Public against dropping criminal charges due to old age and sickness

Public against dropping criminal charges due to old age and sickness
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An overwhelming majority of people oppose dropping criminal cases due to illness or old age of defendants

More than 2,000 suspected criminals avoided prosecution last year because of their ill-health or age, official figures show. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) revealed 1,892 criminal cases were dropped at English and Welsh courts in 2014 due to the “significant ill-health, elderliness or youth” of a defendant. Another 439 cases were abandoned before the suspect was charged.

The vast majority of people oppose dropping criminal cases due to illness or old age, new First Verdict research reveals. Less than one in ten support dropping cases if the accused is very sick, while a handful would back the dropping of charges due to a defendant’s old age.

Although the majority oppose dropping charges, this issue sparked a reaction from many First Verdict users. One opinion suggests “sentences shouldn't be reduced because of age or sickness, but the location of any imprisonment should be reconsidered and fines should be scaled according to income”. Another comment notes that the decision to prosecute and old/sick person should depend on whether the trial is in the public interest.

One First Verdict user suggested a compromising approach by saying “the very old or sick should still go to trial to allow those affected to have their say and feel justice is on their side. However, age and illness would need to be considered when sentencing”. In the opinion of a lawyer on the First Verdict panel, difference between physical or mental health issues of the defendant should be taken into account: “The difference between mental and physical health plays a part in the consideration because of the difference it makes to the fairness of a potential trial”.

The CPS figures say the number of cases dropped because of ill-health, elderliness or youth accounted for 0.3% of all prosecutions in 2014. The data has been released amidst a wide public debate about the case of Lord Janner after the CPS decided not pursue him for child sex abuse charges because he suffers from dementia, before the decision was overturned following a review.

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