The decision to charge
Role of the Crown Prosecution Service
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the independent public authority responsible for prosecuting people in England and Wales who have been charged by the police with a criminal offence.
In undertaking this role we:
- Advise the police on cases for possible prosecution
- Review cases submitted by the police for prosecution in accordance with the principles in The Code for Crown Prosecutors
- Consider the alternatives to prosecution in appropriate circumstances
- Where the decision is to prosecute, determine the charge in all but minor cases
- Prepare cases for court
- Present those cases at court.
Once the police have completed their investigations, they will refer the case to us for advice on how to proceed in all but the most minor and routine cases. We will then make a decision on whether a suspect should be charged, and what that charge should be.
The Crown Prosecution Service does not act for victims or the families of victims in the same way as solicitors act for their clients. We act on behalf of the public and not just in the interests of any particular individual.
Our prosecutor will read the file and consider the two tests laid down in The Code for Crown Prosecutors, which sets out the basic principles that crown prosecutors must follow when making prosecution decisions. These tests must be applied in every case.
The evidential test
The prosecutor must first decide whether or not there is enough evidence against the defendant for a realistic prospect of conviction.
This means that the magistrates or jury are more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge. If there is not a realistic prospect of conviction, the case must not go ahead, no matter how important or serious it may be.
It is the duty of every Crown Prosecutor to make sure that the right person is prosecuted for the right offence. In doing so, Crown Prosecutors must always act in the interests of justice and not only for the purpose of obtaining a conviction.
The public interest test
If the crown prosecutor decides that there is a realistic prospect of conviction they must then consider whether it is in the public interest to prosecute the defendant. While the public interest will vary from case to case, broadly speaking the more serious an alleged offence the more likely it will be that a prosecution is needed in the public interest.
A prosecution is less likely to be needed if, for example, a court would be likely to fix a minimal or token penalty, or the loss or harm connected with the offence was minor and the result of a single incident.
The interests of the victim are an important factor when considering the public interest. Crown Prosecutors will always take into account the consequences for the victim and any views expressed by the victim or victims' family.
Deciding not to prosecute
If the crown prosecutor decides that a prosecution should not go ahead, the case will be stopped, usually by what is called 'discontinuance'. Unless there are special circumstances which mean that it is not appropriate to do so, you will be told the reasons for the decision to stop the case.
Often the hardest decision can be to conclude that there isn't enough of a case to go to court, even where the public favour a prosecution.
The decisions made by the CPS are based on publicly available, clear and visible legal guidance.
If a prosecutor decides not to bring charges against a suspect, discontinues proceedings or offers no evidence in a case, you have a right to request that we review that decision under the Victims' Right to Review scheme. Details of how to request such a review can be found elsewhere in this section of the website.