Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has taken the unusual step of clarifying how it makes charging decisions after being heavily criticised for pressing ahead with a case against TV presenter Caroline Flack, who died on Saturday.
In December, the 40-year-old host of reality TV show Love Island was charged with assault after allegedly attacking her boyfriend at her home. Flack pleaded not guilty and a trial was due to take place next month.
The news of her death prompted widespread criticism of the way Flack has been treated in the media since the alleged incident and the decision of the CPS to prosecute her. Her boyfriend had not supported the prosecution.
A CPS spokesperson said: “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.”
On Sunday, however, the prosecuting body posted a detailed explanation of how it decides whether to charge an individual with a criminal offence, though it stressed that it was not commenting on any individual case.
The CPS said it had to review every case referred by the police and applied the same two-stage test to every charging decision: does the evidence provide a realistic prospect of conviction and is it in the public interest to prosecute?
It said the second test meant asking questions including how serious the offence was, the harm caused to the victim, the impact on communities and whether prosecution was a proportionate response.
The CPS said guidance for prosecutors when considering domestic abuse allegations gave specific advice on how to proceed when a complainant did 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,” the CPS said.
The CPS also recently published guidance for prosecutors in cases involving suspects or defendants with mental health conditions or disorders.
In Ireland, guidelines for prosecutors from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) state that in making a decision on whether or not to prosecute, the public interest is the fundamental consideration.
Prosecutors will give “careful consideration” to any request from a victim to discontinue proceedings. But the DPP guidelines add that the wishes of victims may not always coincide with the public interest.
“In such cases, particularly where there is other evidence implicating the accused person or where the gravity of the alleged offence requires it, the public interest may require the continuation of a prosecution despite the victim’s wish that it would be discontinued,” the guidelines state.