Tony Girling/CPS. Why CPSD must stay independent
25 March 1997
The underlying principle when the CPS was established was, as I understand, that it should be an independent, professional service. This, I think, means that while relations between the police and the CPS should not be in any way adversarial, nor should the CPS be in the pocket of the police.
I have some fear that the permanent presence of a prosecutor in the police station would blur the important distinction between their roles. It may be true that the proposed arrangement would not necessarily impinge on the proper independence of the prosecutor. It may also be that a prosecutor determined to maintain an independent approach to his work would succeed in doing so whatever the institutional framework within which he functions.
It does, however, seem to me at least questionable whether the proposed arrangement would not in practice lead to a situation in which the line between investigation and prosecution would become blurred and the essential independence of the prosecutor would be eroded. It would further seem to me to be inconsistent with the concept of an independent professional service to deny the CPS the discretion to discontinue cases in the public interest on the ground that the offence is not serious or that the likely penalty is too trivial to justify prosecution.
One can of course understand why the police would prefer to have the last word on the subject. But I find it hard to understand how a professional service could be thought to lack the quality of judgement needed to decide whether an offence merited prosecution or whether it did not; and I do not think professional prosecutors should be obliged to prosecute offences which they judge unworthy of prosecution.
I do not know whether, in practice, differences of view between the police and the CPS give rise to serious difficulty. If they do, I would expect such difficulty to be resolved by police representations to senior authorities within the CPS.
It may be that my views are ill-founded, and that real problems do now arise. For the present, however, I myself require persuasion, and I am not in any event sure that the report proposes the right solution.
The same is true of the proposals that lay staff should have authority to review files and that non-lawyers employed by the CPS should be able to present uncontested cases in magistrates' courts. Both these proposals appear to me to reflect a belief that such matters are relatively straightforward and call for little technical understanding. In very many cases this is no doubt true. In other cases it is not.
There can be no objection in principle to the suggestion that the CPS should provide an on-call service at evenings and weekends to give the police advice on the charges which they should prefer. I assume, but this is something the report does not address, that this would place additional demands on the CPS and require an increase in its professional staff. Whatever the merits of the proposal, it would seem clear that it could not be met unless the resources available to the CPS were increased or economies made elsewhere in its existing service. My clear impression is that the CPS, like other public services, is currently subject to stringent expenditure restraint.
I do not believe that the CPS is run extravagantly; it would therefore seem to me important to explore the practicability of giving effect to this proposal.
The recommendations of the Review of Delay in the Criminal Justice System regarding the CPS are:
a permanent CPS presence in police stations to deal with fast-tracked guilty pleas;
an end to the CPS power to discontinue cases on public interest grounds;
non lawyers should review files;
non lawyers should be able to prosecute uncontested cases in the magistrates' courts; and
an on-call service should be provided at all times by the CPS to advise on the charging of suspects.
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