/Caroline Flack: Who decides if someone should face trial?

Caroline Flack: Who decides if someone should face trial?

Caroline Flack at Highbury Magistrates CourtImage copyright
Hollie Adams

TV presenter Caroline Flack was found dead in her home on Saturday, weeks before she was due to stand trial for assaulting her boyfriend, Lewis Burton.

She denied the charge and Mr Burton had said he did not want the case to go ahead.

Every case is different, but these are the steps that could lead to a trial.

How is a decision to prosecute made?

Following a police investigation, an independent organisation called the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decides whether or not there should be a prosecution.

It uses a two-stage test, set out in guidelines called the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

  • Does the evidence provide a realistic prospect of conviction? That means, having heard the evidence, is a court more likely than not to find the defendant guilty?
  • And is it in the public interest to prosecute? The CPS will consider things like how serious the offence is, the harm caused to the victim, the impact on the community and whether prosecution is proportionate

How is this different to being found guilty in court?

A higher test is applied when a case reaches the criminal courts. In court, a jury, judge or magistrate may only convict if they are sure that the defendant is guilty.

The key word is “sure”.

When making its decisions, the CPS doesn’t need to be certain of guilt and considers instead whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction.

This is sometimes referred to as a better than 50% chance.

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Media captionPresenter Laura Whitmore pays tribute to friend Caroline Flack.

How does the CPS deal with domestic abuse cases?

Domestic abuse allegations pose a particular problem for the CPS and the criminal justice system as a whole.

Those are reflected in the numbers of cases. There were nearly 750,000 reports of domestic abuse-related crimes to police in England and Wales in the year to March 2019. However, almost 79,000 (roughly 10%) were prosecuted, and of those, 76% of defendants were convicted.

One of the reasons there are many more reports of domestic abuse than prosecutions is that the person who made the complaint withdraws it.

This is why guidelines say domestic abuse prosecutions do not automatically stop if the complainant withdraws their support.

There is a long list of possible reasons. These include fear of coming face to face with the abuser in court, being publicly shamed or outcast from the community, pressure from the abuser, their family or associates, and fear that children will be removed and placed in care.

What other evidence can be used?

Prosecutors must try to find out why someone withdraws a complaint.

But if they left matters there, the CPS could face stinging criticism for failing to tackle domestic abuse.

So, it can and does bring so-called “victimless” or “evidence-based” prosecutions.

This is only done where there is other strong evidence such as 999 calls, video from police body cameras, statements and interviews.

The aim is for these prosecutions to protect victims who feel unable to support a prosecution.

In 2018, there were 173 domestic violence-related homicides in the UK. Many believe that figure would be higher without “victimless” prosecutions which stop perpetrators before they go on to kill.

What about a suspect’s mental health?

The mental health of a suspect is an important factor for the CPS to consider in any prosecution.

There is also detailed guidance on this issue. It covers a range of conditions covered by the Mental Health Act, learning difficulties, autism and dementia.

Police officers must draw evidence of the suspect’s mental health issues to the attention of the prosecutor, who may request further evidence or reports.

Ultimately, they will have to consider whether it is in the public interest to prosecute.

That will depend on the nature and seriousness of the mental health issues, as well as the circumstances of the offence.

Information and support

If you or someone you know needs support for issues about emotional distress, these organisations may be able to help.

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