Letter: Coping with crime

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The Independent Culture
Coping with crime

Sir: Critics of the Crown Prosecution Service seem to have forgotten that the CPS was created in 1985 precisely because trivial cases, and those which had no realistic chance of leading to a conviction, were clogging up the courts ("Civil rights fears over CPS reform", 9 August). The trouble is that when a prosecution is discontinued, nothing happens.

In minor cases where the offence is not denied, it would make sense if discontinuance were accompanied by appropriate reparation. In more serious ones, the existing CPS Code already provides that it may not be in the public interest to continue with a prosecution "if the defendant has put right the harm that was caused."

In European countries and Scotland, prosecutors often refer cases to a victim/offender mediation service to see if suitable reparation can be agreed. This means that the victim can express feelings and receive appropriate redress, the offender is held to account but given the opportunity to make amends, and the workload of the courts is reduced. There should of course be no pressure on the victim to take part, if he or she does not wish to: the offender could make reparation to the community instead.

In New Zealand, where similar principles have been applied for 10 years, a judge has reported that defendants are more willing to face up to what they have done, instead of taking the "you prove it" attitude which so many offenders use to get off because of a legal technicality or insufficient proof. This could be more satisfactory for victims, and hence more in the public interest, than an acquittal (or discontinuance for lack of evidence) in those cases where the facts are not denied, but where the proof of criminal intent depends on one person's word against another's.


London SW2