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Police to get back charging powers

Police will be handed back powers to charge people suspected of minor crimes, Home Secretary Theresa May is to announce.

The Tory Cabinet member wants all officers to be given the discretion to put low-level offenders in the dock without consulting prosecutors.

In her first speech since being appointed last week, Mrs May will say the move will restore police freedom and be more straightforward and efficient.

She was expected to tell the Police Federation annual conference in Bournemouth that under the new system the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will be responsible for the most serious cases. But everyday misdemeanours, possibly including offences such as common assault, theft or breach of bail, will be put back in the hands of uniformed officers.

The announcement will be warmly welcomed by members of the rank-and-file who complained to a succession of home secretaries about the loss of charging powers.

They already questioned Police Minister Nick Herbert on whether the new administration would put its weight behind the role of custody sergeant, and many forces, including the Metropolitan Police, introduced specialist civilian staff in police station jails as a cheaper and more flexible alternative.

The Labour Government's move to introduce a 24-hour CPS charging telephone hotline proved deeply unpopular with some officers who complained it was inconsistent and slow. A February 2009 report by former Police Federation chairwoman Jan Berry, who was asked to look at police bureaucracy, recommended charging powers were extended back to officers.

The CPS later announced the proposals would be piloted in several force areas for six months while extending the telephone scheme nationwide.

The announcement will be part of a wider speech in which Mrs May will outline the new coalition Government's plans for reforming police while saving cash. She is likely to cover the thorny topics of police numbers, re-examining remuneration, elected commissioners and proposals to cut bureaucracy.

Speaking during her first days in office last week, Mrs May said she was determined to protect the frontline by driving out inefficiency and duplication elsewhere, and in a newspaper interview at the weekend she said members of the public should feel able to intervene to tackle yobs who blight many neighbourhoods.

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