Statement re House of Commons debate on the Public Prosecution Service and Legacy in Northern Ireland on 13th January 2022

14 January 2022

The PPS has a statutory duty to take decisions as to prosecution in relation to all files submitted by investigators where there is evidence that a criminal offence may have been committed.

In every case it does so by independently and impartially assessing whether the evidence provides a reasonable prospect of conviction and, if so, whether prosecution is in the public interest. All decisions are taken without fear or favour and are completely free from any political consideration or influence.

The PPS recognises the particular complexities and sensitivities that arise in relation to legacy cases. Such cases are handled by a team of highly experienced prosecutors who are assisted by experienced independent barristers, some of whom are based outside this jurisdiction.

Whilst an extremely high degree of rigour and professionalism is brought to these cases, they are often difficult and controversial and, in the context of Northern Ireland’s divided society, continue to attract significant attention and debate.

In each case the PPS seeks to be as transparent as possible as to the reasons for its decisions. Where decisions not to prosecute are taken detailed reasons are provided to victims and families and also, where possible, the public. Where cases are prosecuted the basis for the case is presented within the trial process. In this way the PPS is accountable under the law for its decisions.

The absence of political oversight of decision-making in individual cases is a key element of the Northern Ireland justice architecture that was put in place in order to maximise public confidence in the criminal justice system.

The PPS understands its role as a central pillar of this criminal justice system.  Statements such as those made in the House of Commons yesterday, where they fail to accurately reflect the role of the prosecutor and the decision-making processes within the PPS, are unhelpful and risk unnecessary damage to public confidence on an already sensitive subject. 

It is a common misconception that where a case results in acquittal the decision to proceed must have been wrong. However, it is the role of the Court to decide whether a defendant is guilty of the offence charged and it is the duty of the prosecution to proceed with cases where there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and the Test for Prosecution is met.


Notes to Editors:

  1. Further information on the Test for Prosecution can be found by clicking the link.
  2. The results of the latest Life and Times Survey which monitors public confidence levels in the PPS can be found on our website.
  3. In the 2020-21 financial year, the overall PPS conviction rate in the Crown Court was 91.6% compared with 87.6% in 2019/20. The conviction rate in the Magistrates’ and Youth Courts was 81.1%, similar to 2019/20 (81.3%).