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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 297-299)


24 FEBRUARY 2009

  Q297 Chairman: Mr Starmer and Mr Lewis, welcome. Welcome particularly, Mr Starmer, in your new post. We welcome you to that and wish you well in it. We enjoyed more than one exchange with your predecessor and we look forward to the same with you. If you would like just to start by giving in a nutshell your view of the constitutional role of the prosecutor and the purpose of the prosecutor within the criminal justice system.

  Keir Starmer: The constitutional role of the prosecutor is much more sophisticated now than it was several years ago. I think it has fundamentally changed and I think this is a good time to articulate that change because when the CPS was first set up it was envisaged that it would occupy a space between an investigation by the police and proceedings in court. It would take the charge from the police and the evidence from the police, process it and parcel it out to the self-employed Bar in most instances for the serious cases for prosecution. It has now changed. It occupies the same sort of space but it is a much more sophisticated exercise of function because it is involved pre-charge in giving advice at the investigative stage in serious cases. It now charges in all the serious cases, considers diversion if that is appropriate, prepares cases in a completely different and more sophisticated way and now prosecutes in many instances its own cases in court. So it still sits in that space but it is a much expanded, much more sophisticated role.

  Q298  Chairman: Baroness Scotland's foreword to your strategy and business plan talks about the CPS's role in reducing re-offending. Given the description you have just given about the constitutional position, how do you think the prosecutor can contribute to reducing re-offending?

  Keir Starmer: I do think it is an essential function of the prosecutor to tackle crime and re-offending. That can be done in a number of ways, first and foremost by engaging with the communities the Prosecution serves. The Prosecution obviously exercises public functions on behalf of the public and in order to inform itself about the decisions it makes it needs to squarely face that public and engage with communities. That will involve working on crime reduction in a number of different ways, as it were, in a general sense. There is then obviously the gateway function when an individual crime is identified and detected and at that point crime reduction enters the equation when the decision is made whether to charge or not charge, when the public interest is taken into account, and when things like diversion are considered.

  Chairman: I am going to come back to some of those issues shortly, but I am going to ask Mr Tyrie to continue questioning.

  Q299  Mr Tyrie: Do you have a rough idea, Mr Lewis, how many agencies have prosecuting powers in the UK?

  Peter Lewis: Yes. It would be something like about 20. There are the main prosecutors you will be familiar with, RCPO, SFO, other government departments have prosecution functions, local authorities have prosecution functions as well and there is the odd organisation like the RSPCA which can launch prosecutions. It is quite a broad category.

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