Jeremy Clarkson – can someone decide “not to press charges”?

Jeremy Clarkson – can someone decide “not to press charges”?

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Jeremy Clarkson has been in the news a lot recently for punching his producer and, as a consequence, getting sacked from his role as presenter of Top Gear (a popular television show about cars apparently).

On 27th March 2015 it was announced that there would not be any criminal charges pursued against Mr Clarkson. This is, in the circumstances, probably pretty sensible (not always the hallmark of the CPS it has to be said) – where is the public interest in a prosecution?

But one thing needs to be addressed. The headline in the Guardian read “Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon will not press charges against Jeremy Clarkson”. This is a common misconception – that it is up to the complainant in a case as to whether there will be a prosecution.

Often, of course, it is straightforward. A person feels that they are the victim of a criminal act and report it to the police. The police then investigate and charge the suspect. Although this is common, it is important to remember that the police (and the CPS) are not the lawyers for the victim.

Firstly, the police have to make an investigation before the CPS decides whether someone should be charged. There is a specific test that has to be passed (set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors) which requires both that there is sufficient evidence to ensure a realistic prospect of conviction and that there is a public interest in prosecuting.

If these aren’t met, then that is the end of it – no prosecution by the CPS (whether the CPS always apply this test, and apply it correctly, is a matter of some dispute). The complainant can start a private prosecution, but of course they will have to pay for it.

This cuts the other way though. Every case brought by the CPS will be called R v Jones. R stands for ‘Regina’, Latin for ‘Queen’. She actually isn’t involved of course, even the most ardent royalist would struggle to defend everything done in her name.

Anyway, this is to indicate that the prosecution is brought on behalf of the public, due to the harm done to the public. Sometimes this will be clear – possession of drugs, as an example, where there may be no actual victim.

But even where the allegation is an assault, although we speak of the ‘victim’ as the person who got punched, the perpetrator is actually being prosecuted and punished for the damage done to society as a whole. Many victims don’t understand this and see the prosecutor at court as ‘their lawyer’, but this isn’t right.

One consequence is that it is not up to the victim whether or not a case proceeds. Although the wishes of the victim will be taken in to account, the CPS will frequently ignore the wishes of the victim that the case is dropped.

Although this seems wrong, it does make sense when you think about it. As an example, there are often pressures put on a victim to ‘drop’ a case and if they had complete control over whether a case proceeded, this would increase.

For this reason, victims who are reluctant to attend court can and are arrested to ensure that they give evidence. Although it does raise issues over the autonomy of victims, it can be seen why this is necessary.

So, the Guardian is not right to say that the case was not proceeded with because Mr Tymon did not wish it to do so. The fact that he did not is something that would have been taken into account, but would not be determinative.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

5 COMMENTS

  1. The public interest in prosecuting JC would be in showing that prosecutions for violent offences are even-handed.

    Endless prosecutions for minor assault are brought and secured where the assailant has caused less damage and less alarm and distress to to bystanders than was apparent here.
    Witnesses here were sufficiently scandalised to speak out, and apparently gave statements; DB should elaborate on how the public interest is better served by not charging Clarkson in the way that so many others are charged.

    Similar issues arise in relation to touchline violence involving managers and coaching staff. Where there is video and/or other evidence charges should be brought regardless of the fact that non-judicial sanctions may also operate. The public impression that there is one law for the rich….. is deeply ingrained, and extremely unhelpful to the rule of law.

    It is amazing [or perhaps not?] to me that DB does not seem to understand this…

    • I am aware of the public interest test and how it works. Here it may be that others would be prosecuted in similar circumstances, but I am not sure if they should always be – we are very quick to prosecute in cases where the best way of dealing with a case is by another form of disposal.

      • I stumbled on this blog post because I too was interested in the phrase ‘…will press charges against…’ or ‘…will not press charges against…’

        But I was interested because of the ‘fracas’ going on with Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5.

        And I was interested in exactly what this phrase means, given that the Police charge someone after an investigation. An alleged victim of a crime can only report the crime, everything else is decided by the police and CPS…or so I thought.

        However, this Jeremy Clarkson example is missing a few ‘facts’. Like, Oisin Tymon didn’t go to the police, and didn’t report it to the BBC. The whole matter was forgotton about as far as everyone was concerned, until Jeremy Clarkson decided to tell his bosses himself.

        I am guessing that the BBC told the police as part of a box ticking procedural exercise.

        So, as a member of the public, I would want to see some legal action taken against someone who for no good reason punches someone else in the face, I can see in this case that circumstances were different…

        Had Oisin Tymon gone to the police immediately, I think a different attitude would have been adopted by the police, and a prosecution may well have ensued, or some legal procedure that would make Clarkson accountable for his actions….like a caution, perhaps.

  2. Thank you, DB.

    What you haven’t done is give the criterion that you use in settling “the best way” of dealing with JC’s behaviour, and similar: this would be very good to have.

    Furthermore, having searched high and low, now, I haven’t been able to verify your original story. This is what the police put out on 27 March:

    http://www.northyorkshire.police.uk/15233

    Any comment on either point?

  3. “A person feels that they are the victim of a criminal act and report it to the police. The police then investigate and charge the suspect”

    Ha ha ha.

    I know of someone who was accused of assault. He was found not guilty (self defence) and the accuser actually admitted to assaulting him in court. There was also photographic evidence showing brusing and scrapes consitent with his description of the assault. He went to the police and asked them why they had not arrested the accuser. Their response (before even performing an investigation let alone contacting the CPS), “not in the public interest”

    Did I happen to mention the accuser was ‘vulnerable’ (i.e. a woman)?

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