The number of Crown Court cases being dropped reached a five-year high in 2014-15, new figures reveal. The Crown Prosecution Service initiated thousands of prosecutions that ended after Crown Court judges found that there was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial. The figures raise concerns that the CPS has overreacted to criticisms that it did not believe victims, and has brought prosecutions without properly assessing the evidence.
- Read Alison Saunders from Proof magazine on prosecuting historic abuse cases (‘I do not want to see new myths replace the old’)
More than 12,600 cases ended in judge-ordered acquittals in 2014-2015. That is one in every eight Crown Court cases and nearly 1,700 more cases than 2013-2014. According to Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent noted, in 70% of the dropped prosecutions, the CPS offered ‘no evidence’ at the Crown Court. The increase in judge-ordered acquittals has also contributed to decreasing Crown Court conviction rates. In 2014-15, conviction rates fell below 80% for the first time since 2010-2011.
The figures have prompted criticisms that innocent people are needlessly going through the painful experience of being prosecuted. Before cases reach the Crown Courts, there are lengthy investigations and defendants have to attend Magistrates’ Courts to enter pleas. ‘Peter’, who was prosecuted for child abuse before his case was dropped, discussed the impact of the process in an interview on Monday’s edition of the Today programme. He described how the process had taken 15-16 months from him first being accused to the case being dropped. He stated that the police and CPS had not investigated evidence that indicated his innocence and that the stress of the experience had harmed his mental health.
It has been suggested that the increase in judge-ordered acquittals corresponded to increased child abuse prosecutions following the revelations about Jimmy Saville’s abuse.
Speaking to the Justice Gap, an NSPCC spokesperson said that it took ‘tremendous courage to speak out about abuse and fight for justice, so these figures are deeply disappointing’. ‘However, this should not deter victims from coming forward as they can still be offered support to overcome the trauma they have suffered,’ he said. ‘Child sex abuse cases are often very complex which could partially explain the figures, but it is crucial that all possible steps are taken to ensure abusers are brought to justice.’
In Peter’s case he claimed that his prosecution was ‘ridiculous’. However, his ex-partner in an interview with the BBC asserted that child abuse took place. Nazir Afzal, former head of the CPS in northwest English suggested that it was a difficult balance for prosecutors, stating that it was right to take every claim seriously but he warned against the CPS being influenced by a ‘baying crowd’ mentality
Ollie Persey is a legal fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union, where he works on issues concerning criminal justice, international human rights law, and mental health