None will cheer as loudly as our beleaguered police forces at the news that the decision to charge on a wide number of offences is to be removed from the slippery hands of the CPS and put back into the ample maw of the custody sergeant.
Where the Crown Prosecution Service was endlessly in thrall to the wonders of ‘targets’ and the economic ‘possibilities’ of a successful prosecution, your average custody sergeant, faced with the hissing spitting, vomiting, cussing pride of his local council state took in a wide range of considerations.
Would the mindless scrota in front of him be inconvenienced by yet another appearance at the local magistrates’ court? Would the magistrates at last get the picture that this was a serial offender? Would PC Dobbins morale be raised by another notch on his belt in return for having been kicked near unconscious outside MacDonalds whilst arresting young Scrota? Would the young employee of MacDonalds feel more confident calling 999 next time Scrota and his mates appeared and tried to urinate in the French fries?
These are all perfectly valid outcomes of the forces of law and order, albeit subjective. Ones that were removed in 2003 from the control of the custody sergeant and handed to the CPS. The CPS after weeks of deliberation, concerning only the possibility of a conviction, and caring nothing for the wider concerns of the community would invariably decide that it was ‘not in the public interest’ – or at least their narrow, economically driven, vision of the public interest.
So a big hurrah for Theresa May, putting the power back where it should be? Maybe not.
One of the cases which the CPS did decide was in the public interest to charge, was that of Paul Chambers, the ‘Twitter’ hoax bomb caller, which Jack of Kent has covered extensively. Paul was charged under Section 127(1)(A) and (3) of the Communications Act 2003. Those little sub sections are important, for:
“In contrast with section 127(2)(a) and its predecessor subsections, which require proof of an unlawful purpose and a degree of knowledge, section 127(1)(a) provides no explicit guidance on the state of mind which must be proved against a defendant to establish an offence against the subsection.
Jack of Kent was of the opinion that the CPS understood this section to be strict liability – in other words that they would not need to prove any intention that the message was perceived as ‘menacing’.
In the event, the District Judge, by some remarkably obtuse reasoning which dismissed the defendant’s own statement as to what was going on inside his mind, decided that his intentions were menacing. Paul now has a £1,000 fine and a criminal record.
The CPS are showing a definite liking for Section 127 of the Communications Act, for there is another case bubbling away in the nether regions of England. That of Sarah Crickmer.
Sarah has been charged under Section 127(2)(a) and (3) of the Communications Act 2003 with sending a false message by ‘public electronic communication network’ to ‘cause annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’ on November 26th last year. There is no doubt that the CPS will have to prove intent this time.
Sarah is not a bored village layabout calling the fire brigade ‘for a laugh’. She is a freelance journalist. An experienced freelance journalist with a fine pedigree. Daughter-in-law of the legendary Clive Crickmer, and wife to Gareth Crickmer.
It is alleged that she falsely called out the mountain rescue team in Skiddaw during the devastating floods of last year in order to establish whether the volunteer rescue services had the ability to cover on-hill emergencies at a time mountain teams were at full stretch dealing with the floods.
She had already upset the local police by failing to adhere to a ‘do not disturb’ request put out by the Police in respect of the family of PC Bill Baker who was swept away during the devastating flooding while trying to save lives by directing motorists off a bridge which collapsed. Sarah knocked on his wife’s door and asked if she was prepared to give an interview. Something his wife was happy to give The Daily Telegraph.
The fact that she had done so appeared to be known by several of the police who have had cause to interview her during the past six months waiting for a decision from the CPS. They referred to it frequently. PC Bill Baker was a popular man.
It was not until last week that she was told whether she was to be charged or not – in the end they gave her exactly two hours to arrive at Workington Police Station or risk arrest – she lives in Newcastle on the other side of the country.
She managed to make the appointment and was duly charged and told she would have to appear on June 4th. She doesn’t have a solicitor appointed to act for her yet. She has gone away until next Monday. Even her husband can’t contact her.
Which may have an unfortunate side effect, for in conversation with West Allendale Magistrates Court today, I learned that the Police had, quote, ‘wrongly bailed her’.
West Allendale have her listed for May 21st, this Friday. If she doesn’t appear she will have broken her bail conditions and be subject to arrest. She doesn’t know that. I hope she is reading this.
Far be it from me to suggest that Workington Police are making life as difficult as possible for someone who has got up their noses – or that giving the decision to charge back to the local police is anything but good news. There are, however, some advantages to the ability to charge being retained in the hands of people far away taking an objective view. Sarah was charged on orders from the CPS – but her case is a gentle reminder that giving the ability to charge back to custody officers could result in subjective decisions to extract revenge.
What think you?