A legal expert has defended the Crown Prosecution Service following the death of Caroline Flack by explaining why they pursue criminal cases even when alleged victims don’t want them to.
The CPS has faced scrutiny for decision to pursue a court case against former Love Island presenter Flack, whose death on Saturday came hours after she found out she would face trial over the alleged assault of her boyfriend Lewis Burton, 27.
Mr Burton did not want to press charges, and following Ms Flack’s death a member of her management team hit out at the CPS saying they should ‘look at themselves and how they pursued a show trial that was not only without merit but not in the public interest’.
Legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg appeared on Good Morning Britain with Richard Madeley and Ranvir Singh today to discuss how the CPS decide to pursue cases against alleged criminals – and why they might do so even against the ‘victim’s’ wishes.
Legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg appeared on Good Morning Britain with Richard Madeley and Ranvir Singh today following the death of the ex-Love Island presenter
Ms Singh said that in cases of alleged domestic violence, historically, victims may have refused to support prosecutions for many reasons, and Mr Rozenberg said: ‘That’s absolutely right. Take the classic example of a man accused of assaulting a woman – maybe a sexual assault.
CPS outlines how it reaches charging decisions
On Sunday, the CPS said it had been asked questions about ‘the role of the CPS in deciding whether to charge an individual with a criminal offence’, adding: ‘The following information explains our role and approach. It is not a comment on any individual case.’
The CPS said: ‘We do not decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence – that is for the jury, judge or magistrate – but we must make the key decision of whether a case should be put before a court.’
It said every charging decision is based on the same two-stage test in 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?
– Is it in the public interest to prosecute? That means asking questions including how serious the offence is, the harm caused to the victim, the impact on communities and whether prosecution is a proportionate response.
The information they posted a link to included: ‘Guidance for prosecutors when considering domestic abuse allegations gives specific advice on how to proceed when a complainant does not want to support a prosecution, which can often be a feature of these difficult cases.
‘It provides guidance on the information required to understand why a complainant may withdraw support and the different options that should be considered, including proceeding without the complainant’s support if other evidence is available.
‘It sets out a number of factors which may be helpful when considering the public interest in whether to charge in these circumstances.’
In a section of the CPS website with the heading ‘Retractions and withdrawals by complainants’, it says: ‘It is possible that a complainant may ask the police not to proceed any further with a prosecution case and say they no longer wish to give evidence.
‘There may be a number of reasons why a complainant will withdraw their support from a prosecution, or retract their allegation, but this does not mean that the case will be automatically stopped.’
The website lists possible reasons why a complainant may no longer support a case.
These include fear of other offences being committed or risk of further harm, fear of coming face to face with the abuser in court, pressure from the perpetrator, fear of repercussions that may follow from peers of the perpetrator, fear of being publicly shamed and a wish to be reconciled with the perpetrator.
The CPS say reasons such as these should be considered as a means to assist prosecutors in understanding how they will need to consider the next steps to be taken.
‘They live together and the woman has second thoughts and she says I want to withdraw the charges… or is coerced as you might well imagine could happen in other circumstances.
‘Should the CPS say “oh well don’t need to worry about it any more because she has been persuaded to drop the charges?” It’s not up to her. It’s up to the state to decide.’
Mr Rozenberg said that the Crown Prosecution Service will ask themselves whether there was enough evidence mean a reasonable chance of conviction and if a prosecution was in the public interest.
‘It’s never going to be in the public interest for somebody to be hounded to their death,’ he said. ‘I’m sure that the CPS is sympathetic as we all are this morning about this tragedy, but if you could simply say to the CPS I am vulnerable, I am likely to take my own life, well, a lot of people would say that and it wouldn’t be true.
‘It’s very difficult for the CPS to judge, we don’t know what evidence Caroline Flack’s lawyers gave to the CPS about her state of mind.’
He added that the CPS will consider the welfare of a person who has been accused of a crime, using the example of someone who is terminally ill.
Mr Rozenberg added that prosecutions can be dropped if they’re not in the public interest.
Richard Madeley asked Mr Rozenberg if he knew of a prosecution being dropped because somebody said they might take their own life, and he responded: ‘Simply saying that would not lead to the dropping of a prosecution because it would be too easy.
‘Producing medical evidence that you’d tried suicide on several occasions in the past, that you were mentally ill, that you’d been taken to hospital, or whatever it may be, is certainly something that may lead to a postponement of a prosecution and perhaps even in extreme circumstances, it being dropped.’
It comes after a former chief prosecutor defended the CPS over pursuing charges against Flack and hit out at social media trolls.
Nazir Afzal, a former CPS prosecutor for the North West, explained why the CPS decides to prosecute cases, even when the victim’s complaint has been withdrawn.
Mr Afzal said there were 750,000 reports of domestic violence last year to police, but only 75,000 were prosecuted, and 75 per cent of those convicted.
And more than 120 domestic homicides were prosecuted without any victim evidence, he said.
Mr Afzal added: ‘It’s to avoid the latter that prosecutors pursue the former. But only when there are allegations of serious violence and there is other strong evidence available such as 999 call recordings, police body worn camera, statements and interview.
‘Sometimes you need to protect someone even when they can’t see it themselves.
‘However you must judge each case on its merits. Prosecutors make decisions without fear of favour – I can assure you the celebrity status or otherwise is irrelevant.
‘Most offenders prosecuted aren’t even famous in their own homes’.
In the string of tweets, Mr Afzal also took aim at online trolls and the ‘cult of celebrity’.
Pictured: Lewis Burton with Caroline Flack, who was facing charges of alleged assault
He said: ‘The dehumainising of our social media victims means we say anything we like about them without consequences for us, even when consequences for our target can be terrible.
‘Don’t forget there are degrees of harm, short of pushing someone to believe their life isn’t worth living.’
Flack’s management criticised the CPS in a statement.
Francis Ridley, of Money Talent Management, said: ‘We are devastated at the loss of our client and friend Caroline Flack.
Nazir Afzal, a former CPS prosecutor for the North West, posted a series of tweets hitting out at online trolls and explaining why the CPS decides to prosecute cases of domestic abuse, even when the complaint has been withdrawn.
‘The Crown Prosecution Service pursued this when they knew not only how very vulnerable Caroline was but also that the alleged victim did not support the prosecution and had disputed the CPS version of events.
Nazir Afzal, a former CPS prosecutor for the North West, posted a series of tweets hitting out at online trolls and explaining why the CPS decides to prosecute cases, even when the complaint has been withdrawn
‘The CPS should look at themselves today and how they pursued a show trial that was not only without merit but not in the public interest.
‘And ultimately resulted in significant distress to Caroline. Our thoughts are with Caroline’s family at this time.
‘An immensely talented young woman who was at the top of her game professionally and loved by television viewers across the country. In recent months Caroline had been under huge pressure because of an ongoing case and potential trial which has been well reported.’
The CPS told MailOnline in a statement: ‘Our deepest sympathies go to the family and friends of Caroline Flack.
‘Given the tragic circumstances, we will not comment on the specifics of this case at this stage.’