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CPS announcement on the Rebekah Brooks case - June-14-12
Source: The Times - Law
There is a regrettable trend of public pronouncements of impending charges by officials in the Crown Prosecution Service
The offence of perverting the course of justice can arise where a person gives false information intending to cause a different effect to the effect telling the truth would have done.
False information can be concealing evidence as well as hiding the truth. It is a serious offence punishable by up to life imprisonment and a successful prosecution will almost inevitably attract a custodial sentence.
The offence can only be tried by a Crown Court and the case of Rebekah and Charlie Brooks was transferred this week to Southwark Crown Court.
The Code for Crown Prosecutors is well known by legal practitioners as the starting point for a prosecutor before authorising the police to charge a defendant.
It is a two-stage test: first, there a realistic prospect of a conviction and, if that is surmounted, prosecutors must ask whether a prosecution is in the public interest.
There has been a recent and in my view regrettable trend of public pronouncements of impending charges by officials in the Crown Prosecution Service, including the DPP himself.
The thinking behind this is that prosecutors should have a more public profile: the public should see the person making prosecution decisions and prosecutors are in that way more accountable to the community.
This reached a new pitch with the public announcement by Alison Levitt, QC, on May 15, 2012, that Rebekah and Charlie Brooks and others would be charged with perverting the course of justice because, in her opinion, there was a realistic prospect of a conviction and it was in the public interest.
The justification for spelling this out was because it was “... in the interests of transparency and accountability”.
It is quite unnecessary and potentially extremely damaging to any defendant for a prosecutor to make these announcements to the world’s media. It only seems to happen in cases that have attracted the media’s attention, too.
As for transparency, is it particularly transparent simply to say that prosecutors spent from March to May examining the files - and reminding the media that nothing should be said or reported that could prejudice a fair trial?
As for accountability - are our prosecutors intending to hold themselves duly accountable if there is an acquittal? Perhaps they would accept personal costs orders or issue a public apology. It seems unlikely.
Transparency and accountability are good watchwords for public institutions, including the Crown Prosecution Service. But they are not obviously met by high-profile public pronouncements on the metaphorical steps of the court before a trial has even taken place.
Mark Spragg is a civil and criminal litigation specialist at Keystone Law
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