A former chief prosecutor has urged the outgoing director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to be honest about the pressure that the Crown Prosecution Service is under to improve staff morale and garner greater support.
Nazir Afzal told a criminal justice event in London yesterday that the dozens of people who contact him from the CPS every month 'are people complaining'. He said: 'They have an annual staff survey and morale is very poor ... What I think the staff would want is to tell the truth. We would rather you say, when the disclosures arose and continue to arise, "We can't do it with our current capacity, we can't do it with our current capability, we can't do it with the lack of supervision, the lack of experience, we can't do it in our current budget." Certainly you'll get all your staff behind you, 5,000 more ambassadors speaking up, whether it's on Twitter secretly or otherwise.'
Saunders, who is stepping down from her role in October, has faced criticism after the collapse of several rape trials due to evidence not being disclosed.
The CPS's budget has fallen from £615m in 2010/11 to £488m in 2015/16. Afzal told the event at the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce that when he was chief prosecutor in the north west, he had to cut his budget by 30% in three years and had to cut 200 lawyers. He said: 'Short-sightedly I let go of my most experienced staff because they were my most expensive staff. Some of the consequences that you're experiencing now are down to the resources that we had to reduce back then.'
Afzal was part of a panel discussing 'Why Criminal Justice Matters' following the publication of the book, The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It's Broken, and the direct action being taken by criminal barristers over legal aid reforms.
Afzal said the public have a 'them and us' attitude with lawyers. He said: 'The public want us to say things that they feel. At the moment, we don't do that. It's because we're trapped in civil service code land or trapped in the way that our contracts are drawn up. I don't believe any of that to be frank. The public would welcome the DPP, or a chief constable, or a judge for that matter, saying "It is intolerable that this person is in this court for the reasons that this person's in court and this case cannot proceed." They would welcome that.'