Leading Article: Populism Is No Way to Reform the Prosecution Service

The Independent (London, England), August 9, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Leading Article: Populism Is No Way to Reform the Prosecution Service


ONCE UPON a time - not so long ago in the case of some societies - crime and punishment was not carried out by judges or rulers, but by the community. Witches were burned, false accusations were made, and interest groups swayed opinions. But at least the community felt that justice was theirs, not an abstract principle imposed by men with whom they felt little affinity and whose logic often seemed the opposite of common sense.

Presumably it is this warm glow of social approval that David Calvert- Smith, the Director of Public Prosecutions, seeks in his plans for new guidelines, as reported by The Independent today. The "public should own the system", he declares, suggesting that the rules for embarking on prosecutions should be changed. Instead of the DPP deciding whether a prosecution has a "realistic prospect" of conviction, as at present, the prosecution would be brought when there seems a basic case to answer.

Sounds sensible enough. The public does get irritated by the apparent reluctance of the Crown to go after obvious suspects in a case such as that of Stephen Lawrence or to bring prosecutions in crimes such as car theft, which may not seem important to the DPP, given the cost of trials, but do exercise the public at large.

But then the Lawrence case, which appears to have been the immediate catalyst for Mr Calvert-Smith's urge to reform, is actually a reason for supporting the present rules.

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Leading Article: Populism Is No Way to Reform the Prosecution Service
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