Published 24 July 2016
The BBC has reported that the number of criminal cases dropped in England and Wales due to insufficient evidence rose by over a third between 2012/13 and 2014/15 – even though the number of cases brought to court actually fell.
A higher proportion of people charged now have their case against them dropped (up to 8% last year from less than 5% in 2012/13), and there is significant regional variation – with 12% of cases dropped post-charge in Northumbria (the largest proportion across England and Wales) compared to just 4% of cases in neighbouring Cumbria.
So far, so interesting – but what is insufficient evidence, beyond a catch-all term for the myriad problems which can arise during a complex legal process. And what could be driving this trend?
Well, for the last year, Crest Advisory has been working with the think tank GovernUp exploring how best to progress devolution of the criminal justice system, building on the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in 2012. Along the way we’ve collected and analysed some rarely seen data about how the justice system works (or doesn’t work) at particular stages – including a detailed breakdown of the reasons why prosecutions are dropped in the magistrates and Crown Court.
Currently, the CPS records 28 different reasons for dropping a prosecution, of which half or more in our view constitute ‘insufficient evidence’ (there is a full list of the reasons at the foot of this blog).
This data – which isn’t routinely published and was obtained by Crest through a Freedom of Information request – makes interesting reading for anybody with an interest in making the criminal justice system more effective and efficient, in particular PCCs seeking further responsibilities from the Home Office and Ministry of Justice.
Take the magistrates court first.
Between 2013/14 and 2014/15, the number of prosecutions dropped because the ‘victim failed to attend’ increased by 16% (8,378 to 9,964) and prosecutions dropped because ‘victim refused to give evidence or retracted’ increased by 9% (7,205 to 7,849).
This amounts to a 14% increase in the number of prosecutions being dropped for victim-related, insufficient evidence reasons in the Magistrates’ court.
In addition, the number of prosecutions dropped because of ‘delay between offence/charge or trial’ increased by 8% (611 to 659) over the same period.
In the Crown Court the picture is similar in some respects
Prosecutions abandoned because victims failed to attend rose by 32% over the same period (900 to 1,191), and prosecutions abandoned because victims refused to give evidence or retracted rose by 13% (1,580 to 1,782) from 2013/14 to 2014/15.
This amounts to a 20% increase in the number of cases dropped for victim-related, insufficient evidence reasons.
In response to the BBC figures, the charity Victim Support said one of the effects of dropped prosecutions was to reduce victim confidence in the criminal justice. In fact, our breakdown of suggests low victim confidence in the criminal justice system is actually also a cause of dropped prosecutions.
Victims groups, some policy makers and an increasing number of PCCs argue that victim satisfaction is more than a number on a spreadsheet or a ‘nice-to-have’, that the criminal justice system can not function properly unless people who suffer crime are able to report offences, provide statements, and give evidence in court.
This data suggests they are right.