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Government should review the six month limit for common assault

Comment 23rd July 2010

There appears to be a six month limit for pressing charges in common assault cases which appears to be present  as a civil liberty safeguard to the defendent.

Sometimes, for quite legitimate reasons, the CPS might need to take more than six months to investigate a more serious crime, and then they might have to conclude, again for legitimate reasons, that such a prosecution is untenable and meanwhile the chance to press for a common assault charge might be lost in those rare cases where a common assault would indeed be appropriate.

I must stress that I am talking about a hypothetical case that could arise in the future. I do not wish to talk about or express any opinion on any case which might already have occurred. I am not a lawyer so I have had to glean the law from media sources. I hope my idea below is based on correct facts and I hope someone can correct me if not.

My idea is that I would like the government and parliament to order a review of the law on that common assault cases six months to see whether justice is best served in keeping the law as it is or whether it would be better to allow extension of six months for those cases in which the CPS is investigating a more serious crime.

Why does this matter?

I must emphasize that my idea is to review the law here and to not necessarily change it. Any review must be done calmly and not in the middle of a case. I see very strong arguments both in favour and against a change and I genuinely do not know what view the review should come to. I also see retrospective changes in legislation as very dangerous.

The case against a law change would be that bad cases make bad laws and in trying to remedy one injustice you might create several others especially but not exclusively if the change were done, hypothetically, in the middle of a high profile case. It could further be argued that the accused does have rights too and that the six month rule is there for a reason.

The case for a law change would be that without such a change, the common assault charge option is no longer available even it were now the right option. The CPS and the police could have behaved entirely properly in conducting but the failure to charge could bring the justice system into disrepute with the public, either fairly or unfairly. Of course the rights of defendents, some of whom will be innocent even in the best legal systems, must also be protected.

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