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Why we still prosecute too many people

Penelope Gibbs
30 May 2015

The number of prosecutions has gone down in recent years, but when I talk to those advocating and sitting in the magistrates’ courts, I’m still shocked at the cases which get to court.  Justice needs to be done, but it needs to be proportionate and any sentence should do something to change behaviour.  But this is frequently not the case.  I spoke to a lawyer the other day.  Her colleague had recently been asked to prosecute a man so mentally ill that he was in a secure hospital.  The man had been in a room where a nurse was making a phone call.  He smacked her on the bottom and this was reported to the police.  The man was prosecuted for assault.  At every stage of the process, the defence and the bench suggested that the prosecution was not in the public interest since the accused was not fit to plead.  Eventually the accused man’s psychiatrist had to come to court (at a cost of £3,500 to the taxpayer) to verify that he really wasn’t fit to plead.  Only then, at the third court hearing, was the case abandoned.  Given that the accused man was already in a secure hospital, it seems absurd that he was ever prosecuted for this offence.  The case will have cost thousands of pounds in court time, CPS and defence costs as well as the psychiatric report.  Maybe if the government needs to save costs they should look at cases like these.  No-one condones the assault of NHS staff, but prosecutions need to achieve something.  What proportion do?