Crown Prosecution Service. Reflections on CPS's achievements

A tenth birthday is a milestone for any organisation. It is also a time for reflection. What have we achieved? Where do we go from here?

The CPS is at the heart of the criminal prosecution process, as the prosecutor of criminal charges and as an effective contributor to the development of the criminal justice system.

Nationally, we have established an independent prosecution agency which delivers a committed, professional, high quality public service. It is delivered locally through 98 branches working with the police and other agencies.

The Phillips Commission saw the difficulty – and injustice – in prosecuting arrangements that often turned on the development of local practices in 43 separate police areas. These varied, prompting criticism of “justice by geography”.

The CPS was set up by Parliament to replace this frag mentation with a national prosecuting organisation. The transition was not achieved without difficulty, but practitioners and informed observers recognise the benefits of this change.

The role of the CPS was to independently review cases received from the police to ensure that only those that met the requirements of the new code for Crown Prosecutors proceeded.

The service was heavily criticised at the outset. We were short of lawyers, and relied on outside lawyers to cover court hearings for us. We have overcome those difficulties and now employ 6,400 staff, 2,200 of whom are lawyers, prosecuting 1.4 million cases last year.

We have put in place structures to deliver a fair and consistent prosecution service across the country. I am responsible for the actions of prosecutors and I am aware of the need to ensure that our work is based on the best practice.

As DPP, I provide a single point of reference for practitioners in the criminal justice community. As head of the service, I have the ability to see when a national approach is required and to ensure that it is implemented locally. No other criminal justice agency has this form of accountability.

We reorganised the CPS to focus on the 98 branches as our key operational units. Prosecutors, supported by case workers, review police files, prepare cases for court, deal with defence queries, and prosecute cases in the magistrates courts.

Within branches we have reorganised prosecutors and case workers into integrated prosecution teams. This system – teamworking – ensures that the same people, prosecutors and case workers, deal with a case from receipt of the file from the police to its conclusion. To maintain clear lines of communication and accountability, each branch is aligned with specific police divisions and courts.

I would like to see the CPS build on this by putting our lawyers into the Crown Court in appropriate cases, and I am committed to pursuing rights of audience for Crown Prosecutors in the Crown Courts. Apart from the benefits to both the CPS and the criminal justice system as a whole, it is only right that able CPS advocates should be able to exercise their skills in front of judge and jury.

It is important that the CPS is heard in the criminal justice community at national level. As part of this, we are active on a number of committees. We were a founder member of the Trials Issues Group (TIG), an inter-agency organisation that brings together expertise from all parts of the criminal justice system. We are also represent ed on the Criminal Justice Consultative Council. Our Chief Crown Prosecutors sit on its area committees, and Chief and Branch Crown Prosecutors take part in TIG's local offshoots.

Working with the police at a national level through TIG, we supported the Joint Performance Management initiative. This initiative was piloted successfully in five CPS branches, working with local police forces. Under the scheme, the quality and timeliness of police files and the reasons for discontinuance and for Crown Court acquittals were scrutinised by the CPS and police together. There have been measurable improvements in police files and increased co-operation between police and CPS locally.

It is widely recognised that we have the perspective and the expertise to contribute significantly to the criminal justice system. We must build on our links with partners in the justice process to achieve further benefits both for those who become directly involved and the wider community. We must also maintain a prosecuting process versatile enough to meet challenges to the system into the next century.