Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Getting A Little Bit Back ..

The Crown Prosecution Service and us working together to bring offenders to justice. That has a lovely ring to it but I've never found us to be singing from the same hymn sheet. I think that most police officers see the CPS as one of the main causes of increased paperwork, leading to the inevitable result of dodgy NFA or dumbed down charges after charging advice.

Not totally their fault of course, they have to apply the Prosecutors Code and take into account the public interest so would need to see as much possible evidence at the outset to reach a decision. This means in reality massive case files being completed so they can write loads to justify their decisions. I might be a tad cynical however there appears to be an agenda to keep things simple charge wise and out of the Crown Court where possible.

The first time I encountered the CPS charging was over a knife possession where everything had to be faxed off to a lawyer sat in the back of beyond. It was something I as custody officer would have charged as offensive weapon straight off, it being a proper hunting knife. Two hours later the advice came back to charge as points and blades (lesser charge). Waste of two hours there then over something that would have usually taken two minutes. They would have always changed the charge at court to points and blades to get a plead in any event.

We haven't helped ourselves in the past by charging people only to bring incomplete investigations to court where the CPS have had little option but to pull the prosecution due to the lack of a vital statement. I'm pretty certain that there has been a massive percentage decline in discontinued cases since they took over the charging authorisations. Hooray for that target being met but has justice been done in the long run?

The CPS lawyer in the station system soon fell into disrepute, when they were there but unavailable except on an appointment basis bar remand cases. These slipped back later and later until it was a pointless exercise. If you got a weary one most people would wait until they went off home anyway to use the out of hours system where you stood a chance of something more than NFA. They just got snowed under by the paperwork in the end.

It's good to see that some charging responsibility is coming back to the police. It's for summary only cases but will there now be a temptation for us the police to down grade charges ourselves to keep away from CPS and speed things up a bit? It makes sense for the CPS to stick to the serious or complicated cases, but why can't we have the simple theft either-way cases back too? All cases will still get reviewed by the CPS who will have the final say on if they get pulled or not before reaching court.

We rarely got it wrong when we charged in the past and hopefully now with dedicated prisoner processing units the paperwork standards on individual cases will be better too. This is a step in the right direction and will help somewhat. I stated last year that I had noted a sea change from above and now slowly things are actually changing.

15 comments:

Dandelion said...

Are you saying the police don't bother worrying about silly things like the public interest or the likelihood of conviction? If they're sending lots of stuff to CPS that gets NFA, then maybe they could save themselves time and paperwork by applying some common sense...

Stressed Out Cop said...

In the very recent past the targets thing re sanction detections and pressure from above meant that lots of stuff indeed went to CPS and it was they who prosecuted in all cases. We just got the bad press.

Just as many common sense - evidence suggesting they did it cases "failed" their test and got NFA. Likelihood of conviction can be rather subjective.

Recently the pressure is off and I have stepped in several times to NFA stuff not troubling CPS, so yes common sense is being allowed to return. And that's NFA stuff where they did it and the public interest wouldn't be served by prosecuting.

MTG said...

Better to forego an exhumation of the past and the unpleasant police history which gave rise to CPS and the present state of affairs.

The pendulum did swing too far and I welcome the developments for several reasons. CPS was given a glorious opportunity which it abused and spurned. It is now in the public interest to have this gang of lawyers constantly looking over its shoulders.

You recently posted a topic on 'second chances', SOC. Let me conclude by pointing out the very poor form shown when a second chance has been granted and fluffed.

Metcountymounty said...

Dandelion, welcome to the realm of the National Crime Recording Standards or NCRS. What they are is a dictate from the home office that requires ANY crime reported to the police MUST be investigated. This is even if a) it's not actually a crime - it only needs someone to think it is even if it isn't - and b) that common sense dictates it's a complete waste of time.

NCRS also states that an investigation should continue once reported even if the 'victim' doesn't want to know and if there are any 'gravity factors' such as a racial homophobic or domestic element. This is to make sure the 'victim' isn't being bullied or harassed into dropping the allegation. NCRS came about partly because of the MacPherson report which said we're all institutionally racist despite not actually providing an iota of evidence to support the accusation, and because of (mainly Guardian readers) complaints that police officers were deciding that some investigations were not going to go anywhere because of insufficient evidence so the investigations never happened.

By forcing us to investigate everything our ability to actually investigate was stripped out as we were never given the resources to assist with the new massive workload on top of everything else. You've asked before why we sometimes can't get to every single call, NCRS is a major cause of that as we are being sent to, and have to deal, with jobs that even 5 years ago would have been squared up on first contact over the phone. When London alone gets 30,000 999 calls per day of which about half get turned into calls for us to attend AND we've only got roughly 2,500 officers available to go to those calls at best can you see why we can't get to everything? Considering an arrest can take you off the street for half a shift or something like serious rta or assault can tie up everyone in an area for several hours there have been plenty of times that every one of us has said "we shouldn't be dealing with most of this" but we have to because of NCRS.

There is no such thing as common sense as far as the Home Office are concerned, if they could write a policy or mandate for every concievable scenario they would. God knows they've tried. In trying to get to everything we are percieved by the public to never get to anything.

Dandelion said...

MCM nice try, but I know from experience that isn't what happens in practice. Sorry to say it, but you're talking rubbish and you know it.

As for getting the bad press, SoC, it strikes me that was right and proper, since it was the police who elected to send non-public interest matters to CPS at all. If you're doing that enough, odds are some are going to slip through the net. Targets and detections are no excuse for sacrificing a commitment to justice and common sense at the expense of essentially law-abiding people. Aside from which, it undermines our confidence in you. Which makes your job catching real criminals even harder.

English Pensioner said...

My daughter, a civilian worker with a large police force, went along to the magistrates' court the other day to deliver some papers, and whilst there, decided to look in to see how one of "her" cases was going. The court was running late, and she went in just in time to hear the CPS lawyer saying that he was offering no evidence in this case. She later discovered that the lawyer had attended some "important" dinner that evening and was determined to leave court by a particular time.
Formal complaints through appropriate channels proved to be totally pointless.

Metcountymounty said...

Dandelion your definition of what constitutes public interest is going to be different to everyone elses, that is the reason we have to send all investigations to the cps to decide on charging decisions following bullshit NCRS lead investigations because they have a nice big Home Office list of what the various home secretaries have decided is public interest.

In your vast experience of policing I can guarantee you've personally seen a tiny fraction over your entire life (and I'm talking about seeing and experiencing not reading half truths in the news) of the number of jobs and calls that we deal with day in day out.

What is your definition of a 'real criminal' by the way? Would it be someone with huge numbers of previous convictions for criminal offences or someone arrested for offences like theft, criminal, damage, burglary, robbery, assault etc?

We arrest those all the time but if you knew what you were talking about you'd know that already. I tell you what, I'll pick a 24 hr period (two sets of shifts) from my area so you can decide if we're arresting 'real' criminals or not. We collate the info within the teams anyway so won't be too hard. Does that sound fair?

Anonymous said...

Our sympathy should lie with MCM. What is manifest in his conduct may be the result of abuse or bullying he suffered as a child combined with later pain of family estrangement.

Stressed Out Cop said...

I think a lot of police will take the easy option of referring up to CPS and avoid the complaint from the victim who might disagree.

I see prisoners in custody every day who shouldn't really be there. 70+ old woman the other day for some common assault that no way is in the public interest to prosecute. She never reached a cell BTW.

Interviewed and bailed where hopefully the complainant will see sense. Has a crime been committed? technically yes - should we be involved .. NO not really. If I'm on when she comes back I'll NFA it ... many wouldn't.

Common sense is difficult to sometimes put into practice. The system says it should go to CPS. I'm probably putting myself in the firing line when I make some of these decisions but Hi Ho .. always willing to take words of advice !!

Anonymous said...

And it looks like Harriet Harperson might end up a disqual driver etc..there is a God.

Metcountymounty said...

Anon 1907, after ten years you're the first person to suggest bullying/parental abuse so 10 out of 10 for originality.

Metcountymounty said...

Dandelion, here are the arrests over a 24 hr period, a tuesday in the last 10 weeks for all the arrests in my area. So, are we dealing with 'real' criminals?

92 in total -

14 shoplifting
9 drunk and disorderly
5 GBH
6 wanted on warrant
5 fraud
2 immigration offences
9 drink drive
2 handling stolen goods
10 ABH
6 possesion class A
3 section 5 public order
2 robbery
4 affray
3 breach of the peace
1 threats to kill
1 sexual assault
1 criminal damage
1 arson
3 breach of bail
1 drug driving (following rta)
2 common assault
2 begging

The total number of assigned calls over the period was 847.

Blue Eyes said...

I don't have any claim to knowledge at any level of the system, but I propose a return to fundamentals:

The police were originally the "strong arm" of the court. Their job was to act as professional witnesses and to collate evidence and bring it to the court.

We shouldn't have this byzantine system at all. Once arrested the prisoner should be put in front of a magistrate asap and it then should be up to the magistrate to decide whether there is a prima facie case which is worth investigating, in the public interest etc..

What we have now is simply too convoluted, too slow and too prone to mistakes because policy-makers try to predict every scenario.

Tom said...

The creation of the CPS was a typical exercise in British frugality. What can we get for a whole £1.00? Result. Recently qualified and inexperienced lawyers, tasked with evaluating 'papers' years before capable of doing so.

The outcome was very predictable. A complete mess, with police yet again bearing the brunt. SOC refers to a lack of laying the 'information' by way of a statement. However there is good case law where a case can still be prosecuted. I refer to R v Ashford Borough Magistrates ex parte Hilden, where a withdrawl statement was made. Moreover subsequent measures, with a variety of results has turned our police force into toothless lions.

I detest the fact that we find the current climate so anti-police when it falls to the MOP being seduced by outrageous manipulations of statistics.

Stressed Out Cop said...

Tom

To be fair to the CPS we did used to charge and put the papers together afterwards. From their point of view this led to vital statements not being available, and adjournments in the case.

Now we run about and get everything beforehand. Very time consuming and no extra ploddies to do the work.