The Crown Prosecution Services (CPS)
Legal systems in the developed world have two main bases, the English Common Law and the Napoleonic Code. In essence while the Code is followed by most of continental Europe and in French dependencies and former French colonies, the English Common Law is the basis for legal systems in the Commonwealth and in the USA. The Napoleonic Code gave the power to direct inquiries and initiate prosecutions to investigating magistrates and in the USA the office of District Attorney was developed, taking responsibility for prosecuting offences and directing police inquiries. Rather uniquely, this is usually an elected rather than appointed post, which brings with it all the potential for corruption that goes with the political process. In England on the other hand anyone could lay information before the magistrates and begin prosecution. As a result, until 1987 the police were responsible not only for all the aspects of investigating offences but also for prosecuting them, employing lawyers where necessary, just like any other litigant. In Scotland the Procurator Fiscal is responsible for prosecutions and can direct police inquiries. This may be due to the way that the Scottish law developed before the eighteenth century, when there was a strong bond between Scotland and France.
The CPS has come on the scene quite late compared to other prosecuting authorities and, on the face of it, lacks the glamour and powers of its Scottish, continental and American counterparts. Relationships between the CPS and the Police were initially strained, partly because there were resentment in the police that their authority had been diminished in that they no longer took the decision to prosecute, and partly because the CPS was seriously under-resourced and had great difficulty in handling its caseload efficiently.
In recent years the situation has changed considerably. The CPS is now well established and handles its workload efficiently. Although it does not have the power to direct police inquiries it is now involved at an early stage in the investigation of serious or complex offences and it would be a rather naïve and arrogant investigating officer who ignored any advice that the CPS gave. If the investigator does not do as the prosecutor asks it is likely that the prosecutor will subsequently decide not to proceed, or not to proceed with the charge that the officer would prefer. The key to successful working relies on personalities and the fact that the prosecutor is now a part of the investigation process creates a situation which can be exploited by writers in terms of tension and conflict.
The Fire Service
Relations between a police force and its local fire brigade at a very senior level are usually very good. At street level there always seems to be some tension for reasons that have never been clear to me but I have witnessed it in both the English and the Royal Hong Kong Police. In both it seems to have arisen out of two issues: unionization and precedence. At the beginning of the twentieth century both services developed trade unions but following the police strikes in 1918 and 1919 the police were forbidden by law from joining trade unions and the Police Federation was created. This has inevitably led to situations where the police have either substituted for firefighters directly or assisted the military to do so when firefighters have taken industrial action.
The more likely reason for the tension is the issue of precedence. Until relatively recently the fire service resented the fact that the police were recognized as being in overall control of emergencies and there was a concerted move by the brigades to change the situation, so that they were in charge. It is now resolved that the fire service is responsible for the immediate scene of any emergency – putting out the fire and facilitating the rescue of people trapped – but that the police remain in overall command. This is logical for three reasons. The first is that the police have the numbers and the infrastructure to deal with large emergencies which require the setting up of command areas and rendezvous points and facilitating the fire and ambulance services into and away from the scene. Secondly, if there are any deaths the police will be responsible for investigating them, either reporting their results to the coroner or conducting prosecutions. Thirdly, any prosecution will almost certainly be based on a forensic examination of the scene. While the first service has some limited capability here they do not have the depth of experience and knowledge necessary to do this effectively and, crucially, they will not be responsible for all the other enquiries, such as insurance fraud, nor for any subsequent prosecution.
Most police officers would say that the relationship with hospitals and GP surgeries is great when the police are doing something for them but they are not very good at returning the favour when they want them to do something. Most casualty departments are grateful when police officers include them in their patrols in the late evening, especially at weekends, as it reminds the drunks who make their life difficult that there is a police presence and that there may be a penalty for abusing or assaulting staff. Similarly the police are used routinely to trace and contact relatives, to escort transplant material, etc.
The difficulty arises when the police look for some sort of quid pro quo, usually looking for information on someone who has been treated for an injury. NHS staff then retreat, in most cases perfectly appropriately, behind patient confidentiality. But the fact that it may be justified doesn’t make it any easier to accept when you know that they have information that would greatly assist your inquiries. Another point of conflict is where a prisoner needs medical treatment. The doctors and nurses are very uneasy at treating a prisoner in the presence of a police officer, and there is usually much discussion before it is finally agreed that the officer needs to be there for everybody’s safety, not least that of the general public.
Police are now very much at arm’s length with the judiciary, both crown court judges and magistrates. This has always been the case with judges as it is rare for police to meet them anywhere other than a courtroom and, unlike some fictional judges, in real life they are only too willing to restrict their activity to the courtroom. The relationship with magistrates used to be different when police presented their own cases in court, as active officers would appear frequently and would over time develop a relationship with the bench, especially if it was a stipendiary magistrate. Now that all the cases are presented by the CPS and as much as possible is done to encourage a guilty plea, often on a lesser charge, in order to save everyone’s time, police officers have a very little contact with the judiciary.
Most of the issues concerned with the prevention of crime in a strategic rather than tactical sense are under the control of local government – education, town planning, social services, youth services – so it is not too surprising to find that there is extensive contact between police and local government agencies at every level. At senior level they work together in the Community Safety Partnerships which organize a whole gamut of activities, amongst which probably the most important is the implementation of the government’s drugs strategy.
Where police have established either neighbourhood policing teams or problem-oriented policing (POP), this relationship will extend all the way down to street level, tackling problem hotspots in a multifaceted way. Police have been involved in schools for a very long time. This can extend to officers being members of governing bodies, or even being posted permanently to some of the very big inner-city comprehensives. The other major involvement is around domestic violence in its many forms: child abuse and attacks on wives or partners. After a shaky start in which the social workers and medics worried about the police being too prosecution-minded, officers are now an integral part of the case conferencing process and most forces now have units dedicated to family protection.
There is very little contact between police force and central government, even at chief constable level. My experience is that the senior mandarins treat police officers with a mixture of wariness and condescension, the latter increasing as one moves from the Home Office to the Foreign Office, and reaching its peak with the Treasury (which I believe is the way they treat each other).