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Prosecution Decision

The decision about whether to go ahead and prosecute a case in court is based on two tests.

These are:

The evidential stage – the case must have a realistic prospect of conviction, and

The public interest stage – the case must be in the public interest.

The principles we follow

The Code for Crown Prosecutors sets out the basic principles to be followed by Crown Prosecutors when they make case decisions. The decision on whether or not to charge a case against a suspect is based on the Full Code Test as outlined in the Code. The Full Code Test has two stages:

The evidential stage

This is the first stage in the decision to prosecute. Crown Prosecutors must be satisfied that there is enough evidence to provide a "realistic prospect of conviction" against each defendant on each charge. They must consider whether the evidence can be used and is reliable. They must also consider what the defence case may be and how that is likely to affect the prosecution case. A "realistic prospect of conviction" is an objective test. It means that a jury or a bench of magistrates, properly directed in accordance with the law, will be more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged. (This is a separate test from the one that criminal courts themselves must apply. A jury or magistrates' court should only convict if it is sure of a defendant's guilt.) If the case does not pass the evidential stage, it must not go ahead, no matter how important or serious it may be.

The public interest stage

If the case does pass the evidential stage, Crown Prosecutors must then decide whether a prosecution is needed in the public interest. They must balance factors for and against prosecution carefully and fairly. Some factors may increase the need to prosecute but others may suggest that another course of action would be better. A prosecution will usually take place however, unless there are public interest factors tending against prosecution which clearly outweigh those tending in favour. The CPS will only start or continue a prosecution if a case has passed both stages.

The CPS also provides liaison with other agencies and Government Departments to work together to achieve improvements in the criminal justice system and to meet new domestic, European and global challenges of crime.

The principles we follow and our commitment to high standards of service are further outlined in the following:

  • Our decisions will be independent of bias or discrimination but we will always consider the interests of others. We will act with integrity and objectivity and will exercise sound judgement with confidence.
  • In our dealings with each other and the public we will be open and honest. We will show sensitivity and understanding to victims and witnesses and treat all defendants fairly.
  • We are accountable to Parliament and to the public; we will work together with our colleagues to maintain public trust and to provide an efficient criminal justice system. In explaining our decisions we will be courteous and helpful.
  • In order to achieve these high standards, we will report on our performance and respond to criticism positively.

The Code for Crown Prosecutors is available on this website in the Victims and Witnesses section.