What is pre-charge engagement?
When you are suspected of a crime and have been interviewed under caution, you will then be charged if the police or CPS believe they have enough evidence against you for a realistic prospect of a conviction and it is in the public interest to do so. However, before this happens, there is sometimes the possibility of pre-charge engagement.
This will involve you communicating with investigators prior to any formal charges being pressed, after the first interview under caution. Police and prosecutors can initiate it to gain a clearer idea of the facts, but you – or your legal representatives – can also suggest pre-charge engagement. After a first interview, the police routinely ask defendants if they would like to instigate pre-charge engagement.
Either you or the police can decline to take part in it, at any time. If you do so, it will not be held against you in any way.
Criminal defence solicitors may advise pre-charge engagement if it can provide investigators with exculpatory evidence to clear their client of suspicion. In recent years, social media and digital devices have often been used in pre-charge engagement.
What are the benefits of pre-charge engagement?
Of course, if you know of any evidence which could contribute to your defence, the earlier you tell your legal team about it the better. Evidence could include any materials or facts that prove your innocence, or anything that points investigators towards another line of enquiry.
As we often see, justice can take a long time to be done, particularly with police, the Crown Prosecution Service and courts all overburdened. If pre-charge engagement can bring useful evidence to light, right at the outset of the process, not only can justice be done sooner, but there might not be any need for charges to be pressed at all.
This outcome will obviously be welcomed by any defendant, regardless of the allegations. The sooner an investigation can be completed, the sooner you can get on with your life, putting the stress and disruption of criminal accusations behind you.
Needless to say, the authorities are also eager to lighten their packed caseload whenever they can, so they too will be keen to participate in pre-charge engagement to resolve matters as quickly as possible. In the Code for Crown Prosecutors, prosecutors are actively encouraged to invite suspects or their representatives to present evidence that could influence the decision on whether to press charges or not.
Even if charges are pressed after pre-charge engagement, it might be that discussions help to narrow the focus of the investigation, avoiding unnecessary enquiries and saving time.
Which cases is pre-charge engagement relevant to?
Since relevant evidence is crucial to any type of case, disclosing it early on is always the best course of action, no matter what the allegations are.
However, pre-charge engagement can be particularly useful in connection with cases involving rape or sexual assault. For historic rape/sexual assault allegations, pre-charge engagement can go long way towards establishing a defence or, indeed, alternative areas for the police to investigate.
Our approach to pre-charge engagement
As experienced criminal defence solicitors, we understand that early intervention can sometimes make all the difference to a case. We are also strong believers in taking a proactive approach to your defence where it is tactically astute to do so. If we see that pre-charge engagement could help your case, we will strongly advise getting in touch with the authorities as quickly as possible.
Our expert private client team can assist in this respect and offer a bespoke service reflecting the facts of the allegations being faced and the nature of any defence or mitigation that can be prepared or advanced.