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Criminal Charges

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 21 January 2010

12. What guidance is issued to the Crown Prosecution Service on the period of time within which charges in criminal cases should be brought. (312117)

The Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for charging in about 35 per cent. of criminal cases. There is no separate guidance on time, but the principle is to charge as soon as possible, and there are obviously controls over the situation when people are remanded in custody. The hon. Gentleman made a freedom of information request about the average time between the police reporting to the CPS and a charge, and he received the answer 8.3 days. I do not know whether he found that helpful, because some cases are dealt with very quickly and others require a forensic report before there can be a charge. However, that is the average.

The longer it takes the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to charge somebody, the longer very serious criminals could be out on the streets on police bail committing further crimes. The average time that the CPS spends making a decision ranges from three days in Cumbria to an astonishing 20 days in Northamptonshire. What is the Solicitor-General doing to address that?

It is hard to pinpoint the hon. Gentleman’s complaint. I do not know the nature of endemic offending in the two parts of the country to which he refers; there may be significant differences. However, people are not automatically on bail pending charge; some are remanded in custody. Then a charge becomes urgent, and the CPS respond accordingly. There have been vast improvements through statutory charging, and its efficacy has been praised in no less than four recent reports.