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What is a Police “No File Decision” (NFD)?

Since its inception in 2005, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has received files from us, containing a recommendation as to whether or not we believe the case should be prosecuted.

The basis on which we previously operated is to submit a file where evidence exists, however weak, that an identifiable person has committed a criminal offence.

Moving forward, we will make the decision, after all reasonable lines of enquiry have been pursued, not to submit a file if the recommendation would be not to prosecute.

This means that investigations that meet the criteria for a “no file decision” will be assessed by an officer of Inspector rank or above to deem if the evidence meets the “evidential test”. If this evidence does not meet the test then we will close the investigation and make contact directly with the reporting person.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • We would have submitted all files where there is evidence, however weak, recommending a ‘no prosecution’ decision from the PPS, amounting to approximately 20% of all cases.

    In the year 2022/23 – 9,086 files (10,620 suspects) had a no prosecution recommendation.

    • 1,869 of these were Case Weight 1-4 (dealt with by Senior Public Prosecutors).
    • 7,217 of these were Case Weight 5-8 (dealt with by Public Prosecutors).

    The agreement rate between our no prosecution recommendations and PPS decisions is 96.3%.

    Policing in Northern Ireland has changed dramatically over the past 15 years. Not only has the makeup of the service changed but the environment in which we operate. There has been an increase in the seriousness and complexity of cases we deal with. And the rise of digital evidence has brought with it new demands.

    It is believed that this initiative will help to reduce the demand on the service and enable us to focus resources on those cases with a prosecution recommendation. This in turn will enable us to provide a speedier system of justice to victims of crime.

  • There are 3 main elements for a case to be eligible for a NFD.
    A) The offence(s) is one which we are authorised to make a decision on. These are known as “case weights 5-8” and contain offences ranging from serious assault to minor traffic offences.

    B) The investigation does not trigger an exception. Exceptions include:

    • Any investigation where the suspect is a current Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) police officer, or PSNI staff member, or who is contracted to work within the PSNI estate or departments.
    • Any investigation where the victim is a police officer or PSNI staff member, and at the time of the offence they were acting in the execution of their duties.
    • Any investigation in which a Chief Constable’s referral to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) has been made.
    • TACT and JSA offences.
    • Any investigation where the suspect is an elected representative, member of legislative body, a public body (corporate offences) or an individual holding public office.
    • Any investigation where the suspect is a Public Protection Arrangements Northern Ireland (PPANI) offender, or where the suspect has a relevant prevention order in place (Violent Offences Prevention Order (VOPO), Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO), Risk of Sexual Harm Order (RoSHO) etc.) and the current investigation has relevancy to their offending history, or relates to their preventative order.
    • Any investigation where PSNI independence may be called into question.
    • Any investigation where an offence has resulted in the death of an individual or involves a deceased person remains.
    • Any investigation where public scrutiny concerns may be raised.

    C) The investigation does not meet the “Evidential Test”.

  • We are authorised to make the decision to not submit a file to the PPS in cases where the evidential test for prosecution is not met, and all relevant and proportionate lines of investigation have been completed.

    Assessing Inspectors (or higher rank) must be satisfied that there is insufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. They will consider whether any evidence is admissible, credible, and reliable and whether there is any other material or information that might affect the sufficiency of evidence.

    A reasonable prospect of conviction exists if, in relation to an identifiable suspect, there is credible evidence which the prosecution can present to a court and upon which an impartial jury could reasonably be expected to find, proved beyond reasonable doubt, that that suspect had committed a criminal offence.

    Police decision makers must therefore be in a position to explain why it “is more likely than not” that the court will convict. Investigations that do not pass the evidential test should not proceed to the PPS unless the offence is outside the case weight allowed and/or the investigation has triggered an “exception”.

  • Yes.

    It cannot be overstated that domestic abuse offences, some of which are pattern of behaviour offences, can be complex to investigate and understand. Furthermore the impact of such crimes on victims and those around them can have long lasting or life changing effects.

    Officers and supervisors should have a clear understanding of these offences to ensure that NFD only takes place after a full consideration of the circumstances of the offence.

    Specialist Detective Inspectors and a dedicated Gatekeeper Inspector cadre will complete the No File Decision (NFD) reviews for the vast majority of investigations involving intimate partner domestic abuse, where there are repeat victims and/or suspects. We have specific service guidance on the high standards that need to be applied to domestic abuse investigations and specialist teams that support and guide investigators.

  • Traditionally a 'repeat victim' or ‘suspect’ is an individual that has been subjected to or committed the same or similar offence two or more times within a 12 month period (the offences are either the same offence type or similar in their nature). For the purpose of this process there will be no time restriction on the previous victimisation or offending.

    If an individual has been the victim of domestic abuse or violence related crime at any point previously by any offender that individual will be deemed a repeat victim. The same criteria is applied to an offender. If they have previously been an offender of domestic abuse or violence related crime with any they will be deemed a repeat offender.

  • We are continually striving to increase public confidence and understanding of what we do and why. As such a monthly review of a number of investigations in which we have made a No File Decision will occur. This will be done in partnership with PPS prosecutors. This will allow for external quality assurance check of our decision making.

    There will also be a five month interim evaluation and ten month formal evaluation of the process conducted in conjunction with a number of partners and stakeholders to ensure that it is working for all.

  • We have worked with a number of partners to ensure our understanding of the full range of considerations when making a Police No File Decision. Additional training has been provided by both Police and Public Prosecution Service to our officers.

    Further to this a continuing joint review will be conducted of No File Decisions to ensure a consistent approach to decision making is occurring.

  • When a Police No File Decision is made, a letter is sent to the victim/s of the investigation to inform them of the decision. The letter also explains to the victim that they have a right to request a review of the decision: Victim Right to Review (VRR). The victim will have one calendar month from date of issue of the letter to enact a request.

  • We work closely with a number of support services which provide advice, guidance and support to victims of crime. The Police No File Decision notification letter gives details of support agencies to reporting persons. Information for victims of crime, including contact details for a range of services is available on the Department of Justice website.

    Support available for Victims of Crime
  • If a victim enacts their right to a review then an independent Inspector of our “Gatekeeper” cadre will review the No File Decision. Should the independent Gatekeeper Inspector direct a file be submitted to the PPS the investigating officer will progress the file submission. If the Gatekeeper Inspector agrees with the initial No File Decision then the initial decision stands.

  • If after a calendar month a victim has not engaged their right to review a letter will be sent to the suspect to inform them of the No File Decision.