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David Ruffley: Why Labour is wasting police time - and how to stop it

Picture_16_2 David Ruffley has been MP for Bury St Edmunds since 1997 and is the shadow minister for police reform

In 2003, the Labour Government bowed to the lawyer lobby and imposed “statutory charging” on custody sergeants at the police station. This has resulted in the police having to fill in many more forms to satisfy Crown Prosecution Service lawyers before an offender can be charged. It is wasting police time.

Depressingly, the Government will confirm tomorrow that they are continuing with this bureaucratic madness. That is why I can say that we will abolish Labour’s statutory charging and save at least one million hours of police time a year.

Labour Ministers were persuaded that, in order for a correct charge to be made at the station when an offender was brought in, the power to charge in the vast majority of crimes should be removed from the police sergeant and given to the CPS lawyers. The CPS would “weed-out” allegedly non-viable cases at an early stage. In my inquiry into statutory charging across several police forces I have discovered that this has caused two problems.

First, under statutory charging, in many forces the officer now has to prepare a full “pre-charge document file” for the CPS before a charge can be brought. Typically it will include: Report to Crown Prosecutor for Charging Decision (form MG3); witness statements (forms MG 11); exhibits; CCTV footage or stills; a typed version of what the suspect said in interview (form MG15); details of previous convictions; interview tapes; and a list of information that may undermine the prosecution case (MG6E form). If the CPS decides to charge, the arresting officer has to fill in a copy of the charge sheet, and an MG1 and MG6 form. But often the CPS will send it back and request further evidence. If the CPS requires further investigation, the officer has to return to the CPS with a further report to the Crown Prosecutor for a Charging Decision (form MG 3A). One seasoned officer told me it was “Kafka-esque”.

It does not have to be like this.

Before Labour’s statutory charging came in the custody sergeant – not the CPS -decided whether the case should go to court. It was in the hands of the police, not the lawyers. The process was simpler, faster and there was no need to fill in all those forms. And the arresting officer did not waste precious time hanging around waiting to speak to the CPS.

Second, police officers on the ground tell me that under Labour the CPS have ‘cherry-picked’ the cases with the strongest chance of securing a conviction. That’s because they have to meet Labour’s centralised targets. What has happened as a result? Figures I have recently unearthed from the Solicitor General’s Office show that the number of magistrates court prosecutions has FALLEN in the last four years from 1,261,000 to 966,626 and the number of convictions has also FALLEN from 993,000 to 828,000.
That is why time after time, police officers tell me victims of crime complain that justice is simply not being done because the offender is not put in the dock. In a recent case, the CPS attempted to drop charges against a man carrying a hidden axe while waiting to see the Queen. It was only when a police inspector interjected and put the CPS under pressure was the case taken to court. After the CPS received a rebuke from the judge for trying to discontinue the case, the suspect received a three year sentence for carrying an article with a blade.

So what will the Conservatives do?

The next Conservative Government will abolish Labour’s statutory charging. We will give custody sergeants - without having to go to the CPS - the power to charge all summary offences. These include common assault, assaulting a police officer, disorderly behaviour and taking a vehicle without consent. We will also give sergeants - without having to go to the CPS - the power to charge the most common “triable either way” offences (i.e. offences that can be heard at either a magistrate or crown court). These include affray, wounding, assault, handling stolen goods and theft.

Let the police get on with it at the station when the thug or thief is brought in. This is a commonsense way to cut the unnecessary form filling and the hanging around waiting for the CPS lawyers to make a charging decision. That is why the Police Federation and the Superintendents Association welcome our proposal.

The lawyers may not like it. But the police and the public will. This Conservative reform will allow the police to spend more time out on the streets doing more of what the public wants – cutting crime.


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