Crown Prosecution Service

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Crown Prosecution Service
Crown Prosecution Service logo.svg
Agency overview
Formed1986;38 years ago (1986)
Type Non-ministerial government department
Jurisdiction England and Wales
Headquarters 102 Petty France, Westminster, London, England
Employees5,794 (2019/20) [1]
Annual budget£592 million (2012–13) [2]
Minister responsible
Agency executive
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The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the principal public agency for conducting criminal prosecutions in England and Wales. It is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.


The main responsibilities of the CPS are to provide legal advice to the police and other investigative agencies during the course of criminal investigations, to decide whether a suspect should face criminal charges following an investigation, and to conduct prosecutions both in the magistrates' courts and the Crown Court.

The Attorney General for England and Wales superintends the CPS's work and answers for it in Parliament, although the Attorney General has no influence over the conduct of prosecutions, except when national security is an issue or for a small number of offences that require the Attorney General's permission to prosecute.


Historically prosecutions were conducted through a patchwork of different systems. For serious crimes tried at the county level, justices of the peace or the sheriff would issue a presentment to a grand jury, who would either return a "true bill" resulting in an indictment, or not. If a true bill followed presentment, the individual would be tried by a petit jury by justices of the King's Bench, Common Pleas or Exchequer as they toured the circuits conducting the assizes. Individuals could be prosecuted upon indictment by prosecutors ranging from the Attorney-general or Solicitor-general, king's serjeants or attorneys, prosecutors instructed by the sheriff or justice of the peace. It was more likely that the Attorney-General or Solicitor-General would be involved in prosecutions of serious crimes such as high treason at the Court of King's Bench at Westminster Hall.

The second means of prosecution was by "appeal", which was when the prosecution was initiated not by presentment to a grand jury but by direct private prosecution of an interested party. An "appeal of murder" prosecuted by the widow of a murdered man was typical of this form of prosecution.

Sir John Maule was appointed to be the first Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales in 1880, operating under the Home Office; his jurisdiction was only for decisions as to whether to prosecute in a very small number of difficult or important cases; once prosecution had been authorised, the matter was turned over to the Treasury Solicitor. Police forces continued to be responsible for the bulk of cases, sometimes referring difficult ones to the Director. [3]

In 1962 a Royal commission recommended that police forces set up independent prosecution teams so as to avoid having the same officers investigate and prosecute a case. Technical barriers were already in place that those prosecuting did so as private citizens, rendering them open to the range of evidential offences imposable by the court. This Royal Commission's recommendation was not implemented by all police forces, however, and so in 1977, another was set up, this time headed by Sir Cyril Philips. It reported in 1981, recommending that a single unified team, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), be made responsible for all public prosecutions in England and Wales. A White paper was released in 1983, becoming the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, which established the CPS under the direction of the Director of Public Prosecutions, consisting of a merger of his old department with the police prosecution departments. It started operating in 1986.

In 1997, the Home Office tasked Sir Iain Glidewell to inquire into performance of and make recommendations for the CPS. The Glidewell Report of June 1998 found that 12% of charges by police were discontinued by the CPS and that there were failures to communicate between the two. It recommended the CPS:

Employment tribunal claim

Rebecca Lawrence, who was the chief executive of the CPS from 2019 to 2023, brought a claim against the organisation for age and sex discrimination. This was settled after the first day of the tribunal in November 2023. Lawrence then announced that she was leaving the organisation, saying this was a "natural transition point for the CPS". [8] [9]


The CPS undertook more than 800,000 prosecutions in 2012–13, approximately 700,000 of which were in the magistrates' courts and 100,000 in the Crown Court. The conviction rate was 86% in the magistrates' courts and 80% in the Crown Court. [2]

The Spending Review undertaken by HM Treasury in 2010 (and revised in 2013) has led to a budget decrease of almost 30% between 2010 and 2014, resulting in a restructure of the organisation and a large number of voluntary redundancies. The CPS has implemented measures such as the Core Quality Standards with the intention of maintaining and raising standards.


As of 2023, the CPS employs about 7,000 staff. They primarily prepare cases for internal and external advocates and liaise with police and third parties. Its approved external advocates number 2,900 solicitors and barristers, among which are specialists. Both sets of advocates include King's Counsel concentrated externally. [2]

Grades of staff


Headquartered in London and York, the senior management team sets policies and handles corporate matters such as finance and communications. The Director of Public Prosecutions is assisted by the CPS Chief Executive in running the organisation.

CPS Areas

Most of its casework is dealt with by the fourteen CPS Areas, which are responsible for conducting prosecutions in specific parts of England and Wales; each area is led by a Chief Crown Prosecutor. [10]

The areas are composed of police force areas, except in London where the Metropolitan Police are split across two areas. They are:

Before a review, these numbered 42 to mirror the police forces (save that CPS London dealt with both of London's territorial police forces).

CPS Direct

CPS Direct provides charging advice/authorisation by phone and electronically to police forces at all hours. [10] Prosecutors assigned to CPS Direct are remote workers in order to provide support outside of normal business hours. [11] Most charging decisions by the CPS are now made by CPS Direct, which then passes the prosecution to the appropriate CPS Area. [12]

Casework Divisions

The Casework Divisions deal with prosecutions requiring specialist knowledge and experience: [10]

  • Special Crime and Counter-Terrorism Division – Appeals, counter-terrorism, and special crime, which includes deaths in custody, public corruption, and medical manslaughter.
  • Serious Economic, Organised Crime and International Directorate - This consists of the former Proceeds of Crime Unit, Specialist Fraud, and International Justice and Organised Crime Divisions


The Attorney General oversees the work of the CPS, meeting regularly with the DPP and requesting briefings on matters of public or Parliamentary concern. The Attorney General (or their deputy, the Solicitor General) answer for the CPS's performance and conduct in Parliament.

However, the Attorney General has no role in the day-to-day running of the organisation or in deciding whether a suspect should be prosecuted. The CPS is an independent prosecuting authority and government ministers have no influence over its decision making.

The only exceptions to this rule are when a case involves matters of national security or the Attorney General must personally consent to a prosecution (e.g. all Official Secrets Act prosecutions require the Attorney General's permission to proceed).

Due to the Attorney General's limited role in the CPS's casework, the use of nolle prosequi (halting of proceedings on indictment; a prerogative of the Attorney General) is now rare. Questionable incidents, such as the dropping of the case against John Bodkin Adams for what was believed to be purely political reasons, have not been repeated in modern times.


His Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) is responsible for inspecting the work of the CPS. [13] The current Chief Inspector of the CPS is Kevin McGinty. [14]

Roles and responsibilities

Pre-charge advice

The CPS will often provide confidential advice to investigators on the viability of a prosecution in complex or unusual cases. This includes clarifying the intent needed to commit an offence or addressing shortcomings in the available evidence.

Unlike in many other jurisdictions, the CPS has no power to order investigations or direct investigators to take action. Whether the CPS is asked for advice or a charging decision is entirely at the discretion of investigators (see History for background on this division of responsibilities in England & Wales).

Charging decisions

The Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for charging suspects with indictable offences (e.g. murder, rape) and all other criminal offences that lay beyond the prosecutorial authority of the police. Police forces can charge suspects with less serious summary offences (e.g. common assault, criminal damage with a low value) but cannot charge suspects with indictable offences without authorisation from a crown prosecutor (except in certain emergency situations). [15]

The Code for Crown Prosecutors requires prosecutors to answer two questions in the "Full Code Test": Is there sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction? (in other words, is there sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect on each charge). The code outlines this means that an objective, impartial and reasonable jury or bench of magistrates or judge hearing a case alone, properly directed and acting in accordance with the law, is more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged. The second question asked is: Is a prosecution required in the public interest? [16] These questions must be answered in this order; if there is insufficient evidence, the public interest in prosecuting is irrelevant.

According to the code, if there is insufficient evidence to prosecute, no further action will be taken against the suspect or the prosecutor will ask the police to carry out further inquiries to gather more evidence. When there is sufficient evidence but a prosecution is not required in the public interest, prosecutors can decide that no further action should be taken or that a caution or reprimand is a suitable alternative to prosecution.

In limited circumstances, where the Full Code Test is not met, the Threshold Test may be applied to charge a suspect. The seriousness or circumstances of the case must justify the making of an immediate charging decision, and there must be substantial grounds to object to bail. There must be a rigorous examination of the five conditions of the Threshold Test to ensure that it is only applied when necessary and that cases are not charged prematurely. All five conditions must be met before the Threshold Test can be applied. Where any of the conditions are not met, there is no need to consider any of the other conditions, as the Threshold Test cannot be applied and the suspect cannot be charged. [16] The five conditions that must be met before a Threshold Test can be applied are as follows:

  1. There are reasonable grounds to suspect that the person to be charged has committed the offence
  2. Further evidence can be obtained to provide a realistic prospect of conviction
  3. The seriousness of the circumstances of the case justifies the making of an immediate charging decision
  4. There are continuing substantial grounds to object to bail in accordance with the Bail Act 1976 and in all the circumstances of the case it is proper to do so
  5. It is in the public interest to charge the suspect [16]

A decision to charge under the Threshold Test must be kept under review. The prosecutor should be proactive to secure from the police the identified outstanding evidence or other material in accordance with an agreed timetable. The evidence must be regularly assessed to ensure that the charge is still appropriate and that continued objection to bail is justified. The Full Code Test must be applied as soon as the anticipated further evidence or material is received and, in any event, in Crown Court cases, usually before the formal service of the prosecution case. [16]

Conducting prosecutions

Whether a decision to charge is taken by police or prosecutors, the CPS will conduct the case, which includes preparing the case for court hearings, disclosing material to the defence and presenting the case in court. The CPS will be represented in court from the first hearing through to conviction/sentencing and in some cases appeal.

All prosecutions must be kept under continuous review and stopped if the Full Code Test (see above) is no longer satisfied or was never satisfied (i.e. the decision to charge was wrong). Mishandling of a case, such as failing to disclose evidence, can result in the courts either acquitting a defendant or quashing the conviction on appeal.


When an appeal against conviction or sentence is lodged by a defendant, the CPS will decide whether or not to oppose the appeal after considering the grounds of appeal. If it decides to oppose, it will present relevant evidence and material to assist the appellate court.

Exceptionally, the CPS has invited defendants to appeal when it has concluded that the safety of a conviction was questionable, for example in the case of undercover police officer Mark Kennedy.


The Extradition Act 2003 tasks the CPS with representing foreign states in extradition proceedings, heard at Westminster Magistrates' Court. While it acts on the foreign prosecutor's instructions, the CPS retains discretion on how the case should be prosecuted.

The Extradition Unit at CPS Headquarters deals with all cases in which the extradition of a person within England and Wales is sought by another state and all cases in which the CPS is seeking the extradition of an individual outside the European Union. The CPS Areas prepare and manage their own extradition requests under the European Arrest Warrant framework.

Attorney General's Treasury Counsel

Treasury Counsel are specialist advocates who prosecute many of the most serious and complex cases in the country; they are led by a "First Senior Treasury Counsel (Criminal)" and is composed of ten senior and seven junior Treasury Counsel. Treasury Counsel (Criminal) are so-named because historically they were also instructed by the Treasury Solicitor (who in earlier times was also Director of Public Prosecutions), although criminal prosecution is now overseen by the independent Crown Prosecution Service.

Current First Senior Treasury Counsel

Former First Senior Treasury Counsel


Julian Assange

The CPS faced embarrassment after it destroyed key emails relating to Julian Assange. Email exchanges between the CPS and the Swedish Prosecution Authority were deleted after CPS lawyer Paul Close retired from the CPS in 2014. According to The Guardian , the CPS "unaccountably advised the Swedes in 2010 or 2011 not to visit London to interview Assange. An interview at that time could have prevented the long-running embassy standoff." The 2011 email advised the Swedes to interview Assange "only on his surrender to Sweden and in accordance with Swedish law". [17] [18]

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan

On 30 October 2020, the Crown Prosecution Service declined to prosecute Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, a member of the UAE royal family, who was accused by the curator of the inaugural Hay festival in Abu Dhabi, Caitlin McNamara, of sexually assaulting her during a meeting to discuss human rights concerns. McNamara had been seeking a prosecution in the UK, but the CPS concluded that it could not prosecute Nahyan, as the alleged offence happened outside its jurisdiction. [19]


These individuals have served as the Director of Public Prosecutions since the CPS was established in 1986:

See also

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  15. "The CPS : Prosecution Policy and Guidance". Retrieved 19 November 2017.
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  17. MacAskill, Ewen and, and Bowcott, Owen (10 November 2017). "UK prosecutors admit destroying key emails in Julian Assange case". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 November 2017.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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  19. "Hay Festival: UAE minister will face no charges after sex assault claim". BBC News. 29 October 2020. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  1. The British Transport Police (BTP) covers the whole of Great Britain, this area deals with BTP prosecutions throughout England and Wales.