Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
QC AND PETER
24 FEBRUARY 2009
Q340 Julie Morgan: What training
do your prosecutors have to enable them to recognise this and
also generally working with witnesses and vulnerable victims?
Keir Starmer: We have training
for all of our prosecutors on working with victims and witnesses,
in particular on special measures. As I say, in the first instance
it is for the police to identify those cases, but we do get the
opportunity ourselves to consider whether there should be special
measures, so we do have that in place.
Q341 Julie Morgan: Finally, the Prosecutors'
Pledge. How does this actually work? Does every prosecutor
refer to this at every point in the work?
Keir Starmer: It is a core document
and it is an important document, and it is a pledge which we operate
to. When there are a million cases plus going through the system
there are bound to be cases where there are possible shortcomings
and we are aware of that, but it is a pledge. It is a pledge that
we take seriously. There is on an area by area basis a number
of targets which were specifically about victims and witnesses,
so we hold the areas accountable for their record on victims and
witnesses and we do monitor how well they do. I am not going to
pretend there are no cases that ever fall through the netting,
but it is a really serious pledge that we take. The point in the
delivery unit is, as it were, to make sure the pledge and the
practice marry up because we are well aware of the criticism of
any organisation, "You've got glorious pledges but it doesn't
match up with what's happening on the ground," and the delivery
unit is intended to ensure that the focus is on delivery.
Q342 Dr Palmer: Just a silly question.
The Prosecutor's Pledge reminds me a bit of the mission
statements my old company used to produce and I know that many
people who worked for the company had never read the mission statement.
Are you confident that every prosecutor has read the prosecutor's
Keir Starmer: I would hope they
have. I could not say
Q343 Dr Palmer: Do you send it to
Keir Starmer: Well, they all do
have access to it. We have been, as I have said, going round all
of the areas. It is an intense piece of work from January to April,
seeing as many staff as possible, and we have seen hundreds of
staff. We have always insisted that the staff who are closest
to witnesses and victims speak to us and we have organised for
them to do so in groups where they feel able to do so openly.
Undoubtedly, they are working really hard on this issue. They
are really proud of what they do and so are the rest of the staff
in the area. So it is something that they really take pride in
and they do get positive feedback on the individual cases and
they like that. They are more frustrated than anybody else when
things go wrong in the system that frustrates the work they have
been doing. When a case is adjourned where they work hard with
the victim and the witness to try and get them to court and reassure
them, they are really frustrated that all their work appears to
have come to nought. So I cannot say that everybody has read every
document and could recite it as a moment's notice, but I do really
get a sense that it is really taken seriously and is recognised
to be central, and rightly.
Dr Palmer: Would it be a fair summary
to say that you feel the spirit of the pledge infuses the organisation
but the actual pledge itself has not necessarily been -
Q344 Chairman: Dr Palmer is offering
you a lifeline! Just say yes, I think.
Keir Starmer: Yes.
Q345 Chairman: Just a couple of specific
points. One is, how would you respond to concerns that the CPS
has an "institutional reluctance", two words which were
used to us, to see people with mental health problems as credible
Keir Starmer: I do not think it
is an institutional reluctance. We do recognise this is a really
serious issue. We have devised policy which is being consulted
on at the moment and we work with a number of other agencies with
a specialist interest such as MIND and Scope on this, so I do
not think it is institutional, but we have made mistakes and we
Q346 Chairman: One of the things
the CPS has done under your predecessor, quite deliberately, is
to increase the amount of in-house advocacy and of course there
are arguments from Criminal Bar practitioners about the merits
of this. I just wanted to put this question to you: are you satisfied
that the commitment of resources devoted to advocacy has not undermined
your ability to engage in case preparation as an organisation?
Keir Starmer: I have no evidence
to suggest that is the case, so I have every confidence.
Q347 Chairman: You intend to continue
with the policy of developing in-house advocacy?
Keir Starmer: Yes.
Q348 Chairman: Is there an optimum
level it should reach?
Keir Starmer: There has been much
discussion about percentages, both before this Committee and elsewhere.
My priority is delivering a first-class Prosecution Service. Percentages
and levels are secondary to that. Having said that, we do have
a large number of in-house barristers and solicitors who have
rights of audience and the rights of audience they exercise in
the CPS are no different from the rights of audience they would
be entitled to exercise if they were in-house in any other organisation
or if they were solicitors in a solicitors' firm. That is a really
important point to appreciate because if we did not allow them
to exercise their rights we would be restricting what they could
do if they were acting elsewhere and we would find it difficult
to attract the very best if we restricted what they could do with
us in a way which was not restricted in another organisation.
Chairman: I think Mr Heath has a wider
point he wants to raise.
Q349 Mr Heath: Yes. It is a question,
Mr Starmer, which relates to you and your specific position and
the relationship with the Attorney General. You will know that
there has been concern expressed on a number of occasions about
the duality of the Attorney General's position both within Government
and as a law officer. There are certain decisions which are left
to the Attorney General by statute. Are there circumstances in
which you would make a recommendation to the Attorney General
that it would be appropriate for her to leave a decision on prosecution
to yourself rather than take it as Attorney General?
Keir Starmer: Well, the current
Attorney General has made it clear that she does not want an involvement
in individual cases in the vast majority of cases. So she has
deliberately distanced herself from decision making in any individual
cases and so there is a clear understanding that the decisions
of the CPS are made independently of her. That is not to say there
would not be consultation if a particular case was sensitive or
had a high public interest factor, but it would be consultation.
There is a small group of exceptional cases where national security
is in play, where the Attorney General has, obviously, a much
more hands-on role and/or where she has under legislation a power
of consent where she is required by law to exercise that consent.
But the current arrangement is that she will not be involved in
the vast majority of cases.
Q350 Mr Heath: I am thinking of the
difficult cases where there might be a view that the Attorney
General's position within the Government might prejudice her position
in respect of a decision on prosecution. Would there be any circumstances
whereby you would say you would advise the Attorney General that
this is an inappropriate place for her to exercise her statutory
Keir Starmer: Most of that is
best put, I think, to the Attorney General. Where she has a statutory
function it is not really for me to advise her about the exercise
of it, although she consults us on the exercise of it. But if
it is a statutory function, it is a statutory function. In sensitive
cases we would discuss the best way forward.
Mr Heath: Thank you.
Q351 Chairman: I have been reminded
that one of the issues that was also raised by us in evidence
was the differences in, as it were, the standard of service to
the police in charging, and of course you have two different systems.
You have, as it were, a daytime system and an out of hours system.
Do you believe that there are still significant disparities in
the efficiency and quality of the charging service provided to
the police and that either of these two systems has particular
merits that recommend its wider use?
Keir Starmer: Can I just get some
context to this? This was a really big change in the criminal
justice system and in the relationship between the police and
the CPS. It is still relatively early days. The power was altered
in 2003 but roll-out was 2006. It is right to say that the initial
focus was area-based with the emphasis on face to face charging
advice, backed up by CPS Direct, a telephone service out of hours.
That was rolled out ahead of time, but there is this factor, that
it was expected that the CPS would be handling about 260,000 cases
for decision. In fact we handle over half a million, about 550,000
cases, so it is more than it was thought would be the case. There
are some very good early indicators and for me the most important
one is the decline in the discontinuance rate, down I think from
36% to 13% and that is really important. We have been talking
about victims and witnesses. Every case that is discontinued has
an impact on them and to get that number down is really important.
It has massive resource implications because we will have prepared
all those cases and the courts will have had to handle them, so
there are some really good positive results and I can say, if
you have not been to the areas, locally the police and our staff
say the relationship between them and the police is much better.
Because they are liaising without charging they are in contact
with each other and they are very obviously driving towards the
same target. Now, it is true that there have been some issues
about how quick the service is being provided in some areas and
whether face to face is the appropriate way forward or whether
telephone advice is the way forward. That is an issue we have
grappled with with the police. Throughout all of this this has
been a joint initiative and we have put in place the modernising
charging programme, which is intended to ensure 24/7 access by
the police to charging advice from duty prosecutors and predominantly
that will be on the telephone but with the ability to have face
to face contact for the more serious complicated cases where there
is real value added in that. I do not think it is a one-size-fits-all
across all areas because geography and the profile varies enormously
from area to area, but there is this important initiative drivenand
this is the important thingby a standard. This is something
which should be simply driven by standards, in our view, this
quality of charging decision within this timeframe for the following
sorts of cases, 24/7 access. The police and the CPS are working
jointly on this to solve the difficulties and I am sure we are
going to do so.
Q352 Julie Morgan: It has been put
to me that the telephone advice offered out of hours, in particular
for sensitive cases of domestic abuse or sexual abuse, has not
always taken into account the vulnerable nature of the victims
and the advisor has not necessarily had the specialist knowledge
which a specialist domestic violence prosecutor, for example.
Keir Starmer: Yes. What I say
in response to that is something I will say in response to many
questions when things are said that this is not done as well as
it could be, and that is that it is always important to bear in
mind we are an inspected organisation, there is rigorous on-going
inspection and therefore everything we do is looked at in considerable
detail, and we welcome that. That is exactly as it should be.
It is very positive and we learn a lot from it, but we are inspected
and there was a joint inspection on charging by the inspectorate
and the HMI and they produced a report and it commented favourably
on the quality of CPS Direct. It is difficult to deal with suggestions
that have not been looked at in that way, but there was a very
extensive inspection, and a good thing too, and on CPS Direct
it was a positive inspection report.
Q353 Julie Morgan: I can only say
what has been reported to me.
Keir Starmer: I appreciate that
and I am not saying there is nothing in it at all. It is just
very difficult to deal with that. It crops up in advocacy as well,
but it is important to step back and say, "This is an inspected
organisation that, as it were, opens its books and everything
is looked at in individual cases." That is a really good
thing because it identifies good practice and shortcomings but
it is also a very good defence for us because we are able to say,
"We are looked at and if you want to know how we operate,
look at our internal reviews and look at the external inspection."
It is difficult to deal with information which may be right or
wrong from other individuals about particular cases that fall
outside of that.
Q354 Chairman: Finally, your predecessor
has availed himself with some quite forthright views since he
retired, but that would be a very unfair comment because in office
he was quite prepared to set out his individual view of important
matters of public policy affecting the office of the Director
of Public Prosecutions. I just give one example. He gave quite
a clear view about what he saw as the potential benefits of the
use of interceptor's evidence. He did not feel restrained from
giving a view about that. Are you going to be a bureaucratic spokesman
of a collectively agreed organisation or do you see the office
of DPP as one which positively invites and encourages a forthright
statement of what the holder believes is in the public interest?
Keir Starmer: The latter. For
evidence, see the decision on assisted suicide, which turned on
the public interest. We said we are going to be modern and we
said we are going to be transparent and be a leader in the criminal
justice system. For that reason, we put our reasoning into the
public domain so that everybody could see it, comment on it and
hold us to account. So I would take the same forthright approach.
I hope and trust there is already evidence that that is the way
I intend to lead the CPS.
Chairman: Mr Starmer and Mr Lewis, thank
you both very much indeed.