It is not often that government departments have to apologise as abjectly as the Crown Prosecution Service did last May. In a grovelling statement, it admitted that a joint press release issued with the West Midlands Police was false. The press release had alleged that a Channel 4 television programme, Dispatches, had edited footage of radical Muslim preachers that completely distorted their message, and might have incited racial hatred.
It turned out that there was no evidence of such editing. The police, presumably motivated by extreme political correctness, had essentially made up the allegation. It was all very well to subsequently “accept that there was no evidence that the broadcaster or programme makers had misled the audience or that the programme was likely to encourage… (or ‘incite’) criminal activity” — but the damage had already been done.
An outsider may well wonder if the CPS routinely lets politics influence its decisions in this way, and if the incompetence that led to this particular humiliation is not more general. As an experienced prosecutor, I believe that this incident may be one of many occasions when political considerations may have strongly and wrongly influenced decisions. The CPS can be far more political than people realise.
Before a prosecution can begin, the CPS has to take account of the “public interest.” Not only must there be sufficient evidence to prosecute, there must also be some point to the prosecution. What, many members of the public rightly wished to know, was the point of prosecuting Maya Evans, the lady who was peacefully reading out the names of war victims at the Cenotaph in 2005? Similarly, the decision to prosecute the pro-hunting supporters who invaded the House of Commons in 2004 seems to have been politically motivated. Otis Ferry and his comrades were charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 for conduct liable to cause harassment, alarm or distress. It could be argued that any MP who was alarmed, harassed or distressed by such a puny protest should never have been elected, but the politicians wanted them prosecuted for something.