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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 60-64)


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 have described?

  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 and reoffending.

  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.

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