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Petty theft cases erode confidence in justice system

I AM extremely concerned at the recent revelation of incidents where the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has deemed it appropriate to pursue the prosecution of individuals accused of petty theft.

I do not disagree that theft is a crime and is wrong. However, we are concerned that the PPS does not appear to apply its Code for Prosecutors consistently.

While there is a presumption that the public interest requires prosecution where law has been broken, there are circumstances where prosecution may not be in the public interest, for example, when the loss or harm is minor and is the result of a single incident - particularly if caused by an error of judgment or a mistake.

It would seem obvious to most that the case of the woman charged over the theft of a £10 pair of jeans falls into this category. The prosecutions in such cases are in marked contrast to the failure of the PPS to prosecute in a number of high-profile cases, where public interest considerations appear to have been met.

Anyone accused of a crime in Northern Ireland has a right to a trial by jury, where it is available. The PPS must take responsibility for incurring high costs when it proceeds with such prosecutions.

The cost of these trials do little to inspire confidence in the PPS or the criminal justice system.


Director, Committee on the Administration of Justice