Caroline Flack death: How does the Crown Prosecution Service decide to charge someone?

·5-min read
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2019/04/30: Caroline Flack at the JW Marriott Grosvenor House - 90th anniversary party at the JW Marriott Grosvenor House, Park Lane. (Photo by Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Caroline Flack was found dead at her home on Saturday. (PA via Getty Images)

The Crown Prosecution Service has explained how it decides whether or not to charge someone, in the wake of criticism following the death of Caroline Flack.

The 40-year-old Love Island presenter was found dead at her home in north London on Saturday.

A lawyer for her family said she had taken her own life.

She had been scheduled to face trial next month for allegedly assaulting her boyfriend, Lewis Burton, 27, at her then flat in Islington in December.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 23: Love Island presenter Caroline Flack leaves Highbury Corner Magistrates Court on December 23, 2019 in London, England. The Love Island host attended court after being charged with assault by beating following an argument with boyfriend Lewis Burton. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
Caroline Flack leaves Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court in December after being charged with assault. (Getty Images)

Read more: Tributes paid after Caroline Flack found dead aged 40

She stepped down from presenting the current edition of Love Island after the alleged incident.

Flack entered a “not guilty” plea to the charge at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court and was released on bail, with conditions that stopped her having any contact with Burton ahead of a trial in March.

Her management company criticised the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for not dropping the charge even though Burton said he did not want the case to go ahead.

What did Caroline Flack’s management company say?

The company accused the CPS of pressing ahead with a “show trial” of a “vulnerable” person.

Francis Ridley, from Money Talent Management, said: “The Crown Prosecution Service pursued this when they knew not only how very vulnerable Caroline was but also that the alleged victim did not support the prosecution and had disputed the CPS version of events.

“The CPS should look at themselves today and how they pursued a show trial that was not only without merit but not in the public interest. And ultimately resulted in significant distress to Caroline.”

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What was the response of the Crown Prosecution Service?

Initially, the CPS said its “deepest sympathies go to the family and friends” of Flack but did not comment further.

However, on Sunday, the CPS said it had been asked questions about “the role of the CPS in deciding whether to charge an individual with a criminal offence”.

On its website it published information that “explains our role and approach”.

The CPS said the information was “not a comment on any individual case”.

How does the CPS decide on whether or not to charge someone with a criminal offence?

The CPS said: “We do not decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence – that is for the jury, judge or magistrate – but we must make the key decision of whether a case should be put before a court.”

Read more: How Caroline Flack's rise to Love Island fame made her household name

It said every charging decision is based on the same two-stage test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors:

– Does the evidence provide a realistic prospect of conviction? That means, having heard the evidence, is a court more likely than not to find the defendant guilty?

– Is it in the public interest to prosecute? That means asking questions including how serious the offence is, the harm caused to the victim, the impact on communities and whether prosecution is a proportionate response.

Floral tributes placed outside Caroline Flack's former home in North London. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
Floral tributes placed outside Caroline Flack's former home in north London. (PA Images via Getty Images)

What about when an alleged victim does not want to proceed?

The CPS said: “Guidance for prosecutors when considering domestic abuse allegations gives specific advice on how to proceed when a complainant does 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.

In a section of the CPS website with the heading “Retractions and withdrawals by complainants”, it says: “It is possible that a complainant may ask the police not to proceed any further with a prosecution case and say they no longer wish to give evidence.

“There may be a number of reasons why a complainant will withdraw their support from a prosecution, or retract their allegation, but this does not mean that the case will be automatically stopped.”

Why might a complainant no longer support a case?

The CPS said factors include fear of other offences being committed or risk of further harm, fear of coming face-to-face with the abuser in court, pressure from the perpetrator, fear of repercussions that may follow from peers of the perpetrator, fear of being publicly shamed and a wish to be reconciled with the perpetrator.

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The CPS say reasons such as these should be considered as a means to assist prosecutors in understanding how they will need to consider the next steps to be taken.

What have other legal experts said?

Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for the North West, wrote on Twitter: "To those who want to understand why prosecutors pursue cases of domestic assault even when the ‘victim’ withdraws.

"Sometimes you need to protect someone even when they can't see it themselves."

The lawyer who writes anonymously under the name of the Secret Barrister tweeted: “As fingers are frantically pointed in every direction, and articles are deleted and history is hastily rewritten, maybe our priority should instead be to look at how we treat the people – the living, breathing, bleeding human beings – at the centre of our criminal justice system.”

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