Criminals in the UK Could Dodge Prosecution During Coronavirus Pandemic

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: A statue of the scales of justice stand above the Old Bailey on February 16, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Prosecutors in the United Kingdom have been told that during the coronavirus pandemic, some criminals will have to take priority over others, meaning many will go uncharged during the lockdown.

The head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Max Hill QC said that British prosecutors should determine the public interest of criminal cases before prosecuting certain offenders to free up court resources.

“We know very well the impact crime can have on people’s lives, so we want the public to be confident that — even in these very difficult circumstances — justice will be done,” Hill said, according to The Telegraph.

“Our very function is to prosecute, but we cannot ignore the unprecedented challenge facing the criminal justice system,” Hill added.

While stressing that the updated guidelines will only impact a minority of cases, Mr Hill said that the government must ensure that the “most dangerous offenders are dealt with as a priority as we adapt to challenging circumstances”.

Under the emergency measures, prosecutors have been instructed to drop cases against offenders that face long wait times before a court hearing, including young and elderly offenders and those who have already spent a lengthy period in custody.

The CPS has also suggested dropping cases against offenders who have pleaded guilty to a more serious offence and against those who could be given an “out of court” settlement such as a fine or warning when “appropriate”.

Currently, over 80 per cent of the court cases in England and Wales are being conducted over video and audio technological platforms to follow the social distancing rules introduced by the government during the pandemic. Between the 19th of March and the 6th of April, the number of court hearings being held remotely jumped from 100 to approximately 1,850.

The chairman of the Bar Council, Amanda Pinto, said that the British judiciary was already stretched thin before the pandemic due to lack of resources, adding that “it is unrealistic to think that the police and CPS can continue as though COVID-19 doesn’t exist”.

“It is an inevitable consequence of the pandemic that the police and CPS must prioritise some cases over others. The important thing is to ensure that the right priorities are identified and given practical effect. Of course, it is in the public interest that those who commit crimes are dealt with for their wrongdoing and that they are dealt with swiftly. It is all the more so for serious crime,” Ms Pinto warned.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Justice announced it would be releasing some 4,000 low-risk criminals from prisons in England and Wales to prevent a coronavirus outbreak in the nation’s prison system.

Follow Kurt on Twitter at @KurtZindulka

.

Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.