DPP under fire at justice committee

Topics: Advocacy,Criminal justice,Government & politics

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  • Alison Saunders

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’.

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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. 

Readers' comments (13)

  • This perfectly competent person is now expected to be a politician, as well as a lawyer. Good luck.

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  • Lazarus

    How do you think she got there if not by being political? That is the nature of the game, and the post, more than adequately demonstrated by her predecessor.

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  • Phillip Davies MP says the CPS is a shambles in the Magistrates Courts - one may ask whether he's been in a bubble himself for the last 20 years - the CPS has always been like that from the date of its inception - under-funded, under-staffed and overworked - by those in Westminster - House of Commons Justice Committee - on another planet.

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  • "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."

    OK, how about "Prosecutors jabbing at their iPads in exasperation and cursing at the uselessness of the CPS's digital dalliance"

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  • Anon at 6:14 I agree with you up to a point - yes the CPS has always been underfunded, and in the past it had problems attracting and retaining capable prosecutors. However, it's fair to say that the situation has got much much worse in recent years, following the savage cuts made first by the coalition and now by this government. Hordes of staff have been made redundant and the close working relationship with the police which had helped prevent some of the catastrophes of the past is being rolled back. I fear that the situation is going to get worse, and won't be surprised if we see some really high profile miscarriages of justice in the near future. I think Alison Saunders is a perfectly competent DPP but is being made to defend the indefensible.

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  • I don't think she's any more or less incompetent than most Govt. Law Officers.

    I found it amusing when she said that the CPS are not shambolic in the Mags though. They do read but it is from case extracts.

    They are in the main saved by the fact that there is very little opposition now (bar returners to work and starters in the business) and the fact of course (did they lobby for it?), that if a criminal defendant is rightly and royally f****d around by the prosecution for ever and a day they can't claim their costs (reduction to Legal Aid rates for Central Funds payments), plus the new criminal court charges of course, put pressure on most defendants to cop a plea.

    But thats what was intended wasn't it?

    Article 6 spell that again for me?

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  • Stunning picture...

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  • A Tory MP accusing somebody with a proper job of 'living in a bubble' without connection to 'the real world'? What extraordinary chutzpah!

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  • The CPS needs root and branch attention.
    When newly qualified I joined the County Prosecuting Solicitor's staff. The paper files came to us for advice from our clients who were the police. It was up to the police whether or not they accepted the advice given as to the offences to prosecute, if any, and the evidence to adduce.
    The police were a disciplined service, and the files were immaculate. We prosecutors were superior in performance to most local solicitors. Sometimes local solicitors were employed as agents. This was all very healthy.
    The introduction of the CPS was disappointing from the very beginning. The police are no longer the clients; they are told what to do. The defendants are normally represented by the superior advocate. It is all very sad, but nothing is ever done.

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  • Very often, economy dictates that the defendant will have the far inferior advocate. A friend of mine at the Bar tells me that last year, she was involved in two mistrials, each occasioned by a solicitor advocate for one of her co-defendants putting things before juries which they shouldn't have done.

    I'm not anti Solicitor Advocates in any way; merely pointing out that anecdotes can stanchion opposing pillars of an argument.

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