Lord Janner prosecution decision: process or plot?

24 April 2015

"Ruling raises new fears of establishment cover-up"—The Times, 16 April 2015

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said yesterday that it would not prosecute Lord Janner, a Labour peer, in relation to alleged sex offences between 1969 and 1988.

The CPS is responsible for prosecuting alleged offences in England and Wales. After the police investigate an allegation they show their evidence to the CPS, which decides whether to bring a prosecution.

A decision to prosecute doesn't mean that the defendant is guilty of the alleged offence—it means that the CPS wants a court to decide whether the defendant is guilty or not.

The CPS makes its decision to prosecute based on whether there is a realistic chance of getting a guilty verdict, and whether it's "in the public interest" to prosecute. This second question is about whether there are circumstances that make a prosecution inappropriate.

In Lord Janner's case, the CPS felt that there was enough evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of him being found guilty. But the case didn't pass the "public interest" stage of the test of whether to prosecute, because of the problems his poor health would cause for a prosecution.

According to the CPS, in 2009 Lord Janner was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and now requires continuous care. His condition means that he "could not have any meaningful engagement with the court process".

The CPS believes that even if it went ahead and prosecuted, a judge would inevitably find that he was not fit to stand trial.

That would still leave open a "fitness to plead" process, where the jury could decide whether Lord Janner actually did what's alleged. But that can't result in a criminal conviction.

Instead, the judge could in theory order detention in hospital or supervision by a social worker. But the courts have said that these measures are designed to treat the defendant, and protect the public from them if necessary.

The CPS decided that this wouldn't apply to Lord Janner, whose illness isn't treatable and who poses no risk to the public. That would only leave the judge one further option: to release him.

Prosecuting when the likely outcome is for the accused to be released is seen as a waste of time and resources.

So the prosecutors are following their normal process here; there isn't anything particularly unusual or legally controversial about someone who can't engage with the court process not being prosecuted.

The CPS has admitted that previous investigations into allegations against Lord Janner should have resulted in prosecution. Claims of a "cover-up" may be true or untrue, but they're better focused on earlier decisions than yesterday's detailed announcement.

The CPS very rarely releases this amount of detail about its decisions, and said that it has done so on this occasion precisely because of public concerns about a cover-up. It's confirmed with the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that the complainants will be able to give evidence there, in order to "tell their stories publicly".

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