The Crown Prosecution Service

What is the CPS

The CPS stands for Crown Prosecution Service. It is a non-ministerial government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales on behalf of the State. The CPS will co-operate with the investigating and prosecuting agencies of other jurisdictions and its role is in fact similar to that of the Crown Office in Scotland and the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland.The CPS is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who is answerable to the Attorney General for England and Wales.  The Attorney General, in turn, is accountable to Parliament for the service provided by the CPS.

Brief history of the CPS

The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 was implemented following Royal Commission recommendations that there be a single unified Crown Prosecution Service with responsibility for all public prosecutions in England and Wales. This led to the department of the DPP merging with the existing police prosecutions department which in turn established the CPS under the direction of the DPP. The CPS started to operate in 1986. A further review of the CPS was carried out in 1999 which led to the geographical re-organisation from 14 to 42 areas. This followed the boundaries of the police forces, except in London, where the area covers the boundaries of both the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police. Each separate area is headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor. Following the Criminal Justice Act 2003 the power of the police to charge for all but the most minor offences was transferred to the CPS. In 2006, with the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the CPS also became responsible for the prosecution of cases investigated and charged by that body.

What does the CPS do

As the principal prosecuting authority in England and Wales the CPS is responsible for criminal cases beyond the police investigatory stage. The CPS will advise the police on cases for possible prosecution, review cases submitted by the police, determine any charges in all but minor cases, prepare cases for court and present cases at court, both in the Magistrates and the Crown Court. Primarily, the CPS will review the evidence gathered by the police and provide guidance. During pre-charge procedures and throughout the investigative and prosecuting process the CPS may assist the police by explaining what additional work or evidence could raise the case to a viable charging standard thereby rectifying any evidential deficiencies. Once the evidence is gathered the CPS will then decide, on the basis of this evidence, whether a case should be pursued or dropped. In the event that the CPS is satisfied that there is enough evidence to prosecute, they will do so either in the Magistrates Court and, if the case needs to go to Crown Court, they will instruct an independent advocate to prosecute for them or, increasingly, they may use their own in-house higher court advocates. Although the Crown Prosecution Service works closely with the police, it is independent of them and except for very minor cases, the decision whether or not to prosecute a case rests with the CPS. The independence of the CPS is of fundamental constitutional importance. Casework decisions must be taken by Crown Prosecutors with fairness, impartiality and integrity so as to help deliver justice for victims, witnesses, defendants and the public.

The Code for Crown Prosecutors

The Code for Crown Prosecutors is issued by the DPP under section 10 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 andgives guidance on the general principles to be applied when Crown Prosecutors make decisions about prosecutions. In cases where the police determine the charge, which as previously indicated are usually more minor and routine cases, the police should also apply the provisions of this Code.

The latest Code is the fifth edition and replaces all earlier versions. The Code is a public document andcan be accessed on the CPS official website. It is available in a number of different languages including English, Welsh, Bengali, Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Russian and Urdu. The Code for Crown Prosecutors sets out the basis upon which prosecutions are refused, discontinued or proceeded with. It is intended to ensure that decisions about prosecutions are fair, independent, objective and consistent and that the prosecutions themselves are fair and effective. Whilst each case is unique and must be considered on its own facts and merits, there are general principles that apply to the way in which Crown Prosecutors must approach cases:

  • Crown Prosecutors must be fair, independent and objective and not be influenced by personal views about the suspect, victim or witness nor be affected by improper or undue pressure from any source.

  • It is the duty of Crown Prosecutors to make sure that the right person is prosecuted for the right offence, acting in the interests of justice and not solely for the purpose of obtaining a conviction. 

  • Crown Prosecutors should provide guidance and advice to investigators throughout the investigative and prosecuting process and continually review cases in light of any changes in circumstances or evidence.

  • It is the duty of Crown Prosecutors to ensure that the law is properly applied to cases, all relevant evidence is put before the court and that obligations of disclosure are complied with. 

  • The Crown Prosecution Service is a public authority for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 and so Crown Prosecutors must apply the principles of the European Convention on

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For more information on:

  • Human Rights in accordance with the Act.
  • Alternatives to prosecution
  • Accepting guilty pleas
  • The role of the CPS in sentencing