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DPP discusses impact of spending review on CPS

24/01/2011

Interview with Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC in which he discusses the impact of the spending review on the CPS.

"The Spending Review, for the CPS, is going to be tough; we know that. The real question is how we approach it, and I think it's really important to appreciate that we knew cuts were coming. We've been preparing for some time; we've restructured the headquarters, we've looked across the organisation to see what changes we need to make, and we're very well placed going forward. This is not something, as it were, that's been sprung on us in the autumn of last year - it's something that we've been preparing carefully for, for some time, and I think that means that we're in as good a place as we can possibly be, going forward."

How will the CPS make the savings that it needs to make?

"There are many things that we in the CPS need to do to make the savings. Let me try to identify what I think are the most important three: First, criminal justice has been a paper-based system for far too long - we need an electronic case file. We need to be able to move material between ourselves and the police, and between ourselves and the courts, electronically, and we need to move in that direction very, very swiftly now.

"Secondly, we need to make sure that cases are dealt with as quickly as possible. Now, most cases - the vast majority of cases - are guilty pleas. That means that we need to get those cases on and disposed of as swiftly as possible, and I'm a big fan of the work that's being done in Liverpool, with the Early Guilty Plea Scheme, where the aim is to have just one hearing to dispose of a case. So we need to do much more of that and to cut out the inefficiencies that are bound up with ongoing cases.

"Thirdly, we in the CPS need to focus on what really needs to be done in the case, what really needs to be determined. We need to be prepared, we need to be ready, and we need to lead the way on this."

Will the reduction in its budget mean job losses for the CPS?

"Many people have asked us what we in the CPS are going to do about job losses - there's an anxiety, and I understand that anxiety. People need to know where they stand. Can I be clear about the approach that we're taking? Everything that we're doing is done in consultation with the trade unions. We have got a recruitment freeze in place: that's going to have to remain. We're working with the trade unions on voluntary schemes, trying to agree terms that satisfy them and our staff, and what we're trying to avoid, at all costs, is compulsory redundancies. So the approach we're taking, I hope, is clear enough.

How will you protect front-line services?

"One of the things we'll have to look at is whether we've got the balance right between the centre and the local Areas. I'm clear about this - we are professionals, and therefore we need to empower the front line and protect the front line. We want our staff to take important decisions and to take them without unnecessary referrals, unnecessary bureaucracy. So we need to look again at this: empower the front line, protect the front line. That has, of course, to go hand-in-hand with Core Quality Standards, because, if we are going to empower people - and I think we should - we need to make sure that they're making the right decision, at the right time, in the cases that they're doing."

Can the CPS maintain its Core Quality Standards?

"Core Quality Standards are essential to everything that we do. There's no question of us moving forward without Core Quality Standards. I'm not prepared to lead a second-class prosecuting service, and I don't think our staff want to be part of a second-class prosecuting service. We want to deliver a first-class service - we will do that through Core Quality Standards. They are central to us."

What will happen to services for victims and witnesses?

The Spending Review does not allow us, or require us, to stop providing the essential service that we provide to victims and witnesses, and the prosecution of cases. There's no question that we'll cut that away. But we do have to hold everything we do up to the light and we have to ask ourselves the question: 'how do we provide this service? Could we do it differently? Is there a better way?' And I think once you start asking yourself those questions, most of our staff would say: 'well, we could do it slightly differently; we could do this better'. And it's that that I want to explore, and it's that that I'm certain will help provide the way forward."

Will decisions to prosecute have to be made on cost?

"Some people have asked me whether the Spending Review will mean that we simply can't afford to prosecute certain types of cases. Well, that is not the case. Money is not the determining factor in whether we prosecute. But what we do need to do is to make sure that all our prosecutions are proportionate. Are we charging the right number of people for the right offences? Are we keeping the case within reasonable bounds? So, we need to think about how we prosecute, but there's no question that we'd ever get to a position of saying 'we simply don't have the money to bring a case' where a case has to be brought."

Will the Spending Review mean that we see justice denied?

"Spending cuts will not mean justice delayed or justice denied, but it will mean that we will have to radically rethink how we prosecute cases. We need to look at everything that we do; we need to ask ourselves: 'is this step really necessary? Can we do it differently? Could this case be handled in a way that is more cost-effective?' Now, those are real challenges but I think, having spoken to a lot of our staff, that there are things we can do. I actually think that there are a lot of very good ideas that our staff would have for improvement and, in a sense, this is their chance, our chance, to change criminal justice. It's the best chance for a generation."

What does the future hold for the CPS?

"The CPS is a determined organisation, and we're determined to deliver a first-class prosecution service. We're not going to compromise on that. And that should help, I hope, and give confidence, to victims, to witnesses, to the public, and to the courts and the police and everyone that we work with. We are going to deliver the service that the public expects us to deliver."

Ends