So How Does the Crown Prosecution Service Reach All Those Odd Decisions? JUST THE JOB

The Evening Standard (London, England), November 8, 2004 | Go to article overview

So How Does the Crown Prosecution Service Reach All Those Odd Decisions? JUST THE JOB


Byline: SUSAN GRAY

It's easy to make fun of the Crown Prosecution Service, and even easier to become angry when it fails to prosecute certain suspects.

Now changes are being implemented in the hope of giving victims a better deal.

Susan Gray met the people on the inside ...

IN its 18-year history, the Crown Prosecution Service has been mocked with nicknames like "clown prosecution service" and "criminals' protection society". Yet from a file-filled office on the floor above Snaresbrook Crown Court in East London, Travers Sinanan is quick to reject such jibes.

"Human beings, being what they are, will always look for somebody to blame if a result goes against them. And the Crown Prosecution Service is a handy whipping boy," he says.

Sinanan is one of the new breed of prosecutors known as higher court advocates. Currently around 10 per cent of crown court trials are prosecuted by these lawyers employed by the CPS - but this number is set to increase dramatically, as soon as more can be hired and trained.

The idea is to give victims of crime the feeling that they are being better looked after. The advocates are expected to see a case through from start to finish - and, in doing so, help victims to find the criminal justice system less bruising.

Another hope is that there might be big financial savings in using employed lawyers rather than privatelyretained barristers who can command up to [pounds sterling]1,500 per day.

"When prosecutions are in the hands of privately-retained barristers, if the case is adjourned, as it often is, the victim may never see the same barrister in court twice," says Sinanan. "Higher court advocates provide contin uity and consistency.

"We handle the case from when the defendant is charged to the case's conclusion, when they have been sentenced. This helps the victim feel that a personal interest is being taken in their case."

This is not the only change the Crown Prosecution Service is bringing in.

From the end of last month the way defendants are charged was changed at London police stations. The responsibility for laying charges was taken away from the police - and handed to Crown Prosecution Service lawyers known as "duty prosecutors".

In the past, when police did the charging, the Crown Prosecution Service regularly amended charges before the case came to court, or even dropped charges altogether.

Victims of c r i me unde r --standably felt let down because they were led to expect one outcome by the police, only to see the perpetrator face a lesser charge in the courtroom, or get away scot-free once the Crown Prosecution Service became involved. Nazir Afzal, director of the Crown Prosecution Service in West London. admits that in the past, some victims and witnesses felt badly treated by the criminal justice system. "When somebody is charged, it raises an expectation in the eyes of victims and witnesses that they will receive some form of justice, and this has not always been the case," he says.

And despite the fact that 98 per cent of prosecutions lead to convictions, it is the cases where justice is not seen to be done that linger in the public's memory.

The hope is that duty prosecutors will improve the public's confidence in the criminal justice system in at least two ways.

First, their input at the pre-charge stage should mean the police waste less time investigating cases that have little chance of success or pursuing fruitless lines of inquiry.

Second, it is hoped that criminals, anticipating a more robust case, will be more likely to plead guilty, removing the need for a trial, and sparing victims the ordeal of giving evidence in the courtroom.

Fewer lengthy trials will reduce the average cost of bringing cases to justice. Currently taxpayers fund the Crown Prosecution Service to the tune of [pounds sterling]413 million a year. …

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