Counting the cost of Mills' free rein at the CPS

The Glidewell report on the CPS recommends dismantling virtually all the key changes implemented by DPP Dame Barbara Mills QC. With a service so manifestly beset by bureaucracy and demoralisation, John Malpas asks why the shake-up has been so long in coming.

IN TRUE stiff upper lip fashion, Dame Barbara Mills QC was given a glorious sendoff in parliament on the day Sir Iain Glidewell's damning report on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was published.

“I pay warm tribute to Dame Barbara Mills… she has provided strong leadership and her contribution will long be valued,” said the Attorney General, John Morris QC.

“Hear, hear,” replied the shadow attorney general, Sir Nicholas Lyell QC, blithely.

“Whatever has gone wrong in the crown prosecution service, it would be quite wrong to blame her,” oozed Chris Mullins MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Anyone who has read the Glidewell report will be wondering what planet these three have been living on.

Try as he obviously has, the retired Court of Appeal judge can find few good things to say about the CPS under Mills' tenure as he recommends the dismantling of most of the changes for which she was responsible.

“The organisation is so structured and managed that it has a tendency to be driven in on itself, getting entangled in too much bureaucracy, involving complex quality control and second-guessing procedures,” says Glidewell at one stage in his lengthy report.

He continues: “The result… has been an effective withdrawal from prosecution of many senior lawyers, the demoralisation of others and a negative impact on the effectiveness of prosecution.”

In a highly revealing passage, he compares Mills to the Yes Minister character, Sir Humphrey Appleby.

“Sir Humphrey has moved on,” he says firmly.

One Bar Council source observes: “When will they learn that barristers don't make good managers.”

Perhaps the fanfare of public praise – which has even come from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair – should be put down to this country's traditional love of the underdog.

After all, Mills did her best.

“Why kick her when she is down,” a senior QC told The Lawyer.

But what has been the price of allowing Mills a free rein at the CPS for six whole years?

Towards the end of the Tories' last term, the CPS section of the Association of First Division Civil Servants, led by Kevin Goodwin, asked for a meeting with Lyell, who was then the Attorney General, to discuss growing concerns about the way the service was being managed.

But Lyell refused to meet anyone from the association – the implication being that it consisted of a bunch of troublemakers out to get Mills.

Shortly after that she was appointed for a second term of office. She must have felt very secure.

When Glidewell was appointed, she wrote to him complaining that she had been misunderstood, and that her decision to reduce the number of CPS areas from 31 to 13 really amounted to “decentralisation and devolution”.

Glidewell will have none of it.

“This illuminates the contradiction which dominates and distorts the way the CPS is currently managed,” he says in his report.

“An expressed wish to devolve power and responsibility appears to be constantly frustrated by the DPP's overriding commitment to be fully accountable. Such an approach is inimical to good management.”

Glidewell's report is littered with examples of how the stranglehold Mills and her managers exerted on the service sapped morale, stifled creativity and led to a series of bizarre and illogical policies.

For example, team working, which requires prosecutors to handle cases from start to finish, sounded all very well in theory. But in practice, it meant that the most senior lawyers spent all their time on those cases which demanded their most immediate attention – the ones destined for the magistrates' courts. Unqualified lawyers were left to handle the most serious crown court-bound cases.

Hardly surprising, then, that the Glidewell inquiry received a “chorus of complaints concerning perceived CPS inadequacies in the preparation of cases in the Crown Court” – and that judge-ordered acquittals are running at 22.5 per cent.

Glidewell is fully aware of the fact that the CPS has been the subject of a flood of internal and external reviews since its inception.

He has made a conscious effort to present the government with a package of reforms which he thinks can turn the service round. The only danger is, that in its desperation to change things at the CPS, the government will embrace the report too uncritically.

But for all the specific reforms Glidewell proposes (see box), he clearly believes that the key to success is a complete change in management style.

He calls for a “consultative, collegiate approach” to management – and thinks only this will get the best out of CPS prosecutors. Crucially, he wants to see a major devolution of decision-making power from the centre to the 42 new chief crown prosecutors.

Mills and her management team, he complains, did not trust their subordinates not to make mistakes.

Astonishingly, Glidewell reveals: “We have been informed that there have been occasions when, in the absence of the DPP, it has been difficult for the law officers to discover who had the authority to respond or act quickly on her behalf.”

A key reform, of course, has already been put in place. Last Friday senior Cabinet Office civil servant Mark Addison became the new chief executive. He will be largely responsible for managing the service, freeing the DPP to make key strategic and legal decisions.

Last year Mills gave an interview to The Lawyer in which she expressed complete confidence that the Glidewell review would both vindicate her management of the service and “clear the air”.

She was wrong on the first count, but right on the second.

But many lawyers, both inside and outside the CPS, cannot understand why a complete overhaul of the service, under a new leadership, has been so long in coming.

See p10 – Chris Fraser on the search for the new DPP.

Glidewell's verdict on the cps

Reorganisation: Mills cut the number of CPS areas from 31 to 13.

Glidewell: This was a “mistake” because it served to strengthen the control of the centre by creating an extra layer of bureaucracy. The 13 areas should be abolished and considerable decision-making powers devolved to the 42 new chief crown prosecutors based in each police area.

Team working: Under team working, prosecutors working in teams were responsible for handling cases from start to finish.

Glidewell: Team working effectively means that prosecutors devote most of their time to prosecuting minor cases in the magistrates' courts while unqualified staff review files bound for the Crown Courts. He recommends that staff should be divided into Criminal Justice Units (CJU) and Trial Units (TU). CJUs, preferably headed by a lawyer but made up of a mixture of police and CPS staff, should take over the role of file preparation from the police. The unit should handle straightforward magistrates' courts cases, but pass the more serious cases, along with Crown Court work, to TUs.

Counsel: In October 1996 The Lawyer revealed that the Bar Council had complained to the CPS about the disparity in fees being paid to prosecuting and defence counsel, especially for serious offences.

Glidewell: He says it is “absurd” that prosecution and defence counsel are not paid the same and “does not accept” the CPS's claim that it is compelled by the Treasury to pay lower fees. He says the CPS should have argued “forcefully and convincingly” for more money and he demands immediate action to level the playing field.

Special casework lawyers: The CPS recently disbanded its national network of specialist lawyers who were assigned with the task of dealing with more serious and complex crimes.

Glidewell: The teams should be reinstated.

Central Casework Department: This department, based at CPS headquarters, was at the centre of controversy last year over CPS failures to prosecute a number of police offices in death-in-custody cases.

Glidewell: He is surprised that extensive review activity within the department “achieved so little” and he is alarmed at an apparent policy of depleting the department of yet more senior lawyers.