Public Prosecutors and Discretion: A Comparative Study

By Julia Fionda | Go to book overview

2 The Crown Prosecution Service: The Potential Sentencers

1. INTRODUCTION

THE prosecution system of England and Wales has been the subject of possibly the most significant, fundamental reform programme in British criminal justice this century. The creation of a new, independent public prosecution service in 1986 heralded a constitutional breakthrough in removing the responsibility for the prosecution of criminal offences away from the police and investing it in a new, publicly accountable agency, thereby ending a tradition of over 150 years. The police were designated the first public prosecutors in 1829, rather more circumstantially than deliberately, due to the absence of a suitable alternative public agency. They have finally now been returned to their primarily investigative role. Fifty years later the post of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was established by the Prosecution of Offences Act 1879 to: 'institute, undertake or carry on such proceedings and to give such advice or assistance to chief officers of police, clerks to the justices and other persons, as may be for the time being prescribed by Regulations under this Act or may be directed in a special case by the Attorney-General.' The nature and number of cases in which the DPP is entitled to intervene, however, is relatively small and includes a number of serious offences such as homicide cases, large-scale fraud cases (under the Prosecution of Offences Regulations 1978), complaints of alleged criminal behaviour committed by a police officer (under s. 49 of the Police Act 1964), and a number of sensitive areas of criminality where the DPP's consent is required before a public prosecution can proceed.1 Under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, s. 1(7), any Crown Prosecutor can now act on behalf of the DPP in consenting to such prosecutions.

Hence, while the DPP has retained an unfettered discretion to apply the standards for public interest to a number of important cases, his/her role, even since 1986, has remained somewhat limited in terms of the range and

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1
G. Mansfield, and J. Peay, The Director of Public Prosecutions: Principles and Practices for the Crown Prosecutor ( London, 1987). See 8-9 for an explanation of the application of this regulation.

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