Last week, leading government think tank, The Policy Exchange published a damning report recommending significant changes to the CPS and in particular, highlighted the CPS’ failure in pursuing prosecutions to conclusion.
In 2011/12 the CPS published ‘conviction rates’ of 87% in the Magistrates’ Courts and 81% in the Crown Court. However, these statistics are misleading because they include guilty pleas. Including guilty pleas in the assessment of the agency’s effectiveness in bringing prosecutions skews the results because many factors contribute to a defendant pleading guilty. If guilty pleas are excluded the CPS actually achieved a conviction rate of 60% of trials heard in Magistrates’ Court and “fewer than one-third” of trials heard in the Crown Court.
This begs the question; why are so many prosecutions not successfully pursued to conviction?
Naturally some prosecutions fail at trial because the evidence is insufficient to satisfy the jury or magistrate that the defendant is guilty. However, the Policy Exchange has identified that numerous prosecutions are failing each year because the cases are either dropped after charge by the CPS due to insufficient evidence or because they do not meet the public interest test (with cost being the CPS’ prevailing consideration in addressing this test), or, in the event a prosecution does progress, a conviction does not result because trials are either cracked or ineffective.
In 2011/12, from a total of 894,791, the CPS dropped or took no further action in 176,097 prosecutions. Of this figure a staggering 35,494 prosecutions were unsuccessful because the CPS offered no evidence. The decision to offer no evidence comes after charge and after a plea has been entered; in many instances the trial will have been listed. The huge cost and waste of resources in these instances cannot be overstated and can rarely be attributed to the defence. Aside from the cost implications, the impact upon the accused of prosecutions that are not supported by evidence must be also considered.
In 2011/12 19,230 prosecutions resulted in ineffective trials, meaning that the CPS was unable to proceed with the prosecution. In these circumstances there is sufficient evidence and the public interest test has been met, yet a prosecution cannot take place for more practical reasons such as a key witness not appearing. This represents a further huge waste in court time and money that again, cannot be attributed to the defence.
In total, failed prosecutions cost the taxpayer £25million in 2011/12. Whether a prosecution fails because it is dropped at the outset or cannot proceed for evidential or practical reasons, the findings of this report suggests a shocking lack of adequate case evaluation and preparation by the CPS. Not only is the public purse affected by these failings but also those individuals who are either charged when there are no prospects of success, prosecuted to the point of trial when there is no evidential basis or subjected to unnecessary delays due lack of prosecution case preparation.