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The Crown Prosecution Service, or CPS, is a non-ministerial department of the Government of the United Kingdom responsible for public prosecutions of people charged with criminal offences in England and Wales. Its role is similar to that of the longer-established Crown Office in Scotlandmarker, and the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Irelandmarker. The CPS is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (currently Keir Starmer QC) who answers to the Attorney General for England and Wales (currently The Baroness Scotland of Asthal).

The Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for criminal cases beyond the investigation, which is the job of the police. This involves giving advice to the police on charges to bring, and being responsible for authorising all but a very few simple charges (such as begging), and preparing and presenting cases for court, both in magistrates' courts and, increasingly, the Crown Court.


Historically, in England, with no police forces and no prosecution service, the only route to prosecution was through private prosecutions brought by victims at their own expense or lawyers acting on their behalf. From 1829 onwards, as the police forces began to form, they began to take on the burden of bringing prosecutions against suspected criminals.

In 1880, Sir John Maule was appointed to be the first Director of Public Prosecutions, operating as a part of the Home Office; the jurisdiction was only for the decision as to whether to prosecute, and just for a very small number of difficult or important cases; once prosecution had been authorised, the matter was turned over to the Treasury Solicitor. Police forces continued to be responsible for the bulk of cases, sometimes referring difficult ones to the Director. In 1884, the offices of the DPP and the Treasury Solicitor were merged, but were again separated by the Prosecution of Offences Act 1908.

In 1962, a Royal Commission recommended that police forces set up independent prosecution departments so as to avoid having the same officers investigate and prosecute cases though, technically, the prosecuting police officers did so as private citizens.

However, the Royal Commission's recommendation was not implemented by all police forces, and so in 1978 another Royal Commission was set up, this time headed by Sir Cyril Philips. It reported in 1981, recommending that a single unified Crown Prosecution Service with responsibility for all public prosecutions in England and Wales be set up. A White Paper was released in 1983, becoming the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, which established the CPS under the direction of the Director of Public Prosecutions, consisting of a merger of his old department with the existing police prosecution departments. It started operating in 1986.

In April 1999, after a review of the CPS carried out by Sir Iain Glidewell was published in June 1998, the CPS was reorganised from 14 to 42 geographical areas, following the boundaries of the police forces (except in London, where the area covers the boundaries of both the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police).

The power of the police to charge for all but the most minor offences was transferred to the CPS following the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

It was suggested in late 2004 that the name of the department could be changed to the Public Prosecution Service in order to affirm its role to citizens as a public service, but some suggest that such a change would undermine the constitutional role of the department, nominally at least. It is unclear whether a name change is imminent, or is still being discussed at all. This proposed change was very unpopular within the Service as being pointless and otiose, as well as somehow insulting.

In November 2005, the Director of Public Prosecutions reported that a pilot scheme was being introduced where the CPS would be allowed to interview witnesses before taking a case to trial. A similar practice is already carried out in Scotlandmarker (where it is called precognition), Canadamarker, and the United Statesmarker.

The role of the CPS

The Crown Prosecution Service must first decide, after evidence is gathered by the police, whether the case should be pursued further. If it is not pursued it is dropped. Their main function is to prosecute on behalf of the state; however, they will prosecute a case only if there is enough evidence to provide a 'realistic prospect of conviction' against each defendant on each charge and the case is in the public interest. Primarily, they review the evidence, and give guidance on the police evidence; they prosecute in the magistrates court if there is enough evidence and, if the case needs to go to crown court, they either hire independent advocates to prosecute for them or, increasingly, use their own in-house higher court advocates.

In 2006, with the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency the CPS became responsible for the prosecution of cases investigated and charged by that body. All of the work in this regard is undertaken by the Organised Crime Division and prosecuted by their in-house advocates who, recruited from the senior ranks of the Bar, are specialists in their field. There are similar departments which deal with counter terrorism and special crime, neither of which employ their own advocates.

The Code for Crown Prosecutors sets out the basis upon which prosecutions are refused, discontinued or proceeded with. Pre-charge advice by prosecutors at police stations (overnight and at weekends by telephone) also applies the charging standards to decide which is the appropriate level of charge. Officers provide the prosecutor with the evidence gathered and although there may be a decision not to charge the lawyer will assist the officer by explaining what additional work or evidence could raise the case to a viable charging standard.

List of Directors of Public Prosecutions since 1986


  1. Dyer, Clare "Criminal justice revolution to secure more convictions", The Guardian, London, 11 November 2005: 1-2
  2. CPS Code for Crown Prosecutors - l

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