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Crown Prosecution Service
Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the principal public agency for conducting criminal prosecutions in England and Wales. It is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The main responsibilities of the CPS are to provide legal advice to the police and other investigative agencies during the course of criminal investigations, to decide whether a suspect should face criminal charges following an investigation, and to conduct prosecutions both in the magistrates' courts and the Crown Court.

The Attorney General for England and Wales superintends the CPS's work and answers for it in Parliament, although the Attorney General has no influence over the conduct of prosecutions, except when national security is an issue or for a small number of offences that require the Attorney General's permission to prosecute.


Historically in England, with no police forces and no prosecution service, the only route to prosecution was through private prosecutions brought by victims at their own expense or lawyers acting on their behalf. From 1829 onwards, as the police forces were formed, they began to take on the burden of bringing prosecutions against suspected criminals.[2]

Sir John Maule was appointed to be the first Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales in 1880, operating under the Home Office; his jurisdiction was only for decisions as to whether to prosecute in a very small number of difficult or important cases; once prosecution had been authorised, the matter was turned over to the Treasury Solicitor. Police forces continued to be responsible for the bulk of cases, sometimes referring difficult ones to the Director.[2]

In 1962 a Royal Commission recommended that police forces set up independent prosecution departments so as to avoid having the same officers investigate and prosecute cases, although technically the prosecuting police officers did so as private citizens. The Royal Commission's recommendation was not implemented by all police forces however, and so in 1978, another Royal Commission was set up, this time headed by Sir Cyril Philips. It reported in 1981, recommending that a single unified Crown Prosecution Service with responsibility for all public prosecutions in England and Wales be set up. A White Paper was released in 1983, becoming the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, which established the CPS under the direction of the Director of Public Prosecutions, consisting of a merger of his old department with the existing police prosecution departments. It started operating in 1986.

In 1997, Sir Iain Glidewell was commissioned by the government to investigate a potential reform of the CPS. The inquiry reported in June 1998, finding that 12% of charges brought by police were discontinued by the CPS, and that there were failures to communicate between the police and CPS. The report recommended that the CPS focus more on serious crimes being prosecuted at the Crown Court level, closer co-operation between CPS lawyers and the police, and to change its organisational structure, concurring with an existing government plan to restructure the organisation into 42 regional branches, each with its own Chief Crown Prosecutor.[3][4][5][6]


The CPS undertook more than 800,000 prosecutions in 2012–13, approximately 700,000 of which were in the magistrates’ courts and 100,000 in the Crown Court. The conviction rate was 86% in the magistrates' courts and 80% in the Crown Courts.[1]

The Spending Review undertaken by HM Treasury in 2010 (and revised in 2013) has led to a budget decrease of almost 30% between 2010 and 2014, resulting in a restructure of the organisation and a large number of voluntary redundancies. The CPS has implemented measures such as the Core Quality Standards with the intention of maintaining and raising standards.

As of March 2013 the CPS employs more than 6,900 staff, 2,900 solicitors and barristers are on the advocate panel, employed externally or self-employed, who deal with all aspects of criminal casework.[1]

Crown Prosecutors (also known as reviewing lawyers) provide advice to investigators and take charging decisions; Crown Advocates present prosecution cases in court; Associate Prosecutors represent the CPS in cases with guilty pleas in the magistrates' courts; and paralegals/casework assistants provide clerical support and help with progressing cases.

Self-employed barristers are also paid to represent the prosecution in court in more complicated cases (primarily in the Crown Court and appeal courts) and to provide expert advice when required.[1]

The number of employees prior to the spending review was approximately 9,000.

Headquartered in London and York, the CPS manages the organisation, sets policies and handles corporate matters (such as finance and communications). The Director of Public Prosecutions is assisted by the CPS Chief Executive in running the organisation.

Most of its casework is dealt with by the thirteen CPS Areas, which are responsible for conducting prosecutions in specific parts of England and Wales; each area is led by a Chief Crown Prosecutor. The areas (with their respective police forces) are:

  • Cymru/Wales (Dyfed Powys, Gwent, North Wales, South Wales)
  • East Midlands (Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire)
  • Eastern (Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk)
  • London (City of London, Metropolitan)
  • Mersey Cheshire (Cheshire, Merseyside)
  • North East (Cleveland, Durham, Northumbria)
  • North West (Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire)
  • South East (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  • South West (Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Gloucestershire)
  • Thames and Chiltern (Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Thames Valley)
  • Wessex (Dorset, Hampshire & Isle of Wight, Wiltshire)
  • West Midlands (Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Mercia, West Midlands)
  • Yorkshire and Humberside (West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Humberside)

Prior to the spending review, there were forty-two CPS Areas, mirroring the geographical boundaries of the police forces (except for CPS London, which has always dealt with both of the city's police forces).

CPS Direct provides charging advice/authorisation by phone and electronically to police forces at all hours. Most charging decisions by the CPS are now made by CPS Direct, which then passes the prosecution to the appropriate CPS Area.

The Casework Divisions deal with prosecutions requiring specialist knowledge and experience:

  • Specialist Fraud Division – Complex frauds and cases investigated by HMRC and other agencies
  • International Justice and Organised Crime Division – Serious organised crime and cases investigated by the National Crime Agency, and Extradition (formerly part of Special Crime)
  • Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division – Appeals, counter-terrorism, and special crime, which includes deaths in custody, public corruption and medical manslaughter.
  • CPS Proceeds of Crime Unit – since 2014 this discrete casework division has been responsible for pre-charge restraint and post-conviction enforcement of orders made under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA 2002) and in the year 2016/17 recovered over £80 million.

The Attorney General oversees the work of the CPS, meeting regularly with the DPP and requesting briefings on matters of public or Parliamentary concern. The Attorney General (or their deputy, the Solicitor General) answer for the CPS's performance and conduct in Parliament.

However, the Attorney has no role in the day-to-day running of the organisation or in deciding whether a suspect should be prosecuted. The CPS is an independent prosecuting authority and government ministers have no influence over its decision making.

The only exceptions to this rule are when a case involves matters of national security or the Attorney must personally consent to a prosecution (e.g. all Official Secrets Act prosecutions require the Attorney General's permission to proceed). Due to the Attorney General's limited role in the CPS's casework, the use of nolle prosequi (halting of proceedings on indictment; a prerogative of the Attorney General) is now rare. Questionable incidents, such as the dropping of the case against John Bodkin Adams for what was believed to be purely political reasons, have not been repeated in modern times.

Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) is responsible for inspecting the work of the CPS.[7] The current Chief Inspector of the CPS is Kevin McGinty.[8]

Roles and responsibilities

The CPS will often provide confidential advice to investigators on the viability of a prosecution in complex or unusual cases. This includes clarifying the intent needed to commit an offence or addressing shortcomings in the available evidence.

Unlike in many other jurisdictions, the CPS has no power to order investigations or direct investigators to take action. Whether the CPS is asked for advice or a charging decision is entirely at the discretion of investigators (see History for background on this division of responsibilities in England & Wales).

Police forces have the authority to charge suspects with less serious offences, such as common assault or criminal damage with a low value. The CPS is responsible for taking all other charging decisions – including for serious offences such as murder and rape – and the police cannot charge suspects with these offences without authorisation from a crown prosecutor (except in emergency situations where police can charge without a prosecutor's authority in certain circumstances).[9]

The Code for Crown Prosecutors requires prosecutors to answer two questions in the 'Full Code Test': Is there sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction? (in other words, is there sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect on each charge). The code outlines this means that an objective, impartial and reasonable jury or bench of magistrates or judge hearing a case alone, properly directed and acting in accordance with the law, is more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged. The second question asked is: Is a prosecution required in the public interest?[10] These questions must be answered in this order; if there is insufficient evidence, the public interest in prosecuting is irrelevant.

According to the code, if there is insufficient evidence to prosecute, no further action will be taken against the suspect or the prosecutor will ask the police to carry out further inquiries to gather more evidence. When there is sufficient evidence but a prosecution is not required in the public interest, prosecutors can decide that no further action should be taken or that a caution or reprimand is a suitable alternative to prosecution.

In limited circumstances, where the Full Code Test is not met the Threshold Test may be applied to charge a suspect. The seriousness or circumstances of the case must justify the making of an immediate charging decision, and there must be substantial grounds to object to bail. There must be a rigorous examination of the five conditions of the Threshold Test, to ensure that it is only applied when necessary and that cases are not charged prematurely. All five conditions must be met before the Threshold Test can be applied. Where any of the conditions are not met, there is no need to consider any of the other conditions, as the Threshold Test cannot be applied and the suspect cannot be charged.[10] The five conditions that must be met before a Threshold Test can be applied are as follows:

A decision to charge under the Threshold Test must be kept under review. The prosecutor should be proactive to secure from the police the identified outstanding evidence or other material in accordance with an agreed timetable. The evidence must be regularly assessed to ensure that the charge is still appropriate and that continued objection to bail is justified. The Full Code Test must be applied as soon as the anticipated further evidence or material is received and, in any event, in Crown Court cases, usually before the formal service of the prosecution case.[10]

Whether a decision to charge is taken by police or prosecutors, the CPS will conduct the case, which includes preparing the case for court hearings, disclosing material to the defence and presenting the case in court. The CPS will be represented in court from the first hearing through to conviction/sentencing, and in some cases appeal.

All prosecutions must be kept under continuous review and stopped if the Full Code Test (see above) is no longer satisfied or was never satisfied (i.e. the decision to charge was wrong). Mishandling of a case, such as failing to disclose evidence, can result in the courts either acquitting a defendant or quashing the conviction on appeal.

When an appeal against conviction or sentence is lodged by a defendant, the CPS will decide whether or not to oppose the appeal after considering the grounds of appeal. If it decides to oppose, it will present relevant evidence and material to assist the appellate court.

Exceptionally, the CPS has invited defendants to appeal when it has concluded that the safety of a conviction was questionable, for example in the case of an undercover police officer Mark Kennedy.

The Extradition Act 2003 tasks the CPS with representing foreign states in extradition proceedings, normally heard at Westminster Magistrates' Court. While it acts on the foreign prosecutor’s instructions, the CPS retains a discretion on how the case should be prosecuted.

The Extradition Unit at CPS Headquarters deals with all cases in which the extradition of a person within England and Wales is sought by another state and all cases in which the CPS is seeking the extradition of an individual outside the European Union. The CPS Areas prepare and manage their own extradition requests under the European Arrest Warrant framework.


The CPS faced embarrassment after it destroyed key emails relating to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Email exchanges between the CPS and the Swedish Prosecution Authority were deleted after CPS lawyer Paul Close retired from the CPS in 2014. The CPS "unaccountably advised the Swedes in 2010 or 2011 not to visit London to interview Assange. An interview at that time could have prevented the long-running embassy standoff." The CPS data destruction was disclosed in a freedom of information case pursued by Italian investigative journalist Stephania Maurizi. Maurizi took her case against the CPS to an information tribunal in London on 13 and 14 November 2017.[11]


These individuals have served as the Director of Public Prosecutions since the CPS was established in 1986:

In popular culture

See also

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