Officers accuse CPS of basing decisions to charge suspects on cost grounds – not justice
By Keith Perry | 2 April 2013
“It is our cops who are catching the people in the first place, and presenting the evidence, who feel completely let down” – Steve White, deputy chairman, Police Federation
Criminals are walking free because of cutbacks by the Crown Prosecution Service, a senior police officer warned.
Steve White, deputy chairman of the Police Federation, which represents junior ranks up the level of inspector, said that victims of crime were being betrayed because the CPS is basing charging decisions more on meeting cost targets than in the interests of justice.
White also criticised the increasing use by the CPS of in-house advocates to prosecute serious crimes such as rape and murder, instead of more experienced external barristers.
He said: “The reason that they are not picking them, I suspect, is that the best qualified lawyers come at a price. It is simple, free-market economics.”
He said that Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions, had “difficult decisions to make in terms of the budget he has and the resources at his disposal.”
White, an inspector with Avon and Somerset Constabulary, believes that crime figures are not falling, as claimed by the government. He thinks that the public is reporting less crime because it is losing faith in the criminal-justice system.
“There is very clear anecdotal evidence around the country that people cannot be bothered to report crime because they think that police resources are so stretched or that they will be denied justice.”
Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are being wasted in court delays because criminal cases had not been properly presented in court by the CPS, said White. This was frustrating police efforts as well as letting down victims of crime.
Last month, Exaro revealed how lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service had been warned that they must improve their performance within two years.
White said: “One of the real problems is that the case often has not been properly presented by the CPS. Quite often, it is a complete waste of time and resources from the police officer’s perspective.”
“The poor victims also feel as though they have been let down by the police. The police are the ones on the receiving end because it will be the officers in the case that have to explain the decision to the victims that the CPS has decided to withdraw the evidence or decided to stop a case.
“It is our cops who are catching the people in the first place, and presenting the evidence, who feel completely let down.”
White also said that CPS lawyers were too often discovering flaws in their prosecution cases at the 11th hour and deciding to drop them on the day, despite witnesses and police officers being present to give evidence.
“The real question here, apart from the wasted money, is what cost is justice?” White said.
He also accused the CPS of opting for lesser pleas for offences to secure a cheaper and easier conviction.
“You will never see police officers shying away from… the maximum charge possible. But, of course, the CPS will look at cases in a different way and how it can win with the least possible input of resources.”
And he had a warning for the government over giving the police more power over charging and prosecutions.
He said: “While that may free up the CPS to target its resources in a better way, it is going to divert resources away from hard-stretched police forces.”
“The Police Federation supports the principle of the police prosecuting more cases or making charging decisions. But there is no point in us going down that route if we do not have the resources to do it effectively. It is a false economy.”
A CPS spokesman described the use of in-house advocates as “about embedding a culture of high-quality advocacy within the CPS.”
“All advocates instructed by the CPS, whether in-house or self-employed, are assigned to a level that fits their skills and experience in prosecuting.”
Only five per cent of trials “were ineffective because of prosecution reasons.”
He also denied that the CPS accepted lesser pleas to secure easier, cheaper convictions. He said: “Each case is charged on its own merits under the code for crown prosecutors, which has two stages: whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction, and if so, whether it is in the public interest to prosecute.”