Who begins proceedings in criminal law?

The simple answer is anyone can commence proceedings for a crime. It is rare for individuals to start proceedings because it is so expensive and there are mechanisms in place to stop people starting frivolous prosecutions.

However we often defend proceedings commenced by local authorities under the education act for example or for trading standards prosecutions, the Southwest water authority prosecute people and environment agency to name but three.

The vast majority of prosecutions are commenced by the police and in order to commence those proceedings there is the decision making process that the police have to go through. However the decision is initially made by the police and it is often taken out of the hands of the victim as to whether or not the proceedings should continue. It is important to understand that once the police have made the decision to prosecute it is theirs and the Crown Prosecution Service who make the decision to discontinue the proceedings.

This is often the case in matters of domestic violence where the complainant does not wish to continue with the case but the police continue with the case regardless because they feel they have sufficient evidence without the complainant giving evidence or feel able to compel the complainant to come to court.

This can often be frustrating for a couple who want to reconcile, but it is part and parcel of the policy that the police have in respect of allegations of domestic violence.

Defendants can often find that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service completely disregard the factual situation at the point of trial. It is the case that some defendants find themselves convicted of crimes such as assault criminal damage when their wives or partners have not given evidence against them.

The Crown Prosecution Service have a duty to victims of crime and it is a duty that they take it seriously and they will not discontinue proceedings without consultation with the victims and the police. They are subject to a draconian complaints procedure in the event of not prosecuting and it may be said that decisions are made to continue with prosecutions that should be dropped on the basis that if the court find the defendant not guilty which is often the case it is the court’s decision and not theirs and no complaint can follow.

So if you have been accused of harassment or domestic violence or assault in the context of a relationship, partnership or marriage, the initial decision will be that of the police but the continuation of the proceedings is the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service who are under duty to review that decision.

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