Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
20 JANUARY 2009
Q60 Alun Michael: I put a question
to both agencies. What do you see as the scope for future improvement
and liaison? What do you see as the outcomes of those teams now
that they are used to working together in the way both of you
Tim Godwin: We now need to look
at the amount of bureaucracy and file work for some of the crown
court cases. Obviously, the streamlined process saves a lot of
police time and is focused on the summary justice end, but there
are also some straightforward guilty pleas in the crown court
and that is work we have started in that sense. There is an opportunity
to look at the middle tier of trials either way in terms of the
court process. Does it need to go all the way to a higher court?
Is there an alternative? I believe the virtual court means that
we will get summary justice very swiftly and it will enable us
to revisit fixed penalty notices, formal warnings for cannabis
and conditional cautions because the court may be quicker in dealing
with things than we are, but it means that one needs to give courts
wider disposal powers than they probably have at the moment. I
believe that once we get virtual charging and consistency of charging
we will get a better performance indicator in terms of quality
of evidence which is always very hard to do in a process. That
will give us greater insight into the difference between borough
A versus borough B in their evidential quality which will give
us the opportunity to intervene. It will also look at independent
evidence around decisions by lawyers. There is a massive opportunity
to start to understand that level of detail and make things better,
and we will also save quite a bit of money.
Catherine Lee: To build on that,
although I agree with that there is still scope for greater collaboration.
One of the key areas in which the Crown Prosecution Service and
the police can forge ahead in their relationship was touched on
earlier. I refer to the notion of a community prosecutor to complement
the neighbourhood policing teams. In recent years the CPS has
become really good at looking at domestic violence and rape and
adopting a scrutiny panel approach to that and a much more specialist
approach to how to deal with victims and prosecute cases. I think
the time has come when one applies that kind of approach to looking
at community issues and working closely with the police in charging
suites but also at neighbourhood policing team level to try to
understand the background to what a community is experiencing
and suffering and so help to inform charging or other disposal
decisions. I believe that is a key area.
Q61 Chairman: That is quite distant
from the approach we heard in earlier evidence from those who
would argue that there is not necessarily a coincidence between
the public interest and the interest of the victim, that the general
purpose of the criminal justice system cannot be entirely that
as perceived by the victim or perhaps the community to the extent
the community takes the same view as the victim. Is that an issue
and, if so, how does it fit with what you have just described?
Catherine Lee: If one of our key
aims is to improve public confidence in the criminal justice system
we have to be seen to be not just effective and efficient, which
we have talked about a lot, but responsive. The CPS acknowledges
the need to be more responsive and has become so. When one is
considering whether or not it is in the public interest to prosecute
a particular crime in a particular area one needs to be informed
of the situation in that area, the views of the community and
what it is suffering. I believe that is a legitimate interest
to take into account.
Q62 Chairman: Would it make a significant
difference to decisions to discover that people in an area did
not like crimes of violence committed on the streets or were becoming
increasingly irritated because of lack of success or persistence
in prosecuting those who carried out those crimes?
Catherine Lee: I believe that
in certain areas it could make a real difference. I believe that
in some areas the responsiveness is there but we have an issue
with information flows. How well informed is the CPS? Through
neighbourhood policing teams and other proposals we are developing
to try to join up the collective effort to engage with communities
we now have an opportunity to inform the CPS.
Q63 Alun Michael: The approach you
adopt seems to imply acceptance, does it not, that it is part
of the function of the process of prosecution to try to reduce
the criminal activity that is going on in an area?
Catherine Lee: I believe that
that is very much the criminal justice system's contribution to
PSA23 and also PSA24. Fundamentally, we are about reducing crime
Alun Michael: I ask the question because
it is quite nice to hear it being made explicit.
Q64 Chairman: Tim Godwin, do you
want the last word on that?
Tim Godwin: I was just nodding
in agreement with what Catherine Lee said. It is about reducing
crime as well as increasing convictions for the more serious crimes
which are appropriate to go through that process. Whilst sitting
here I have been reflecting on the opportunity which I honestly
believe is there to be grasped. I thought that I had made that
sound a little bit easy. There is a massive cultural issue facing
all the agencies in order to do that. A big process of change
will have to be undertaken to deliver it but the work is already
under way and I am confident that we can land it. For some CPS
and police staff that different way of working is a challenge,
but the prize is a good one.
Chairman: Thank you very much. We are
grateful to you for giving evidence to us this afternoon.