The power to decide charges for those suspected of crimes will be passed from the Crown Prosecution Service to the police under plans announced by the home secretary today, in what she called a ‘radical leap forward for policing’.

Theresa May said the Home Office will pilot doubling the number of charges transferred to the police, making them responsible for 80% of charging decisions, including shoplifting cases.

‘This will save even more time, stopping them from having to ring up the CPS to make the decision for them or having to bail the offender to come back at a later date,’ said May.

If the pilot is successful and is fully rolled out, she said the change could save an estimated 40,000 hours of police officer time.

May said discretion over some charging decisions had already been restored to the police, and is being extended because of the CPS’ view of the ‘positive and effective’ way the police have responded.

Charging defendants by post was among other measures outlined today to provide a ‘new, simpler and potentially quicker’ way of bringing a defendant to court for a prosecution.

May said that in ‘appropriate bail cases’, this will allow officers to send a written charge by post, requiring the defendant to attend court on a specific date to answer the charge, rather than calling the suspect back to the police station.

She said this could save up to another 40,000 police officer hours annually.

The moves are part of raft of changes announced today, aimed at reducing police bureaucracy and giving police more control over the way they operate. They follow up a pledge made by the home secretary a year ago to give the police more freedom.

The Home Office estimates that the package of reforms could save over 2.5 million police hours every year, the equivalent of 1,200 police officer posts, enabling officer time to be spent safeguarding vulnerable people, such as young domestic abuse victims.

May said: ‘The overall package of reforms I have outlined today is a radical leap forward for policing.’

She said: ‘These reforms are a watershed moment in policing. They show that we really mean business in busting bureaucracy.’

May insisted the reforms were not about saving money, but about ‘delivering a better service to vulnerable people’.

‘This sort of approach would enhance public protection, not lessen it; it would improve the police response to these crimes, not hamper it,’ she said.

A CPS spokesperson said: ‘Last year, the Home Secretary announced the CPS/Association of Chief Police Officers pilot of the return of some offences to police to charge.

'This was largely in response to Jan Berry’s report on Reducing Bureaucracy in Policing, and recent evaluation has shown that this was successful and could save the CPS £1.5 million a year.

'Together, the CPS and ACPO will now undertake another pilot to return further offences to the police for charging – namely shoplifting where a not guilty plea is anticipated.

'Under the present arrangements the police can only charge in these cases when a guilty plea is anticipated.

‘The CPS took over charging decisions in the most serious, sensitive and complex cases in 2006, but police always retained around 67% of all charging decisions – made up of high volumes of less serious cases.

'Last year’s pilot is now being rolled out and expected to be completed by end of June. This means police charges will now account for around 72% of all charging decisions.

'It is predicted that this further pilot could take that figure close to 80%.

‘The CPS continues make charging decisions in the most complex and serious cases, and these changes will clarify the distinction between CPS and police charging responsibility, as well as continuing to speed up the charging process without affecting the quality of decision making.

'Those offences returned to police are now charged an estimated 30 to 45 minutes quicker than before, when police would need to contact a CPS lawyer and wait for them to assess the evidence.

‘Modernising the charging process is aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice system by cutting back on bureaucracy and minimising delays.

'The 4th Director of Public Prosecutions’ Guidance on Charging set outs these new charging responsibilities for police officers and the role of prosecutors.’