Public Prosecutions before 1879
Before 1879 no single authority was charged with the general supervision of criminal prosecutions. The Home Office gave advice on prosecutions to police forces and magistrates' clerks and gave directions to the Treasury Solicitor to institute proceedings in important cases, notably those involving political crimes. The Treasury Solicitor gradually acquired responsibility for the conduct of prosecutions brought by many other government departments, while the law officers were responsible for legal advice and advocacy in connection with the more important crown cases.
The Attorney General was also able to institute proceedings by means of ex officio informations in Queen's Bench, to take over the conduct of proceedings instituted by a private person and to suspend proceedings by entry of the writ nolle prosequi. Public prosecutors were also employed in certain of the lower courts. Four Treasury counsel were employed by the Treasury Solicitor in the Central Criminal Court. Public prosecutors were also employed by a number of clerks of the peace; and certain large police authorities maintained salaried prosecuting solicitors.
A series of enquiries into criminal prosecutions in England and Wales, notably by the criminal law commissioners in 1845 and two select committees on public prosecutions, 1854 to 1856, and the advocacy of the system of public prosecutions in Scotland and Ireland led to a series of legislative attempts to introduce such a system in England and Wales. The failure of such bills led to the more limited measure enacted as the Prosecution of Offenders Act 1879.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, 1879-1908
The Office of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was instituted by the Prosecution of Offences Act 1879. The Director was empowered to institute and conduct criminal proceedings prescribed in regulations under the act in cases of importance or difficulty or where the usual course of proceedings was likely to be ineffective, and to give advice and assistance to chief officers of police, clerks to justices and others wishing to institute proceedings. The Director was to act under the superintendence of the Attorney General who was required to draft the regulations, which also required the approval of the Lord Chancellor and a secretary of state and were to be submitted to both Houses of Parliament.
The Director was also authorised by the regulations of 1880 to prosecute cases formerly referred by the Home Office to the Treasury Solicitor, and in special circumstances to supervise prosecutions undertaken outside his department. The act also provided for the transmission by justices' clerks and coroners to the Director of all papers relating to cases in which the latter had intervened or which were withdrawn or not proceeded with within a reasonable time. The Treasury Solicitor continued to deal with the conduct of criminal prosecutions, whether submitted by the Director or directly by government departments. The Director was concerned merely with cases submitted to him for advice or investigation by government departments, and local police authorities and courts.
Following the recommendations of a select committee on the offices of public prosecutor in 1884, the Prosecution of Offences Act 1884 combined the posts of Treasury Solicitor and Director of Public Prosecutions. The department of the latter was merged with the criminal law branch of the Treasury Solicitor's Department. The act also made provision for returns by chief officers of police to the Director of all indictable offences within their districts.
The growth of the work of the Treasury Solicitor's Department, together with the duty imposed on the Director of Public Prosecutions by the Criminal Appeal Act 1907 of defending every appeal before the new Court of Criminal Appeal, led to the separation of the two departments in 1908.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, 1908-1986
The Prosecution of Offences Act 1908 re-established a Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions from the criminal law branch of the Treasury Solicitor's Department and became responsible for most criminal prosecutions formerly carried out by that department, including coinage and bankruptcy proceedings. However, cases arising under particular codes of law administered by government departments continued to be dealt with by the departmental solicitors' offices and the Director was concerned only in cases of importance or difficulty or where the departments had no prosecutions branch. In this quasi-administrative field there was a gradual transfer of prosecution work from the Treasury solicitor to the Director.
The Director of Public Prosecutions was required to institute, undertake or carry on criminal proceedings in any case referred to him by a government department in which he considered proceedings should be instituted and in any case which appeared to him to be of importance or difficulty or for any other reason required his intervention. Other cases which were to be reported to the Director included those carrying or formerly carrying the death penalty, affecting the security of the state, or arising under Extradition and Coinage Acts, cases of obscene or indecent libels, exhibitions or publications, cases of bribery or corruption of or by a public official and conspiracy to pervert or defeat the course of justice. Prosecutions under a number of acts of Parliament required his consent or had to be undertaken by him. He recovered costs under the provisions of the Costs in Criminal Cases Act 1952.
Under the Police Act 1964 the Director had to receive and consider all complaints against police officers in respect of which the Chief Officers of Police could not be satisfied that no criminal offences had been committed. The Director also discharged the functions of official petitioner in cases of criminal bankruptcy under the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973. Other duties included matters under the Representation of the People Act 1949 and the Visiting Forces Act 1952.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, 1986-
The Director of Public Prosecutions is a barrister or solicitor of ten years standing who is in the full time service of the crown. From 1879 to 1884 and again from 1908 the post and the Assistant Director were appointed by the Home Secretary, and under the regulations in force prior to 1946 were required to prosecute any case on the instructions of the Secretary of State. In practice the latter power was abandoned before 1946 and the Director, once appointed, was wholly subject to the directions of the Attorney General. Since 1986 the Director has been appointed by the Attorney General as head of the Crown Prosecution Service.