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?'.
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.