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'Justice requires that prosecutions should be undertaken by a body which is fully independent and impartial'. To what extent does the CPS fulfil this role?

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Introduction

'Justice requires that prosecutions should be undertaken by a body which is fully independent and impartial'. To what extent does the CPS fulfil this role? Until 1986, criminal prosecutions were officially brought by private citizens rather than the state: in practice, however, most prosecutions were brought by the police, though technically they were prosecuting as private citizens. This issue had been brought to ahead in 1970, when the law reform group, JUSTICE, criticised the role of the police in the prosecution process. It argued that it was not in the interests of justice for the same body to be responsible for the two very different functions of investigation and prosecuting. This dual role prevented the prosecution from being independent and impartial: the police had become concerned with winning or losing, when the aim of the prosecution should be to discovery the truth. As a result, there was a real danger of the police intentionally withholding from the defence evidence that might make a conviction less likely. The report also highlighted the fact that public policy and the circumstances of the individual were relevant considerations in the decision to prosecute, and that the English legal system was unique in Europe in allowing the whole process, from interrogation to prosecution, to be ...read more.

Middle

It is clear that there are various benefits of the CPS, including the fact that it appears to promote a higher degree of consistency in prosecuting throughout England and Wales; the establishment of the guidelines laid down should mean that 'weak cases' are discontinued before they reach court, therefore saving vital time and money; and due to the fact that such prosecutions are brought independent of the police, civil liberties should be respected and upheld and justice should prevail. However, it is important to acknowledge that despite these advantages, the CPS ran into difficulties from the very beginning, mainly because the Home Office had underestimated the cost of the new service: the salaries offered were low, therefore making it impossible to find sufficient numbers of good lawyers, resulting in a reputation of incompetence and delay. A further issue which raised concern involved the delicate relationship between the police and the CPS: the police resented the new service and its demands for a higher standard of case preparation from police. While the CPS saw a high rate of discontinued cases as a success story, the police saw this as letting offenders off the hook. ...read more.

Conclusion

Where the police do refer a case for prosecution, the CPS makes up its mind on the basis of information with which it is provided - it cannot ask for further inquiries to be made. Given that the police, once satisfied that the suspect is guilty, will tend to look for evidence that supports this conclusion, and see any material that points in another direction as mistaken, or irrelevant, the file may point a very partial picture of the true situation. In my view, although it is clear that various amendments have been made to improve the CPS and the criminal justice system, I support the view advocated by Sir Robin Auld, who argues that the CPS should be involved in criminal cases at an earlier stage and that it should be the CPS and not the police (with the exception of very minor or urgent cases) who decides the appropriate charge. Therefore, in my view, whether or not the CPS (or as it might been renamed in the near future, the Public Prosecutions Service, under plans put forward by David Blunkett) will become totally impartial and independent depends to a large degree on what further alterations are made to enhance the CPS's position and influence, such as the recent establishment of the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate. James Yates ...read more.

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