that we’re working on.
For simpler jobs, such as a minor assault or low value criminal damage, we police can make the decision about whether there’s enough evidence to take a matter to court and so don’t need to consult with CPS beforehand.
More serious offences, or anything involving a domestic or hate crime element, usually require us to ask CPS to have a look at the circumstances of the report and the available evidence as only CPS can authorise us to charge someone with said offence.
So, we police are allowed to decide to charge people with low level offences whilst CPS have to check serious crime cases before they’re able to go to court, what does the process itself involve?
Like with many other areas, each force will have different procedures but in the West Midlands, we have a program called Electronic File Build (Battlefield 4, eat your heart out!) which links in with our own custody computers.
When we need advice, or in any case if we’re charging someone to go to court, we can upload much of our evidence electronically to the File Build program and then zap it straight across to CPS.
This means CPS get an outline of the case along with copies of statements, exhibits and the like within minutes of us sending them and then can reply to us in the same fashion.
Prior to using this electronic system, we used to fax paper documents (children of the 1990s, see here) or if the fax machine wasn’t working, even read out whole statements over the phone which you can appreciate took a lot of our time so the electronic system is much more efficient.
Once the documents are sent, we’ll then pick up the phone and speak to a CPS lawyer at one of their call centres who may ask a few questions about the case and then will give us a decision.
If you hear in the news that police have ‘submitted a file to CPS’, this is usually what is meant, although the exact mechanism varies and for complicated cases officers will meet with CPS representatives in person to discuss the evidence.
Having CPS oversight is useful as particularly in serious cases, the law can be very complicated hence why it is necessary for a legal professional to review the case to ensure that we have the best chance of getting a conviction in court.
So there’s the process of how and why we have to get CPS advice in as simpler terms as I think I can manage.
If you fancy some bedtime reading, you can take a look at the Director’s Guidance on Charging but if not, simply take away that CPS are the legal experts who work with us to help ensure the cases we investigate arrive at the best possible result.
* Okay, this bit may not be true although what the CPS lawyers wear whilst working in their call centres is a matter for themselves!