There’s been lots of talk in the news recently about someone called John Terry being charged by the Met for something he’s alleged to have said to a guy called Anton Ferdinand.
I may as well start off my admitting that when it comes to football itself, I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. If you’re reading this post hoping for some insight about how the charge will affect Chelsea’s hopes of winning the Football Cup, you may be disappointed.
What I do know you a little about though is what the reports of the CPS looking at Terry’s ‘file’ and making a charging decision mean. In this shortish post I aim to explain a little about the process through which the Met will have gone to put Terry in front of the Magistrates.
Terry had been accused of using racist language towards Ferdinand during a Premier League game at the end of October this year. A member of the public had overheard him using what was perceived to be unacceptable words and had made a complaint to the Metropolitan Police. The suspicion was that the words used may amount of a Public Order offence.
The Met had looked into the allegation, no doubt referring to Loftus Road Stadium‘s truly exceptional CCTV system, and on the basis of the evidence officers conducted a voluntary interview about the matter at Terry’s home.
Having completed their investigation – gathered all of the available evidence and obtained an account from Terry himself under caution – officers then had to refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision.
Who is able to make a decision to charge a suspect with an offence – that is to say that it is appropriate to send someone to court to answer an allegation – depends on the type of offence.
For fairly straightforward cases involving relatively low level crimes – thefts, criminal damage and the like – the police can usually make the decision independently as to whether there is sufficient evidence and that it is in the public interest to send a person to court.
More complicated/serious matters or those with a domestic, racial or hate element require the CPS to review the evidence before authorising the police to charge.
Because the allegation made against Terry was that he had used racial abuse, the matter had to be submitted for the attention of CPS.
When reports were made of a file being handed to CPS, this would have meant copies of the statements collected during the investigation and possibly any visually recorded evidence such as that collected by television cameras and pitch-side microphones, had been sent for CPS to look at.
Having this evidence in their possession, CPS then need to consider The Code and decide firstly whether there is sufficient evidence to allow a realistic prospect of conviction and secondly, is it in the public interest to put the matter before the courts – the combination of these considerations being referred to as the ‘Full Code Test‘.
Once the strengths and the weaknesses of the case have been assessed, CPS will then advise the police if they think the suspect should be charged or not.
In Terry’s case CPS have made the decision that he should be charged with a racially aggravated S. 5 Public Order offence and so he will now be summonsed – told he has to appear at court – where the matter will go to trial and he will be asked to enter a plea.
The use of racially abusive language – on or off the pitch – is clearly unacceptable and if Terry is found guilty the fact that the offence is racially aggravated will inform the sentence passed. The case has been provisionally scheduled for February 1st and I’ll be very interested to see how both the courts and The FA deal with the allegation.