Give reorganised CPS a chance

The profession should get behind the CPS following its shake-up, says the Attorney General, John Morris QC.

Last month I announced the Government's final response to the report by Sir Iain Glidewell on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Although much work remains to be done on implementation, this is a key moment of transition, and a good time to reflect a little on what has been achieved and on the type of organisation we all want it to be.

The CPS has had a rough time for virtually all of its relatively short life. Underfunded at the start and struggling to establish itself, it began its life in an environment that was not universally welcoming.

To borrow from PG Wodehouse, its arrival may have left some, if not positively disgruntled, at least far from being gruntled. There were also internal organisational problems, both structural and cultural, which became a running sore for many years and affected morale badly.

It did find its place as an independent national prosecution service, but getting the relationship between the centre and the areas right was difficult, and various reorganisations took place, which, though well-intentioned, missed the mark. In opposition, New Labour issued a paper which summarised its concerns and promised action.

Once elected, the Government announced its intentions and set up the Glidewell review, which reported a year ago. Almost all the recommendations have been accepted.

Over the past year, the key things have been put in place – 42 CPS areas, making geographical sense and matching police force boundaries, and a structure that frees senior lawyers to concentrate more of their energies on cases. We have a chief executive for the first time, who has been able to remove many of the administrative burdens from the new Director of Public Prosecutions, and this arrangement is replicated at the area level, where the 42 chief crown prosecutors and area business managers took up their appointments just two months ago.

Each area will have trial units responsible for all prosecutions in the Crown Court, complementing the criminal justice units which will work more closely with the police and will manage the cases in the magistrates courts. The arrangements for co-ordination between the various criminal justice agencies in the areas will be simpler and based on CPS area boundaries, which should make it much easier to thrash out problems at a local level.

Giving the CPS a greater say in the listing of cases should help. Over time the CPS will take on the responsibility for giving information about case decisions to witnesses and victims, putting responsibility where it belongs. By the end of the year the CPS, the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department aim to have agreed definitions for some common casework statistics, so meaningful comparisons can be made between the performance of the police, the CPS and the courts.

I have a great hope that everything is set to work out well for the CPS. Its staff have faced years of turbulence and change. Bedding down these further changes, and turning the culture around, will take time. I will do everything I can to ensure that they are left free to settle down and make the new systems work.

There is a role, too, for the profession as a whole. The CPS will only flourish if we give it, and its leaders, our confidence. In the past two years I have met hundreds of people who work for the CPS. I have been impressed by their dedication and hard work against a background that has not been easy for them. The promise for the future lies with them – let us help them to deliver it.

John Morris QC is the Attorney General.