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Will the next DPP please stand up and be counted?

It has been reported Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, will not have her contract renewed when her five-year term expires in September.  Ms Saunders denies that she has been "forced out", claiming that she decided to move into private practice last year and informed the government herself that she would be unable to continue beyond the end of her term.

The Crown Prosecution Service has come under heavy criticism in recent months over disclosure failings highlighted by a number of sexual offence prosecutions being dropped during trial, or shortly beforehand.  As a result, every single rape charge in England and Wales is now being reviewed and a wholesale update of the way in which evidence is disclosed is underway.

An unnamed supporter of Ms Saunders is quoted in the Telegraph as saying “She had a very difficult time. The amount of money available for the CPS is limited, there was a very substantial cut under her predecessor. It left a painful, difficult legacy. In the circumstances, she has done a pretty reasonable job”

Ms Saunders, a Prosecutor for her whole career, was appointed from within the CPS when Keir Starmer QC stood down in 2013. In choosing her successor, it will be interesting to see whether the government once again looks in-house or brings in a ‘heavy-weight’ independent practitioner. Across criminal lawyers there is virtual unanimity that current CPS resources are inadequate to prosecute every case in England and Wales properly.  The vast majority of criminal barristers are also now engaged in action, effective from 1 April 2018, in refusing new legally-aided defence work due to recent fee cuts.

Against this backdrop, the new DPP will be expected, naturally, to both steady the CPS ship and be able to clear up recent mistakes. This is no small task, even for a reported annual salary of £250,000. It is likely that many of the credible candidates for DPP will have already attributed the CPS’ wholesale failings to a lack of resources and training. Indeed, countless legal practitioners have been on the airwaves stating our once great criminal justice system is creaking, collapsing, or simply consigned to the history books. These dire problems must not be forgotten simply because the top job became available sooner than expected. A true professional cannot, and will not, ‘muddle through’ with inadequate resources. Once it is clear that there are insufficient funds, or inadequate staff, to do a job properly, the ethical approach is to say this from the outset.

It is to be hoped that any serious contender for DPP maintains that better funding for the CPS, and better organisation within the CPS, are pre-requisites for taking on the role.  Any candidate who is prepared to simply carry on with ‘business as usual’ under the current settlement is just perpetuating these problems. To do so, particularly having previously decried those very inadequacies, would be a grave crime against us all.

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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.