DPP under fire at justice committee
The head of the Crown Prosecution Service today came under fire from an influential committee of MPs over the agency’s advocacy standards.
Appearing before the House of Commons justice committee, director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders (pictured) was urged to come out of her 'bubble’ and see what is going on in the ‘real world’.
Conservative MP Philip Davies accused the DPP of being a ‘bit complacent’ about standards at the CPS after she defended the service against criticism.
He said: ‘One of the most depressing things anyone can possibly do is go to court and see the standard of the crown prosecutors - particularly at the magistrates’ court, where it is often little more than a shambles. You have got crown prosecutors who are literally reading the case file out for the first time.’
Davies recalled watching a case in the magistrates’ court where a crown prosecutor shuffled his papers, unable to find one of the files he needed.
‘It is a shambles,’ he added. ’If a victim is actually sat there coming to see their bit of justice being done, what on earth must they think when they see a crown prosecutor reading out the thing for the first time, or not even having the files?’
Saunders pointed out that one would not see prosecutors shuffling papers in the magistrates’ court, because papers no longer exist there. Most cases are transferred digitally, she added.
Defending the agency’s performance, she also cited reports that in some areas the number of trials has been reduced by over a third.
Saunders did nevertheless admit that she attended court only ‘every few months’ and had never seen a prosecutor reading a case for the first time in the magistrates’ court. This prompted Davies to suggest that she needed to spend a bit more time at the ‘chalk face’ in court to see what is going on in the ‘real world’.
He said: ‘With respect, you are in a bit of a bubble where you are told what you want to hear. Every magistrate there is will tell you there are prosecutors reading out the case for the first time and that is unacceptable. You really should know about that.’
Conservative MP Alex Chalk agreed that the CPS had a problem insofar as prosecutors are commonly short of time before prosecuting a case in the magistrates’ court. He said: 'All too often, if we are being honest and transparent about it, it is the night before or it is the morning, or in extreme cases it is in court that they are getting [court papers].’
Saunders stressed that as well as visits to court, she often talks to magistrates and has other ways of measuring performance. But she admitted that the late instruction of barristers does require improvement.