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


Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 65-79)

PETER LODDER QC, TOM LITTLE AND CHRISTINE HASWELL

3 FEBRUARY 2009

  Q65 Chairman: Welcome, Christine Haswell, from the Crown Prosecution Service. You are the Negotiations Officer in the Crown Prosecutions Service.

  Christine Haswell: Yes, from the Public Commercial Services Union, and I represent members in the Crown Prosecution Service.

  Q66  Chairman: Mr Lodder and Mr Little, from the Criminal Bar Association, the Chairman and the Secretary?

  Peter Lodder: That is correct, yes.

  Q67  Chairman: Welcome to you. We are grateful to you for helping us with the work we do on the Crown Prosecution Service. Could we usefully start by giving you an opportunity to tell us of any concerns you have about the budget pressures currently facing the CPS and the target structure which seeks to apply those pressures?

  Christine Haswell: My union, as I say, represents most of the staff in the Crown Prosecution Service and we feel very concerned about the cut in budgets, particularly with respect to job losses, which in a time of increasing pressures on the criminal justice system, we feel, are adding to the stress and burden of our members working there. We feel that the targets are driving very much more pressure on the staff in the courts and in the supporting areas. We think that they are pressuring, not necessarily short cuts, but are putting a lot of stress on the individuals trying to meet them.

  Q68  Chairman: Some people would argue that the direction in which the CPS has been travelling, which appears to be saving it money, whether or not that is the motive, is one which enhances the responsibility and work range of both lawyers and also non-lawyers employed within the CPS, because the CPS is taking more cases in-house: (a) is that so, and (b) if it is so, is that not something you would welcome on behalf of your members?

  Christine Haswell: We certainly welcome the creation of the Associate Prosecutor. We feel that that has helped develop and enhance that role, and we supported that. However, as that has bedded in we have found that sometimes the amount of court time has exceeded targets and that there is, again, increasing pressure on them in terms of very short preparation time and so forth. We are concerned that under resourcing in the service is perhaps reducing the quality of the service that our members can produce.

  Q69  Chairman: The Bar Council probably has a slightly different perspective on this. What would you like to say?

  Peter Lodder: I am not sure that it is necessarily a different perspective because, in general terms, we see the value of an invigorated and active prosecution service which has a strong feeling of self worth, and I think that the position that the last Director and current Director have maintained is to grow within the Crown Prosecution Service a sense of purpose which the CPS has not had for a number of years, and so to that extent we think that that is a good, objective and a useful guide. Where we feel greatest concern is that that development is focused in some very particular areas so that it is being conducted at the expense of what we would see are the core functions of the prosecution service, and to that extent I think there is overlap in the position that Christine Haswell has just expressed and the position that we find. Really what we are concerned about is this. Yes, it is moving in the right direction of travel, but it is moving at a speed and with a disproportionate focus simply on getting people into court to be advocates at the expense of the performance of the organisation generally and at the expense of the work load of the people who remain in the office, the case workers, for example. What we are concerned about is that the rate of change that is being pursued is too rapid, and so what it means, for example, is that there are not enough people who are working towards the preparation of the case when it comes into court and that there is, in fact, no empirical evidence on the cost and quality advantages of the steps that are being taken. You indicated in your question of Christine Haswell that it appears to be saving money, and we are not entirely sure that that is a correct assumption. We invite consideration as to whether that is a correct assumption, but what it boils down is to this. It seems to us that, in a drive to get as many people as possible into advocacy, there has been a diminution of those available to perform the bedrock functions of simple case preparation and the like, the sort of concept of file ownership which was such an important feature of the Crown Prosecution hitherto. If I may summarise what has, I am afraid, been a rather long answer: yes, we see the value of the initiatives, but we question the speed with which we are being pursued because, in our view, the changes that are being undertaken are not being given, individually, enough opportunity to bed in.

  Q70  Mr Heath: That was an answer that was based on the personnel implications and on the method of work. I just wondered whether you wanted to expand at all the outcome of that work, the output, as to whether you believe that resource implications have affected the prosecuting policy or the disposals which are available.

  Peter Lodder: I think a difficulty here is the absence of any real analysis of what has happened as a consequence of these changes. When you talk about outcomes, do you mean that a number of cases have been moved through the system more quickly than they would have been say a year or two years ago?

  Q71  Mr Heath: No, is the answer to that. I am asking has there been a difference in the level of charge applied or the outcome?

  Peter Lodder: We suspect that there has been some under charging, as we indicated in our written submissions. We have reason to suppose that there is a tendency to accept inappropriate pleas. In other words, where a Crown Prosecution Service in-house advocate is prosecuting a case, that person will be more likely to accept a plea to a lesser offence—the section 18, section 20 scenario is a common one in this instance—and so to that extent, using the phrase "outcomes", we feel the outcomes probably are not in fact of the order to justify these changes, no.

  Q72  Alun Michael: Could you say something about the time scale there just to clarify? You referred to current charges and I was not sure whether you were talking about the last six months, the last year, the last couple of years. My direct knowledge of prosecution services goes back quite a number of years, at which time it was a very ramshackle outfit with pretty poor quality barristers who could not find anything better to do appearing in the magistrates court, and it seems to have changed over recent years into a much more conventional organisation. Are you talking about a fairly small time scale?

  Peter Lodder: I should not tie myself to a particular time frame. May I adopt your time frame? I entirely agree with you that there has over that span of time (and I have had a similar personal experience to yours certainly in terms of longevity) been significant improvement, and that is why, in response to your Chairman's invitation, I indicated our support and encouragement for what has happened. I think there has been generated within the Crown Prosecution Service a much better sense of identity and a stronger sense of purpose, so to that extent I think there has been significant improvement, and, may I say, we applaud it as well, because we are participants in the criminal justice system. As members of the Bar we both prosecute and defend. It is vital, in our view, that the criminal justice system acts efficiently and effectively in all its constituent parts. Our concerns really derive in recent time from the rapidity of the change What we fear is a target driven approach, which means that in the interests of hitting particular targets the individual areas are trying to drive the employees into court as often as possible, and what this leads to, in our experience, is people being instructed to go and present cases which they may not have been acceptable for had they been self-employed lawyers and for which they may not have sufficient experience or competence but that there is a pressure to do it because of the target. I have experience of individual members of the Crown Prosecution Service who are members of the Bar saying that that is something that they have come across, and so there is a concern when that happens. The criminal justice system, if that is correct, is not well served if there is that dynamic in operation within the system.

  Q73  Chairman: Do you have members who work for the Crown Prosecution Service?

  Peter Lodder: We do.

  Q74  Chairman: Membership associations?

  Peter Lodder: There are, yes. There are very few, and because there are so few, so as not to appear to be identifying anybody, my conversations are with barristers who are not necessarily members of our association, and so when I indicate conversations I am not necessarily identifying someone who is a member of the association.

  Q75  Alun Michael: In the light of the Chairman's question, I am tempted to put my tongue in my cheek and say is there a tension between representing both employed and self-employed barristers, given the Bar Association is sometimes seen as a bit of a trade union for defence lawyers.

  Peter Lodder: I am slightly saddened to hear you say we are seen as a trade union for defence lawyers; I personally prosecute as well as defend. We are an association for barristers who practise in crime, but I appreciate it is tongue in cheek.

  Q76  Alun Michael: Practising crime is a phrase that needs to be used with care as well, is it not?

  Peter Lodder: But I know in this company it will be understood!

  Q77  Alun Michael: Can you say something about the responsibility of the Criminal Bar Association in terms of ensuring that the higher standards of advocacy are pursued within the CPS?

  Peter Lodder: We do not have a direct responsibility, because we are an association which provides a service to its members. So unless individuals are members of our association, they do not benefit in any significant way from what we do to maintain standards. We run educational programmes, which are largely attended by the self-employed Bar. As a matter of interest and since you ask, we had a lecture last week at the Old Bailey, which a number of CPS in-house advocates attended in order to benefit from the wisdom of the speaker. We run other courses: we run advocacy courses. Again, they are for members of the association, and so if someone who practises as in-house advocate is a member of the association, then of course they may attend.

  Q78  Alun Michael: How much is your membership from within the CPS?

  Peter Lodder: It is small. Our membership is, broadly speaking, I think about 3,600 at the moment, and I think that the CPS in-house element is about 25, and largely it consists of those who were practising at the self-employed Bar who have since gone to join the CPS. I am not aware of any significant drive by the CPS to bring their in-house advocates into our association; it is rather a hangover from—

  Q79  Alun Michael: Do you encourage it?

  Peter Lodder: I cannot say I have gone out and banged the drum to encourage them to join.



 
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