Localising prosecution service ‘dangerous’, former DPP warns

Topics: Advocacy,Criminal justice,Government & politics

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Senior legal figures are at odds on how to reform the Crown Prosecution Service, it has emerged.

Conservative MP for Louth and Horncastle Victoria Atkins, a non-practising barrister, mooted the idea about making the CPS ‘more localised’ during social and economic thinktank Politeia's discussion 'The CPS – is the system working?'.

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However, Lib Dem peer Lord Macdonald (pictured), who was director of public prosecutions from 2003 to 2008, told the event there were ‘many flaws’ with Atkins’ proposed model.

The CPS, which was created by the Prosecution of Offences Act, began operating in 1986.

Atkins, a specialist fraud prosecutor, said ‘we are at a time now where we can really begin to be bold about how the CPS should be’.

She suggested the CPS could be responsible for setting, reviewing and ensuring national prosecuting standards are met.

Atkins mooted: ‘Having a network of solicitor agents across the country, chambers as well, where we begin to take on more of the litigation role and where they are advising from the very beginning – pre, post-charge and beyond.’

‘I wonder if we could not set up a more localised system where, if you’re in Lincolnshire, you know you’re being prosecuted by solicitors or barristers in your local community who understand the pressures of your area in a way which Rose Walk [the address of the CPS’s head office in London] simply can’t.’

Lincolnshire’s policing needs were ‘very different’ to those of central London, Atkins said.

Though Macdonald was ‘not opposed’ to the idea of localism, he warned it could lead to ‘huge inconsistency’ around the country in terms of decision-making and ‘overpowerful’ police forces.

Macdonald said the proposed model would lead to lawyers working in a CPS ‘that does no advocacy, no role in charging, but has some sort of guiding function that’s not quite defined’.

He said it was ‘very dangerous’ to ‘talk in terms of devolving powers to small, independent organisations dotted around the country who have little contact with each other and may have a commercial interest in decisions they take’.

Earlier this week the CPS was criticised by inspectors for failing to engage effectively with defence practitioners amid efforts to reduce delays in magistrates’ courts.

Readers' comments (23)

  • Why?

    That is what happened when local solicitors did local police work (and then referred more serious cases to the DPP's Office in London was it not)?

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  • Raynor,
    Yes, quite. Local conditions require local knowledge, not control from a detached centre.
    An empire feeling threatened possibly.....

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  • this appears to be a nonsensical suggestion - surely in the main local decisions are made by local cps, a greater overview is taken in cases with more of a national flavor. And how does the victim fit in with this suggestion, is the victim in Leeds to be told that an offender is not to be prosecuted, but that same offender would be prosecuted in Poole where the crime is taken rather more seriously . We have had a period of localized views being taken on allegations of offending. It didn't end well, thousands of children were abused by gangs of men whilst local authorities and police looked the other way for fear of offending anyone within their localized system .

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  • Exactly Jack - there are 13 geographical areas - London being one on it's own, so they can have area specific aims, but there are also National themes such as tackling disability hate crime. For issues such as that you wouldn't want a post code lottery.

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  • if they wound down the local CPS, I would seriously do a better job anyway. As did many local prosecution Solicitors thirty or forty years ago.

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  • Only they didn't did they Raynor? The police had no-one who could keep them in check without having to worry about a financial loss if they disagreed (as a local firm might find if they dropped a case the police wanted to continue, regardless of evidence). Then suddenly you end up with things like the Birmingham 6, leading to inquiries, and the setting up on some independent prosecuting authority. I still remember why it was brought in if others don't.

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  • Prior to 1986 there were County Prosecuting Solicitors, but the 1986 Act was passed after a Commission of some kind considered the matter and recommended the formation of the CPS. And on the Commission there were one or two people who ended up in positions of importance on the newly formed CPS. It was said at the time that it was too unwieldy to handle the run of the mill cases, and such has proved to be the case.

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  • For local-only cases I would agree. Last night's BBC programme showed two cases, one which was 'national' in extent in that it crossed the country. The other was purely local, an RTA. Surely there was no need for the second to be dealt with by the same body and subject to the same criteria.

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  • So a fatal car crash case, such as was shown in the show, could be dealt with differently in different parts of the country? With no consistency of standards?

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  • @Anonymous25 February 2016 06:46 pm

    "...Only they didn't did they Raynor? ..."

    Evidence please?

    "...The police had no-one who could keep them in check without having to worry about a financial loss if they disagreed ..."

    I haven't seen any evidence. And had any concerns surfaced later then the files could be obtained.

    "...Then suddenly you end up with things like the Birmingham 6, leading to inquiries, and the setting up on some independent prosecuting authority. "

    No you don't. The Birmingham 6 case would have gone outside to the DPP anyway.

    "...I still remember why it was brought in if others don't. .."

    I don't think you have read the book on the DPP (The Case For The Crown by Joshua Rozenberg). If you had you would see that the desire was for financial reasons that the DPP's Office became the CPS in the mid 1980's, rationalisation and all that.

    Wrong move imho. It was bound to end in a mammoth uncontrollable expensive entity.

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