Suspects in criminal investigations will no longer be told by police they do not face any charges because of ‘insufficient evidence’ the government has announced. It was responding to concerns that the phrase would cause an individual's innocence to be questioned by the public and the media.
Following a consultation with the police, Crown Prosecution Service and Attorney General's Office, the Home Office has announced that different wording will be used to communicate decisions when cases do not proceed to a charge.
Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford (Susan Williams), in a letter to Conservative peer Lord Marlesford (Mark Shuldham Schreiber), said police will choose from one of two options depending on the circumstances.
Police may say: 'The evidence did not meet the evidential stage of the full code test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors'; or 'Further action is not in the public interest.'
The latter phrase will be used in cases where the CPS considers there is sufficient evidence to meet the evidential test set out in the code, but determines that it would not be in the public interest to pursue a prosecution.
According to the letter, Marlesford expressed concern during the committee stage of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 in November last year that the phrase 'insufficient evidence' implied 'there was some evidence and that the former suspect would not be regarded by the general public and the media as completely innocent'.
The letter states that Marlesford also wanted the phrase 'lack of evidence' to be used in notifications.
Williams said: 'You have previously made the point that there has been some comment in the media, in the light of high-profile cases being dropped due to "insufficient evidence", that could leave an outsider observer thinking that there must have been something there.
'As I raised in the house, this reflects the reality of policing, in that there has to be sufficient evidence to justify an arrest - that is, reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence has been committed. However, the investigative process in such cases will often end up with insufficient evidence - or, "a lack of evidence" - that could still mean there was some evidence, but not sufficient to charge.
'I appreciate that this is a small semantic difference, but it is an important distinction to make.'
Williams said the revised notification wording will be sent to police forces 'imminently'.