Letter in Justice of the Peace
Prime Minister Decides Prosecution Policy On Knives
172 JPN (21 June 2008) 402
||Doc. No. 2008.019 JPN015L
Introductory Note by Francis Bennion
The following letter is followed by a response from the Editor, Adrian Turner.
Justice of the Peace.
A recent editorial (p. 377 ante) was right to
chastise the Prime Minister Mr Gordon Brown for himself apparently deciding a point of
prosecution policy, namely that youths of
16 and 17 will in future be prosecuted, rather than merely cautioned, for possession
of knives. However the editorial was mistaken in suggesting that for a Prime Minister
to intervene in this way is a ‘first’ and unprecedented.
In 2006, in these
columns, I recounted for the umpteenth time the story of the Campbell Case that in 1924
brought down the first Labour government (see  170 JPN 847, [LINK]
www.francisbennion.com/2006/039.htm). It happened because the Prime Minister of the day,
Ramsey Macdonald, intervened in the arena of prosecutorial discretion by procuring abandonment
of the prosecution of the editor of a left-wing newspaper. There was a massive row, and
the Government resigned after losing a confidence vote.
Before this the official view
had been that prosecution policy, at least in important political cases, was to be
determined by the government of the day and not the prosecuting
authorities – who had at most a right to be consulted. This was reflected in
the fact that the Home Secretary had a statutory power to order the Director of Public
to prosecute in a particular matter. The Campbell Case led to a change in favour of
the independence of the prosecutors under the supervision of the Attorney General.
led me to say in various places that the Attorney General now holds the prosecutorial
power as an independent constitutional function.
It seems Mr Gordon Brown has not been
told of the Campbell Case or the prosecutorial independence that now prevails (or is
supposed to). Unhappily this ignorance applies
widely, despite my own small efforts over many years to make the true position known.
The Editor responds:
I am grateful, as ever, to Francis
Bennion for this lesson in history. Clearly, I should have inserted the words ‘in
modern constitutional times’ in my editorial.
I suspect, however, that my discomfort is small compared to Mr Brown’s on finding
himself compared to Ramsay MacDonald.