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DPP proposes new 'community' factor for prosecutors

20 October 2009

The Crown Prosecution Service has launched a consultation to amend the prosecutors’ code which would ask prosecutors to take account of the impact of crime on communities.

The decision to prosecute is subject to a two-stage test requiring prosecutors to pass an evidential stage before considering whether prosecution is in the public interest.

Now for the first time the code would invite prosecutors to have regard to a new ‘community’ test when deciding to bring a case.

A number of factors have usually been seen as justifying prosecution. They include use of violence or threats, premeditation, the fact that an offence was committed by a group of people, that the victim was vulnerable or that the offender was in a position of trust.

The proposed ‘community’ test follows on from Keir Starmer’s plan for the CPS unveiled on 23 July, ‘Setting the Standard’, which placed particular emphasis on involvement with local communities.

Added to the list of elements in favour of prosecution will be the fact that “a community, either geographical, or of common characteristics, or of shared interests, has expressed concern about the prevalence of the offence” (section 4.12).

A spokeswoman for the CPS said the prosecuting body has been working with communities for some time, taking feedback from schools and neighbourhood schemes, but that the new factor would be wider.

The reference to “common characteristics” or “shared interests” would formalise the CPS’s and police’s work with minority groups and help tackle hate crime such as homophobic violence.

Another factor specifically included in the proposed code is whether the offence has resulted in “serious financial loss to an individual, corporate body or society”.

More controversial is the introduction of a new ‘proportionality’ element.

“In a very limited number of situations, it is right to take into account whether a prosecution is a proportionate response to the specific offending when deciding the most appropriate course of action,” says a proposed new section 4.10.

The CPS said this would only apply to a very small number of cases, for instance a situation where an offender was appearing in court in the morning over one offence and was found in the afternoon committing another, minor offence “such as stealing milk from somebody’s doorstep”.

Alternatives to prosecution would include out-of-court disposals ranging from cautions to a serious crime prevention order.

These alternative sanctions are disclosable but are not a criminal record.

Earlier suggestions that guilty plea should be included in code were dropped as the DPP considered that the code was not the appropriate place for this factor.

The consultation is open for 12 weeks, closing on 11 January 2010.

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