Christopher Kapessa: Family wins legal bid to review decision not to prosecute teen over river death

Decision not to charge teenager accused of pushing teenager into river has provoked controversy

Joe Sommerlad@JoeSommerlad
Friday 11 June 2021 03:27
<p>Christopher Kapessa, 13, drowned after he was pushed into the River Cynon in South Wales</p>

Christopher Kapessa, 13, drowned after he was pushed into the River Cynon in South Wales

The family of 13-year-old Christopher Kapessa, who died after being pushed into the River Cynon in South Wales in July 2019, have won a High Court bid for a review of the decision not to prosecute the teenager accused of being responsible.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) originally decided not to charge the 14-year-old boy in question, despite admitting there was “evidence to support a prosecution”, a position confirmed in a review carried out last year following an appeal from Kapessa’s family.

Alina Joseph, Christopher’s mother, then brought legal action against the CPS, asking the High Court to review their decision.

At a hearing on Thursday, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb granted permission for a judicial review, adding: “The threshold is necessarily lofty but no defendant is infallible.”

The judge permitted the application on five grounds, including that the CPS’s decision failed to “properly value human life” and that “undue and improper weight” was given to the impact of the prosecution on the teenage suspect.

“Success on review will be achieved only in rare cases,” Justice Cheema-Grubb cautioned.

“The threshold is necessarily lofty, but no defendant is infallible, and sometimes the supervisory jurisdiction of this court is engaged. To achieve permission, there must be properly arguable grounds with a realistic prospect of success.

“Having had the advantage of hearing argument, I grant permission to apply for judicial review.”

Earlier, Michael Mansfield QC, appearing for Kapessa’s family, told the court: “Sympathy does not come into it. Yes, it is a young person, but as was the person who died.”

Mr Mansfield argued that there was a large enough public interest in prosecuting the then 14-year-old, as well as evidence to hold a trial.

“It is past the evidential threshold because the allegation here is unlawful act manslaughter, which has very particular criteria,” he said.

“It is very rare indeed that a prosecution for homicide does not follow once the evidential threshold has been crossed.

“We say that this is a case where the prosecutor would be bound to come to the conclusion that it is in the public interest for those matters to be reviewed.”

The High Court heard that there were 16 people at the scene of the incident near Mountain Ash, Rhondda Cynon Taf, some of whom, Mr Mansfield alleged, had not been honest with the police about what had taken place.

“The young people plainly to begin with - or some of them, we don’t know how many - decided either together or apart that they were not going to reveal who did what, let alone what happened,” he said.

“To begin with, it’s ‘he jumps off the bridge’ then it becomes ‘he slipped into the water’.

“What sort of message does that communicate to the community of young people if he is not prosecuted?” Mr Mansfield continued.

“That it is alright to lie? That it is alright not to disclose? A responsible citizen would find that abhorrent.”

The CPS’s representative, Duncan Penny QC, argued that the decision to bring a prosecution is never automatic, even if there is significant public interest, and claimed that the family’s arguments had been addressed in the original review.

The CPS now has 21 days to provide its evidence to prepare for the judicial review, including that used to come to its original decision not to prosecute the case.

Additional reporting by agencies

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