We covered the case of Matthew Doyle, the 46 year old Londoner who was arrested on 24th March 2016, charged with inciting racial hatred, and remanded to Court on 26th March. Due to the fact that proceedings were on-going, we didn’t comment on the merits (or otherwise) of a prosecution.
Well, on Good Friday, there was a bit of an embarrassing volte face – the Met announced that he had been de-arrested, un-charged, and released from custody.
Why did this happen?
It seems that the police had decided to charge Mr Doyle without going to the CPS. Yesterday, the CPS took a look at it, and failed to authorise the charge, with the result that Mr Doyle was free to go.
It’s not entirely clear whether he has been bailed (either for further enquiries, or for a full CPS decision) or that is the end of the matter, but because there is a possibility that he will face a charge, it’s best that we don’t say too much about whether or not the decision to prosecute him was a sensible one.
What is the role of the CPS?
This does raise the question of what the role of the CPS is in charging decisions. It’s a complicated position … it used to be that the police were in charge of charging (as it were). After the CPS came into existence in 1986, that remained the case. Over time, for reasons good and bad, the CPS started to take over more and more of the decisions as to whether someone should be charged and, if so, what with.
The exact details seem to change every few weeks, but the current guidance is that the police can charge :
- all summary offences irrespective of plea and any either way offences anticipated as a guilty plea and suitable for sentence in a magistrates’ court, except for
- a case requiring the consent to prosecute by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) or law officer
- a case involving a death
- a case connected with terrorist activity or official secrets
- a case classified as hate crime or domestic violence under CPS policies
- violent disorder or affray
- wounding or grievous bodily harm
- actual bodily harm
- Sexual Offences Act 2003 offences committed by or upon a person under 18
- an offence under the Licensing Act 2003
- criminal damage to property valued at less than £5,000, irrespective of plea if suitable for summary trial
- handling and receiving stolen goods and offences under the Fraud Act 2006 where a guilty plea is anticipated and the case is suitable for sentence in a magistrates’ court.
This is the majority of cases (76% as it currently stands). For the remaining quarter, the police can call on CPS Direct and get advice (and authorisation of charge) from them 24/7 if the case is urgent because there are suspects in custody and the PACE clock is ticking.
What went wrong in this case is both that the consent of the Attorney-General (a law officer) was required to prosecute inciting racial hatred, and in the circumstances it would count as a ‘hate crime’. On the face of it, both of these apply, and so the police should have gone to the CPS.