The Crown Prosecution Service has been criticised by two separate Crown court judges after sending an ‘incompetent’ advocate to prosecute a murder trial and for ‘lamentable failures’ that delayed a rape trial.
In the first case, judge Richard Griffith-Jones, sitting at Warwick, ordered an investigation after a murder trial had to be halted after the CPS instructed what the judge described as a ‘totally inadequate’ prosecutor.
According to notes passed to investigative website Exaro and taken by a barrister who attended the retrial of Aaron Mann this month, the judge blamed CPS cost-cutting for the retrial and apologised to the victim’s family after sentencing Mann.
The judge said that the CPS had employed a single barrister when two were needed for a case concerning a bouncer who had strangled a mother of four and driven around with her body in the boot of his car for two days.
He said the prosecutor made fundamental errors of law, did not understand the pathologist’s evidence and was ‘not competent to do the job’.
Griffith-Jones said: ‘It is not just about the money, but the terrible cost to the family. This has been a terrible attempt to make an economy, an economy that proves to be a false economy. It is a disgrace.’
He continued: ‘I appreciate that in these days, where public money is short, there is an understandable imperative to save money. But instead of two advocates being instructed where one at least has senior standing and experience, the prosecution deployed a single advocate who was patently out of his depth.’
He said he had voiced his criticism publicly because ‘I think the public at large and in particular those people in the public gallery should understand what is going on and that I do take the matter very seriously indeed’.
Meanwhile in a case of alleged rape listed last week at Croydon Crown Court, judge Jeremy Gold QC threatened to clear the defendant without a trial after ‘lamentable failures’ of disclosure by the CPS.
The Croydon Advertiser reported that the CPS has not disclosed ‘basic paperwork’ on the first day of the trial or by a subsequent hearing, despite repeated orders from the court for it to do so.
Gold said the case was a ‘particularly bad example’ of the ‘wholly shambolic’ state of the CPS in London, which he said judges experience ‘on an almost daily basis’.
The paper reported that he said: ‘For the defence to be asking formally for basic documents to be served and simply getting no response from the CPS is a lamentable state of affairs.’
The judge noted that while the prosecution had failed to comply with directions, the defendant, who is on conditional bail ‘very significant restraints to his personal liberty’.
Adjourning the matter, Gold said: ‘If this direction continues to be flouted I instruct the defence to list the case for mention to come in front of me again. I will then list it for trial the following day. If the case is not in a position to proceed I will direct a not guilty verdict in relation to this defendant.’
He added: ‘I can think of no other way of dealing fairly with the persistent failure of the CPS to comply with these orders. There has been a lamentable failure by the CPS to prepare the case for trial.’
The case is listed for pre-trial review and trial next month.
A CPS spokesperson said: 'This is a very serious and complex case involving a young victim and a significant amount of work has been done with the police to build this case. We had served all the evidence in this case but it had not all been served at the same time. The judge had asked for this material in a single bundle, which he received on 21 June. The issue of disclosure was also addressed by this date, as ordered by the judge.
'We recognise the importance of judges’ orders and we have systems in place to check compliance with judges’ orders. Our performance figures show that across London we comply with 83% of judges’ orders.'
The CPS also vigorously denied that the way it instructed counsel had been influenced by budget cuts. A spokesperson said: ‘It is not simply a matter of the offence charged, much more has to be considered.
‘This is why we use clear, established criteria for instructing trial advocates which have not changed significantly since 2005. Before any advocate is instructed, we consider matters such as the number of defendants, the amount of evidence and whether there are any particularly difficult legal issues.
‘This is the same approach that is taken by the court when considering defence applications for representation under legal aid.’
Criteria are set out in a decision tree that was last updated in 2009, the spokesperson said.