Discretion, Politics, and the Public Interest in "High-Profile" Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions
In the great majority of cases, the proper exercise of investigative or prosecutorial discretion presents little challenge and evokes little controversy. In a very small number of "high-profile" cases, however, such discretionary decisions become highly controversial and the subject of intense political, public, and media debate. It is such relatively rare cases that are the focus of this article. In such cases, two critical questions are typically at the forefront of debate: What does "the public interest" in such cases require? And who should have the final say as to what the public interest in such cases requires? The first of these questions typically reveals disagreements as to how the various commonly accepted "public interest" considerations should be applied to the case at hand; the second goes to the heart of the concept of "independence," alleged to be a fundamental and constitutionally essential attribute of police and prosecutors in making such decisions. This article is concerned less with the details of discretionary decisions themselves than with the "political economy" of prosecutorial discretion, with particular reference to controversial high-profile cases that raise significant "public interest" considerations. Specifically, the article considers who currently does, and should, have the ultimate authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion in such cases, and why, and what such arrangements imply for the prevailing concept of prosecutorial "independence." The author draws on four recent high-profile cases in the United Kingdom and in South Africa to illustrate the different ways in which these issues have arisen and the controversies that have developed out of attempts to resolve them.
Canadian Journal of Law and Society
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Police Administration, Procedures and Practice