Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. Or very soon after.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I think it is a fairly obvious conclusion, assuming guilt for a moment, that a guilty person is more likely to confide in a cell mate than he is in a police officer to whom a confession, in front of a solicitor as well, will seal his fate.

  21. Do you think the police are occasionally in the habit, when they know they have got a rather weak case, of making sure that someone is banged up on remand with a prisoner who might be susceptible to overhearing a cell confession?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I do not know whether that happens or not.

  22. It is not an unreasonable suspicion.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) We are all aware of microphones being inserted in cells in the hope that something useful may emerge through some conversation in the cell. As regards the selection of the cell mate, I, personally, have never been involved in a case in which I have had a close hand in the prosecution where that was either alleged or conceded, but it would be impossible for me to rule it out.

David Winnick

  23. Sometimes there is a feeling that the prisoner who is giving evidence against the person who is charged is doing so because he believes that as a result of such evidence which helps the prosecution his sentence is going to be substantially reduced. Therefore, that prisoner has a motive in concocting a story. It does not, of course, add much for the cause of justice. What do you say to that?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Well, unfortunately, we, as prosecutors, have to work with the tools we are given. Frequently we call witnesses who have—and it will always be exposed in cross-examination—or may have a motive for not telling the truth. The whole of the law on corroboration, until it was formally abolished recently, was based on the fact that in certain classes of case witnesses are liable to make up allegations and, therefore, there cannot be a conviction without corroboration. Similarly, with cell confessions and supergrasses and people who turn Queen's evidence generally; you will get a lighter sentence because you have turned Queen's evidence. That is a fact of life. What we cannot do, it seems to me, if we are attempting to keep abreast even remotely of the scale of crime in this country, is turn our back on sources of evidence, provided that the proper tools are given to the defence to challenge it, so that they are put fully in the picture about what offers have or have not been made, and so that the jury, in due course, properly directed by the judge, has the full facts and can make its decision.

  24. When a prisoner claims the person being charged has said this and the other (and, as the Chairman has indicated, it does seem rather remarkable that a person has absolutely denied it—although he may be lying through his teeth—but the moment he is in the prison cell he confesses all, it does arouse suspicion) I wonder would it be useful, if it is not already done, to have a rigorous examination of such prisoner witnesses so that the case is not discredited in court?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) As far as they are able, I am quite sure that the police forces do carry out such a rigorous examination.

  25. In all recent such cases which have been pretty highly publicised?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) The first thing they will always try and do, in my experience—and I cannot speak for individual cases but only ones I have been involved in—is to try and get a tape smuggled in so that if he is going to say it he will say it so that everybody can hear it. That has been done in some cases. Where that has not been possible or it has not worked, then one has to look at the other evidence. As I said in my earlier answer to the Chairman, we turn down a very, very large number of cases which are based on this sort of evidence because we concede a mile off that they are not going to get to a conviction.

  26. Because it is clear that the prisoner who is willing to give prosecution evidence is simply unreliable?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Precisely.

  27. When you say a large number of cases—?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I would not like to put a figure on it because I do not know the answer to it. All I can say is that personally I have seen a number of cases in my career in which cell conversations have really been the high point of the case and said no. I am quite sure many of my colleagues in the service have done so.

  Chairman: Can we turn to the CPS in London.

Bob Russell

  28. Gentlemen, just concentrating on London for a moment, which obviously is the largest in terms of caseload, the Inspectorate has highlighted some serious problems with the performance of the CPS in London. What are you doing to improve the situation? Have you got an action plan?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Certainly. I will share this answer, if I may, because it crosses the boundaries. I will start off by saying that the senior management team in London was criticised for its failure to act as a coherent entity, which gave rise to some of the problems, and we are taking active steps to ensure that that situation is improved. The area itself has produced a voluminous action plan which both law officers, who take a close interest for the reasons you mentioned—that London is, after all, more than one-fifth of our entire workload—and I and Richard Foster will be supervising on a much more direct basis than we would a normal CPS area under the devolved Glidewell system, which is theoretically trying to release power down to areas to manage their own business and make up their own solutions. Can I ask Mr Foster to mention a couple of issues which he is over-seeing?
  (Mr Foster) There are clearly a number of problems in London, as the Inspectorate report identified, and I have already made it clear both to the DPP and to Ministers that stabilising and improving that situation is one of my top priorities as chief executive.

  29. So stabilising is the first priority?
  (Mr Foster) I think that would be fair. What have we done so far? The current CCP in London has decided to take early retirement and we have already put in hand, against a very aggressive timetable, arrangements to find a replacement. We ran the advert a matter of weeks ago and we hope to make an appointment by the end of March. We have strengthened the team immediately below the CCP. There are now five ACCPs in post (that is Assistant Chief Crown Prosecutors), which will give London a much stronger senior cadre of prosecutors than anywhere else in the country.

  30. Can I ask where these five are coming from?
  (Mr Foster) In one case an existing CCP who has moved into London. We have brought in from Yorkshire one of our most experienced managers to strengthen the management team. We have, in addition to that, set up a project which I chair which is specifically to implement the findings of the Inspectorate report and to go beyond that and to secure improvements more generally. Those are things that we have done within the last six to eight weeks. Finally, we have, in addition to the extra funding that we have already allocated to London in the course of last year, allocated a further £2 million to London within the last couple of weeks to enable them to recruit more lawyers and more caseworkers as part of the stabilisation I was talking about, and we are looking hard at whether or not additional resources are needed.

  31. Apart from the person from Yorkshire, what other best practice from other areas have you brought into London to deal with the problem, which I think everybody agrees is quite substantial?
  (Mr Foster) I am a very strong believer in a project-based approach to solving problems of this kind. I have had experience of that working elsewhere, and that is what I have done. We have set up a project and one of the first things that project will be looking at is four or five areas where we can make the biggest improvements, fastest in order both to make real improvements and to give managers and staff in London, and our clients, a real sense of things moving forward. As part of that we will be looking across the country at the best things that we are doing in particular areas, such as on attrition for example, which is a ministerial target, and using that experience through the project to drive forward performance and morale in London.

  32. Are you behaving like a football manager, just shuffling the pack he has already got?
  (Mr Foster) No. We are bringing in additional expertise to strengthen the existing team, but we are not shuffling out the existing team.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Could I mention one particular problem which, as a Londoner myself, rather stood out from the report and related to your question of outside best practice? I think the starkest finding for me was the fact that far too many cases are being discharged at the committal proceedings because the prosecution is not ready, which is almost always a combination of the CPS and the police failing to get their act together in time before the magistrate or magistrates lose patience. We are not good enough, again jointly with the police, at getting those cases back on their feet as we are allowed to do if there is sufficient evidence. West Midlands had that problem highlighted about two years ago in a very similar report—at least on this topic; alleged offenders being discharged without the court having had a chance of deciding whether they were guilty or not. They have put in place a highly successful plan which has reduced the discharge committal rate to an acceptable level and shown that those cases which need not have been discharged have actually been reinstated. Clearly, the West Midlands experience must be transferred to London because there is a whole set of expertise there.

  33. That suggests there is not the strategy working in London, bearing in mind all the serious cases that you have to do. Is it a numbers game? Do you need more physical bodies to do the work? Is it that the numbers are okay but you need people who are more experienced? What is the strategy for the retention of those good staff and recruitment of the good staff that you need to do the job?
  (Mr Foster) I think it is very important not to identify one single thing and proceed as if it is just that. For my money there are four or five key things that we need to get right and they need to be got right together. First and foremost is the strength and the skills of the senior management team, and we have touched on that. The second thing is making sure that we have got sufficient experienced staff at all levels. The additional money I have referred to, linked to recruitment exercises that are already in train, will mean that we get a lot more experienced lawyers and caseworkers into the area. The third thing that we need is more up-to-date and accurate information than we have got at the moment to enable us to manage key areas. The fourth thing, I think we need, is a much better communications strategy within London, by which I mean not just communications downwards but also communications upwards and making sure that staff and managers feel they can really express their concerns and have them taken seriously and addressed. The final thing we need is a well-thought through estates and IT strategy. We need all of those things taken in combination.

  34. What you are saying is there is still a lot of pieces of the jigsaw yet to be assembled, let alone putting the picture together. When are you going to get all the pieces together and when will the picture be complete, assuming you know what the picture is going to look like?
  (Mr Foster) I think we have got a very clear idea what the issues are. As the Director said, we already have a largely settled action plan in response to the Inspectorate's report and we have a project and project team in place. I think staff working in London will start to see signs of real improvement over the next couple of months. Indeed, there are some signs that staff are beginning to feel that the position is improving already. However, as always, when you are tackling quite a deep-seated problem it will take time to get it right. I have set myself a personal objective of making real improvements and seeing tangible evidence over the next 12 months. If I am being frank with you, I think that is a realistic time-scale.

  35. So 12 months for improvements, but when do you think the picture will be completed as you would wish to see it and as London would wish to see it?
  (Mr Foster) If you mean by that when will we have a clear and agreed action plan, within the next few weeks. If you mean by that when will it be the case that London is performing, say, alongside the top quartile of areas in the CPS, I think that is a two-to-three-year time-scale.


  36. Does anybody know what percentage of cases fail to reach court for one reason or another?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) There are a number of types of cases that do not get to court. I will start and I may hand over to Mr Przybylski. We discontinue, in the sense that usually for evidential reasons, but on rare occasions for public interest reasons, we stop existing cases in about 13 per cent of the cases in which there has been a charge. Going back to the first question I was asked, I very much hope that that percentage will reduce because we will get the charge right.

  37. So 13 per cent of all cases?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Yes. That is cases we stopped deliberately because we say they should not go any further. So far as the cases which are stopped because of a failure of ours which we have not spotted either because we are not ready—as you said, Mr Russell—or because the judge at the end of the prosecution case says "There is not a case to answer, I am stopping it", in that sort of case I will hand you over, if I may.
  (Mr Przybylski) We divide our cases, of course, into the two jurisdictions, magistrates' court, and Crown Court. There are about 13 per cent discontinued in the magistrates' court. There are other cases written off. They are administratively written off, occasionally because a defendant has died but, more often, because a defendant is on the run because a warrant is outstanding for his arrest. There are other cases that do not succeed later in the process. These can be cases where the defendant is bound over, where the case is dismissed "no case" at the outset of the contested hearing or where it is dismissed after the trial. That is how, if you like, the unsuccessful outcomes are brigaded in the magistrates' court. I suppose there are about 22 per cent of all cases that fall into that entire category.

  38. So 13 per cent of all cases, magistrates' court and Crown Court, discontinued for one reason or another and 22 per cent discontinued of what—all Crown Court cases?
  (Mr Przybylski) No, no, 13 of the 22 are discontinued, and these are in the magistrates' court, and then there are progressively smaller proportions of cases that are bound over, written off, dismissed "no case" or dismissed after trial. About 80 per cent are successful in the magistrates' court.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Another 9 per cent, in fact.

  39. Of about a fifth of all cases.
  (Mr Przybylski) Yes.

  Chairman: Thank you.

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