The Crown Prosecution Service: Gatekeeper of the Criminal Justice System - Justice Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Police Federation of England and Wales


  The Police Federation of England and Wales, established by statute is the representative body for over 140,000 police officers from the rank of Constable to Chief Inspector.

  Please find below our comments to the questions asked in the above Consultation document.


How the CPS contributes to, and fits into the Criminal Justice System-how does it relate to and share information with the police, courts and other services, how does it work with other prosecution agencies such as the Revenue and Customs Prosecution Office, what is its role as regards Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, is there an effective balance between holding it accountable and maintaining its independence, what is the role of the Attorney General?


  Having considered Question One we have no comment to make.


How effectively does the CPS operate and serve its customers—how does it communicate with victims and witnesses, how does it relate to local communities, is it providing a timely and consistent service across the country, do the different staff functions support effective case management, is decision-making on charges or whether to prosecute effective, how is it managing key areas such as prosecuting rape and domestic violence?


  The primary and most repeated comment is around the time it actually takes to see a CPS lawyer. Most forces appear to have only the most rudimentary appointment systems which are generally ineffective if they exist at all. I have had representatives from several forces complaining to me of waiting several hours to see the CPS Lawyer. This is a daily rather than an occasional occurrence. When challenged by supervisors they have legitimately pointed out that they did not want to "lose their place in the queue". Given that the CPS is often only situated at the main station in the BCU this can often involve considerable travelling especially in rural forces. This has the added knock on of reducing the most limited staffing levels to dangerous lows. The fact that many officers are away from their station and computer terminals also means it is difficult to put the waiting time to much constructive use.

  There is a perception amongst many officers that, to use a current buzz phrase, many CPS are "risk averse" when it comes to charging decisions and much more so than Custody Sergeants previously were. This may be slightly unfair and I am open to the argument that CPS lawyers have a greater understanding of evidential requirements and tests as well as a greater understanding of what may succeed at court. Nevertheless the feeling persists, that while ever CPS have a target around reducing the number of "cracked cases" they will only pursue the most certain of cases. It is worth noting at this point that several representatives have stated their belief that CPS is much more willing to "risk" a charge when it is a police officer who is subject of it.

  Linked to the above point around decision making I have received several complaints around consistency and perverse decisions. Officers have related to me when they have taken remarkably similar cases for decisions and received opposite outcomes. Again I am willing to concede that CPS are better trained at assessing evidence and for seeing flaws in cases so each case may have been correctly decided upon but the volume of these instances is high.

  I am aware that much of this is written in a negative tone and I do not think that is a totally accurate picture as many officers in conversation point to good working relationships but it is almost self evident that if officers contact a staff association about something like this it will be to point out where something has gone wrong not when it has gone well.

  Another point finally to consider is CPS Direct. In a small and simplistic survey most responses were very positive about this service saying that on the whole this service was far better than the one given in stations. There were a few who gave a differing view but predominantly it was suggested expanding this service at the expense of the station one. My obvious comment on this would be to say that the survey was neither deep nor wide enough to draw this conclusion but the majority of the responses pointed this way. The major criticisms of this service centred around logistical issues of getting both volume of evidence and certain types of evidence to the lawyer given the infrastructure limitations.

October 2008

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