Criminal barristers have long discussed the conspiracy theory that the CPS creams off the good and the easy for it’s own in-house counsel and farms out the low end and the messy to Bar. This is however not some crazy theory borne of the heat oppressed brains of the paranoid Bar, there is actual documentary proof that this is CPS policy. (Taken from an article from CrimeLine).
The Criminal Bar Association are quite rightly up in arms about this as can be seen from their blog post – The Culture within the CPS exposed.
The DPP has in turn promptly responded:
“The e-mail in question should not have been sent and categorically does not reflect the CPS policy on allocating cases to advocates. The circulation of the e-mail was small (about 43 recipients in an organisation of over 6,000 staff), it only covered advocates dealing with cases in North London Crown Courts and its existence was short-lived (it was dated 15th January 2013 and was withdrawn on 19th February 2013). I have had assurances from all Chief Crown Prosecutors across England and Wales that no such or similar scheme has been operated elsewhere in the CPS. I am disappointed that the e-mail was sent and I have assured the Attorney General, the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association that I will ascertain how it came to be sent and revert to them on the matter.”
At first blush it seems a storm in a tea cup. No need to panic, some maverick Crown Prosecutor has gone bonkers, hardly anyone really saw the e-mail anyway, nothing to see here move along. I repeat the words of the DPP that it “categorically does not reflect the CPS policy on allocating cases to advocates.” That clears all that up then.
Well it would if it was only evidence of a standard CPS approach to maximise cost savings by unethical management of the allocation of work.
In a report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate dated March 2012 the true nature of the impact of the CPS policy is laid bare:
- The advocacy strategy has delivered net savings of approximately £26 million across the last five years
- Crown advocates are not managing to develop their experience of trial advocacy in part due to ….. the high levels of cracked trials on the day in the cases allocated to them
- The average number of effective trials completed by a crown advocate is less than four a year
- There are failures to challenge clearly inadmissible and prejudicial evidence
- A number of advocates still have an over reliance on case notes, this can have a negative impact on the conduct of the trial
- Legal submissions are not always timely or supported by reasoned oral argument
- The continued focus on financial savings has resulted in …… late instructions to self-employed counsel who do not have time to remedy poor preparation
In short according to HM CPS Inspectorate the CPS advocacy strategy saves money but at a cost to quality and a failure to improve the skills of crown advocates. The report details a long list of recommendations and also takes a long look at how effective the cost savings are in reality.
The cynics may say I only picked out the points out of the report that assisted in proving the theory that the CPS are choosing cost over quality. The same convenient editing could also be said of the DPP who responded to the report stating:
“The report rightly highlights our commitment to quality advocacy and a number of areas where the CPS has improved this quality. Our increased use of in-house advocates has resulted in significant savings since 2006 and at the same time the overall quality of advocacy has remained high.”
It’s a bit like those DVD boxes that say “truly gripping” but the full review said “the only truly gripping part of this film was whether I would stay awake until the end”.
What is clear is that the quality of advocacy and case preparation is sacrificed for financial saving and this is commonly happening in more complex cases. Cases which are likely to crack are retained in-house to save costs but this hinders the improvement of crown advocates. This knock on effects are many but the most important is that justice may fail to be done.N.b. I am a clerk and as such I always like to look for a solution rather than just pointing the finger. I am therefore working on a follow up piece where I look at how things used to work and how they work now. If you have read any of my previous posts you will know that I have a fondness for looking back and comparing the past to the current. I will also throw my hat into the ring and offer my own humble opinions of how I think things could be improved. It may however take a while to collate my various thoughts together so this follow up may be a few weeks away.