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Decisions to investigate less serious offending may be reviewed as police forced to reassess priorities

The Times has reported that the enforcement of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions together with the possibility of high sickness rates may result in the reduction of other policing services.  This may include a reduction in the response rate to "low-level crime such as theft, affray and cannabis dealing".  It is reported that it may also be necessary to drop ongoing investigations, presumably for more minor offences.

The Times' report is based on a "withdrawal plan" - a contingency arrangement which is understood to apply to all of England and Wales' 43 police forces.  The enforcement of social distancing restrictions is already putting pressure on police resources.  It is feared that if police sickness levels reach 20-30% in April that this will necessitate the further redeployment of police officers.

Elsewhere in the criminal justice system, the Lord Chief Justice has ordered that all jury trials be suspended due to the health risks they pose.  His announcement can be found here.

When considering whether a prosecution should be brought or continued, the police and Crown Prosecution Service should have regard to The Code for Crown Prosecutors.  The Full Test includes both 'evidential' and 'public interest' stages.  The public interest stage encourages prosecutors to consider the appropriateness of 'out-of-court disposals' (paragraph 4.9-4.10).  The non-exhaustive list of factors include at paragraph 4.14(f)(i) include a requirement to consider the wider cost to the criminal justice system.  Greater pressure on the criminal justice system as a result of COVID-19, may tilt the balance in favour of out-of-court disposals in borderline cases.


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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.