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.