Pre-Charge Engagement: What Happens After A Police Interview?
Generally speaking, in cases where a suspect has been bailed or released under investigation, the period after a police interview is a waiting game – the police will continue their investigation, and then either a police officer will make the decision, or they will send the case file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a decision to be made on whether someone should be charged with an offence and taken to court. Often, suspects are left in limbo for a long time while this process takes place.
However, this can be a key period in a case, where the defence can provide further information in order to influence the decision on charge. This can be in a number of different ways, either regarding the evidence itself, or about whether it’s in the public interest to charge.
Previously, there was no public funding available in this period. It was possible to pay on a private basis, but this meant that many clients were not able to mount a proactive defence during this period.
Public funding has now been introduced in cases where there is agreement between the police and the defence, to allow the defence to be proactive during this period of time. This means that there is scope for the defence to consider whether there is other relevant information which the police / CPS should be taking into account when making a decision on whether or not to charge a suspect with an offence.
This is referred to as pre-charge engagement, and its scope was set out in the Attorney General’s Guidelines on Disclosure, which were updated following a Review, and several high profile cases where prosecutions collapsed very late in the court proceedings when disclosure failings were uncovered. The concerns of defence lawyers and our clients were that, if this disclosure and these investigations were considered to begin with, the defendant would not have had to go through the trauma of being dragged through the court systems when they had been falsely accused of a crime.
Pre-charge engagement may involve, among other things:
- Identifying or commenting on any proposed further lines of inquiry
- Giving information or access to digital material which is relevant to the investigation
- Providing encryption keys or passwords regarding potential evidence
- Proposing ‘key word’ searches of digital material
- Providing access to medical records
- Providing information regarding potential witnesses
- Discussion of expert or forensic evidence and considering whether the defence should instruct their own expert
When considering whether to give the police further information, the pre-charge stage is just as important as a police interview. For example, it is likely to be in your best interests not to give the police consent to obtain your medical records, but instead provide this consent to your defence lawyers, who can obtain these records, consider them, and then give you advice on whether or not these should be provided to the police.
Whether under the publicly funded scheme, or under private funding, there are many steps which can be taken between interview and charge, in order to advance your case and promote your defence. This crucial stage can be the difference between being charged, and no further action being taken.