Caroline Flack: Why Crown Prosecution Service pursues cases if victim complaint withdrawn

Former Love Island host Caroline FlackFormer Love Island host Caroline Flack
Former Love Island host Caroline Flack
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has faced criticism from Caroline Flack's management and people on social media, after the presenter died by suicide on Friday just weeks before she was due to stand trial.

The former Love Island presenter was arrested and charged with assault by beating in December, in an incident involving her 27-year-old boyfriend, Lewis Burton.

Ms Flack reportedly attacked her boyfriend at her then flat in Islington. She denied the charge at Highbury Corner's Magistrates' Court and was released on bail, under condition that she stopped having any contact with Mr Burton ahead of the trial set for 4 March.

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Floral tributes were placed outside Caroline Flack's home in North LondonFloral tributes were placed outside Caroline Flack's home in North London
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Criticism has also been levied at the CPS that the presenter was vulnerable at the time of the case proceedings. Following her death, Ms Flack's management condemned the prosecution service for pursuing a "show trial", which the representatives claimed was "not only without merit but not in the public interest".

The law

When it comes to the CPS pursuing a criminal case, there is no law that states what ought to happen if a complainant does not want to press charges or decides not to continue with a case, Stephen Halloran at Lawtons Law said. The issue, especially in the case of Ms Flack or others involving domestic violence, is the kind of precedent it sets when the CPS does drop a case.

"As a matter of public policy and, especially in domestic violence cases, to have a situation where the complainant determines what happens runs the real risk of those who are long-term victims of domestic violence being pressured into dropping a case," he said.

The Secret Barrister echoed this when responding to questions about the case on Twitter, and said: "Cases cannot be dropped simply because a complainant doesn’t want their partner prosecuted. Such a system would reward those who successfully coerce victims to withdraw. Sometimes cases must be pursued without the consent of the alleged victim."

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The dangerous consequences of this were often seen in the past, said Delphine Breese-Laughran of One Pump Court, an organisation providing legal advice to disadvantaged groups.

"The police used to proceed only if the victim co-operated, which resulted in a lot of repeat abuse," she explained.

Domestic violence is treated very seriously by the CPS, which notes the lasting trauma it can leave on victims and families. The CPS explains that if a victim does drop their statement, then another is needed to explain the reasons why it has been withdrawn.

These cases are held in different court buildings and usually have special arrangements, including separate entrances and exits to stop each party coming into contact with the other.

'Lost complexities'

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One issue that arises from this system however, is that the victims' voice in domestic violence cases can often become lost.

"From experience, whenever the words ‘domestic violence’ are heard, the police and CPS charge every person arrested and leave the courts to deal with the complexities. The alleged victims’ voice is lost through the process, and unrealistic bail conditions are imposed," said Rachel Fletcher, partner and head of crime and regulatory at Slater Heelis LLP.

She noted that in Ms Flack's case it was understood the former presenter was vulnerable, and said the CPS's decision to take it to trial highlights the "zero-tolerance approach" seen in the criminal justice system daily.

The Secret Barrister also touched on this when responding to questions about the case online, and pointed out the impact of the criminal process can have on the accused, whether an allegation is true or not.

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Writing on Twitter, they said: "Nobody, except those involved in a criminal case, knows enough details to comment on whether the CPS was right or wrong to pursue a prosecution.

"But certain difficult truths are worthy of reflection. Such as the lack of systemic oversight for the ongoing welfare of the accused," they said.

"Rarely is it acknowledged how the strain of the criminal process - whether the allegation is true or not - can affect a person. Can break a person. And this lack of care pervades not only the system, but our society."

CPS response

In the wake of the criticism, the CPS detailed how it decides to proceed with cases.

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"The CPS does not investigate allegations of crime, or choose which cases to consider. CPS prosecutors must review every case referred to us by the police, or other investigators. We provide expert legal advice early in investigations to help build strong cases, or identify where a suspect should not be charged," they said.

"We do not decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence - that is for the jury, judge or magistrate - but we must make the key decision of whether a case should be put before a court."

This is decided by determining whether a case has reasonable evidence for a conviction, and whether there is a public interest to prosecute, the CPS said.