You're Not in Charge of Changing Charges!

You’re Not in Charge of Changing Charges!

It is always a difficult situation for defence lawyers and prosecutors when an alleged victim seeks to withdraw a complaint. Unfortunately, this is something that occurs regularly in our system.

There is perhaps a misunderstanding amongst the community that a complainant (or victim) has the power to make charges go away. This is, in fact, not true at all.

Once a complaint has been made to the police, the power to lay charges and withdraw any charges rests solely with the police and prosecuting authorities. That being said, the police and prosecution are assisted by guidelines that direct that prosecutions must be in the public interest. Factors that determine whether a prosecution is in the public interest include the attitude of an alleged victim.

In situations where a person has made a complaint immediately after an alleged offence, particularly a complaint fuelled by emotions, and has tried to withdraw it some days later, it can become complicated for police and for defence lawyers. For example, whilst the public policy behind police not withdrawing charges is to safeguard against the possibility of witnesses being threatened to renege their complaint is in place for good reason, it can create grey areas and allow for misinterpretation.

There are also situations where completely false complaints are made out of spite or frustration and, after realising the consequences of such a complaint, a witness or alleged victim doesn’t want to proceed. The police will take all complaints seriously and it is very difficult to have charges withdrawn. It is therefore very important to consider whether an offence has actually been committed or whether there is another reason why the police are being involved.

If an offence has been committed against you, please call the police. If, however, you are making a complaint out of sheer spite, anger or to have leverage over the other party, please remember that the course of the subsequent prosecution will be out of your hands.