Morris seizes CPS initiative

The Attorney General, John Morris QC, has taken the highly unusual step of writing directly to CPS staff to explain his reform plans for the service.

The letter signals the Government's determination to adopt a hands-on approach to the running of the service.

Morris praises the Director of Public Prosecutions, Dame Barbara Mills QC, in his letter “for her constructive approach and co-operation” since Labour took office, but the letter points out that conviction rates have fallen “by more than a third” while crime has risen.

Morris adds: “There is undoubtedly a perception that the policies, procedures and structures of the CPS generally have contributed to that fall.”

He also reveals that before the election he consulted with the Association of First Division Civil Servants (FDA), which has been at loggerheads with Mills ever since it publicly pronounced its loss of confidence in the senior management one year ago.

His predecessor, Sir Nicholas Lyell QC, had steadfastly refused to discuss the union's grievances, claiming it should deal directly with Mills.

Elsewhere, the letter fleshes out the reform plans for the CPS announced by the Government last week.

A review headed by someone of high court judge calibre is to be announced soon, but there will in any case be an organisational shake-up, although there will be no new money.

When she became DPP, Mills reduced the number of CPS areas, with their corresponding chief crown prosecutors, from 31 to 13.

Now she has been asked by Morris to create 42 areas, each with the same boundaries as the police authorities in England and Wales, except in London.

Each area will be headed by a CCP responsible for liaising with the Chief Constable and “influencing local relationships with other criminal justice system agencies and the wider public”.

The reform is being interpreted as a move towards the US prosecuting model, with its powerful district attorneys.

But there will be fears that it may lead to the disintegration of the CPS as a national service, and erode the independence of prosecutors at the hands of the police.

Last week Mills insisted that there were no divisions between herself, Morris and the Solicitor General, Lord Falconer QC, although she defended the service's conviction record – pointing out that convictions had increased in the Crown Court.

There was, however, jubilation among some CPS prosecutors last week that the new Attorney General appeared to have listened to their concerns. In an official statement the FDA said it was concerned that “the service is to face yet another reorganisation” but hoped the reforms would improve resources for front-line prosecutions

Roger Ede, secretary of the Law Society's criminal law committee, added: “We are concerned that the continued savings expected of the CPS will affect its ability to carry out its prosecuting function.”

See editor's comment, page 14 and story, page 56.