Monday, November 23, 2009

Charging advice

The benefits of co-location, i.e. the CPS being in the police stations, are felt far more keenly by the officers than by us. They get to bring us inane questions for which they never would previously have bothered to get an appointment ("But how do I charge him, I don't know how, do I need to arrest him?"), and we get our days interrupted, and don't get as much work done.

Today, I was asked to deal with a breach of a non-molestation order. I was in the middle of some very important browsing of the internet, but the officer was loath to call CPSD.

I looked at the file. Easy-peasy. She says he's been round her house, County Court's already told him not to go round, he's got previous for doing it, no reason to disbelieve her, he knows he's not supposed to be there, and has coughed it in custody, charged in 10 minutes flat. Back to the internet, and he can go to court.

So, CPSD. CPS Direct are the little-known call centre of the CPS. The police phone them for charging advice when us normal CPS lot aren't in the office, which means they work from about 4.30 pm - 9.30 am. Actually, they also answer the phone when we can't / won't give charging advice. So they're pretty much round the clock on shifts, working from home.

The CPS sticks a phone line and fax in the lawyers' living rooms, gives them a headset and a 25% payrise, and they give out charging advice from home, over the telephone. They are, in all likelihood, sitting in their dressing gowns, a Marlboro Light sticking out the corner of their mouths, with a pot of tea on the go, and late night Radio 2 in the background.

They are a mixed bag, as are any group of lawyers. Some are excellent lawyers, which is immediately apparent when reading their advice. Some are clearly sick of the phone going at four a.m., have run out of fags, and are wishing they were still asleep. This is also obvious when we read their advice.

There isn't really a moral to that tale, I'm afraid. Just more civil servants doing a relatively difficult job, for next to no recognition. Any CPSD lawyers out there want to chip in? Anonymously, of course...


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. That comment had more spam than a Monty Python show.

  3. I love CPS direct, in my experience they are far more likely to authorise a charge than our local CPS.

    The cynic in me says this is because the CPS direct lawyer decides solely on the evidence before them rather than the fact that they may land this bag of **** case next week when they go not guilty. Of course I'm sure that's not true. ;-)

    I can't actually remember the last time I went to my local CPS for advise, I'd rather even wait for them to go home before I phone CPS direct.

  4. Dave, we all decide solely on the evidence -- if you think we are doing otherwise, you should be asking your sergeant / inspector to appeal our decisions.

    Of course, if it's a bag of crap case, as you seem to suggest, then CPSD or otherwise, it shouldn't ever get within a mile of a court...

  5. Got to agree whole heartedly with Dave. I can see no other explanation for the clear and repeated differences between charging decisions from CPS and CPSD, which I have noted myself many times. Having said that, with CPSD I simply hang up if I find myself talking to someone who is clearly not interested, and call up again, until I get someone who is.

    As for you not getting any recognition; when you are the ones who have to explain to victims whatever proposterous excuse you have come up with for not charging, you can have all the recognition you deserve!

  6. I do ask for decisions appealed. Especially when the prosecutor doesn't know the definition of Section 5 POA!! That is another story though.

    CPSD has always been quite good to me - I know a lot complain but that is generally because it's 4 in the morning as you correctly point out. The PC's don't like it either even if it generally is on OT.

    My only problem is when it is a case involving exhibits of not inconsequential value. There is no easy way to fax Mrs Miggins dead cat. I jest but you understand. For there are sometimes occasions where face to face is all that will do. So long as I can wait 4 weeks for an appointment.

  7. The main difference as I am sure people know is that CPSD decide on the basis of the threshold test for cases where we want to refuse bail for the defendant. As a result it is a much lower standard of proof required.
    In my experience THAT is the main reason why CPSD charge more often than CPS.
    A comparison on the basis of charging decisions is unfair.

  8. Anonymous the First -- I wonder if perhaps you risk conflating "not interested" with "not interested in charging". The lawyer should be paying attention, but please be aware that any decision to NFA is not taken lightly, and must be well-founded.

    As for recognition, I write letters to people when I bin cases, as the Victims' Code says I must, and I have had several face-to-face meetings and the odd telephone call. I am perfectly happy to justify my decisions to anyone, the complainant most especially.

    Aaron -- Mrs Miggin's dead cat would certainly not fit through the fax. Prosecutors are (mostly) human, let us have our stupid moments. If it becomes a habit, seriously consider complaining. This job is too important for crap people to be left alone.

    Anonymous the Second -- I'm not sure many people do know the difference between the tests. From what you say, you may not be entirely clear, either. The Threshold Test is used when the investigation isn't complete, not simply when you want to remand someone. Many in custody charging decisions are made on a Full Code Test, such as the one I set out above. I wish they were all that easy, though.

  9. AP, of course charging decisions are taken solely on the strength of evidence by both local and CPSD. To suggest otherwise would be very naughty of me.;-)

    As for writing to the victims, good for you because to my knowledge no prosecutor who has ever NFA'd a case of mine then told the victim why. That's left to me to try and explain the rules of evidence, the threshold test and why the person that we all know has stolen their money is walking away. No criticism on CPS there by the way, the public's expectations are sadly a lot higher than ours.

  10. I have no problem with stupid moments. We all get them. The inability to admit it is the most galling however but this is I am glad to say not typical of the lawyers I deal with. Perhaps I am lucky. Perhaps though it's because I try to keep the utter dross away from them.

  11. At the police station I work at, we have resident CPS, but they are not to be disturbed unless the case is reliant on CCTV, and even then you have to make a fuss to get them to look at it.
    So even though CPS are in the building we have to phone during the day to Mr or Mrs Marlborough Matinee and send them forms and copied statements by fax. What a ludicruous system. So far the longest I've waited to get through is two hours(shortest a mere half hour). And when through, if CCTV is even mentioned they tell you to go to your local CPS. And repeat the joyous cyle of futility.
    The CPS are under-resourced, but this ingenious new system means the CPS don't have anyone hanging around at their office door for advice, instead we are an inaudible, invisible, less troublesome bunch hanging on to sanity and the telephone waiting for Mr or Mrs Marlborough to nip back from the tabacconist with nice new healthy supply. What's that? - PACE clock ended? .. oh well throw them back into their, dole-claiming, Jeremy Kyle watching, dangerous dog-breeding circus and hope our grandfathers/ mothers are proud of what they fought for between 1939 and 1945. They'll come around again. Rant over!

  12. Anonymous, that's a good rant! We have charging lawyers on a rota, allegedly, but with the short-staffing that has become endemic, CPSD are used quite a lot. Our EROs know that if they have a PACE clock issue, I can be relied upon to bodge something together. During office hours, obviously. After 4.30, I'm looking for the nearest alcoholic beverage.