The CPS lawyers' union has urged prosecutors with newly acquired rights of audience to boycott the Crown Courts, because of a pay dispute with the management.
The CPS section of the Association of First Division Civil Servants (FDA) issued the advice last week, when it accused the management of unilaterally breaking off pay talks.
A staff circular issued by Kevin Goodwin, the convener of the FDA's CPS section, said a boycott would “bring the department back to the negotiating table”. But it stressed the move would not amount to strike action, as their consent was needed before they could appear in the Crown Court.
The dispute is embarrassing for the CPS, which has long campaigned to use its staff as prosecutors in the Crown Court.
But it is only the latest of a series of wrangles between CPS prosecutors and the management, which has dogged the Director of Public Prosecutions, Dame Barbara Mills QC, over the last few years and may well have contributed to her decision last week to step down early.
The union wants its members to be able to appear in the Crown Court, but believes prosecutors who have passed the exams to win higher court rights of audience deserve better pay.
The FDA circular claimed that management had evaluated the skills required of higher court advocates as “at the lower end of the senior [non-lawyer] executive officers range”. It added: “The department also stated that higher court advocacy only demands the same skills as required in the Magistrates' Court [and]…additional learning is simply from a book.”
But a CPS spokesman denied Mills and her team had ended talks. “We are still in negotiations and the management has made this clear to the FDA.”
This March, a group of 34 prosecutors became the first within the CPS to be awarded higher court rights of audience, after employed solicitors were granted limited rights of audience in the higher courts.
So far, none of them have appeared in court as the CPS is yet to publish the “ethical statement” outlining how employees will exercise these rights, which is required by law.
See Comment, page 16