DPP Speech to the Bar Council, 24 April 2021
I’m always grateful to be given the opportunity to address you, and after the last year - the likes of which we have never experienced before - I am particularly pleased to be able to come to thank you for all you have done, and to look ahead together.
The CPS response to the pandemic
Although the pandemic is far from over, we are now hopefully able to look forward with cautious optimism. In doing so, we must take a moment to reflect on the way we have responded and adapted to the challenges we have faced, which, as our Inspectorate recently observed, has been “nothing short of remarkable”.
Like you, we have played a central role in making sure that the essential work of delivering justice has continued, whilst doing everything possible to protect our people, our partners and the public.
How we’re working with the Bar
The events of the past year have demonstrated more than ever the value of working constructively together, and I thank you for working in partnership with us over this time.
You will recall that through our Statement of Principles published a year ago we agreed how we would work with the Bar both during the pandemic and recovery period; setting out practical steps regarding safety, case progression and addressing the backlog.
These principles formed the foundation of a collaborative effort which has seen the Bar support us as we manage the significant increase in our caseload, and has allowed the CPS to continue to offer opportunities to work with us - whether as instructed counsel, or through initiatives such as the secondee scheme, which was extended right across the country.
Another significant measure we took was moving swiftly - and we did this during the first week of the first lockdown - to temporarily adjust our fee schemes to mitigate the impact of COVID restrictions on the Bar.
I hope that our mutual understanding of how we can work together to uphold the rule of law and deliver justice - even at the most perilous of times - will allow us to emerge from the crisis with confidence.
Our emergence will see us focus over the next 12 months on mitigating the impact of the pandemic and supporting our operational frontline. In order to do so, we will continue work with the Bar and our other partners to tackle the backlog of cases in the system whilst maintaining quality of decision making.
Achieving this, bearing down on the backlog, won’t be easy but we have done a great deal of work over recent months to ready ourselves for the challenges ahead.
The CPS has been fully engaged at all stages in the cross-criminal justice recovery, discussing how we can collectively tackle the backlog and the implications for all parts of the system. I know you have also been putting forward your views.
I cannot pre-empt any decisions that may be taken, but the Courts Recovery Plan involves maximising the use of current court rooms and providing additional capacity, be that through ‘Nightingale Courts’ or existing estate. If this means there is a surge in cases being dealt with then those on our Advocate Panel can expect us to be looking to you in great numbers. And I am confident our relationship with you will withstand - and hopefully be further strengthened by - this latest challenge.
In dealing with quantity we cannot and will not sacrifice quality - you have maintained your very high standards through the pandemic and I know we can rely on you to make sure that continues.
We must also be conscious of the impact the backlog could have on some types of case - for example rape and serious sexual offence cases, where delays could be particularly difficult.
Naturally, I was pleased that in the recent Judicial Review on the CPS approach to prosecuting rape, the Court of Appeal dismissed the claims on all counts.
However, I share the deep public concern that, while the number of rape allegations has increased significantly in recent years, the number going to court has fallen. The judicial review outcome means we can now give our full focus to the extensive programme of work underway to address this problem. We must rebuild public confidence that every allegation of rape or sexual assault will be fully investigated by the police and will go before the courts whenever the legal test is met.
There is unprecedented focus on this issue in central government following the death of Sarah Everard and the national conversation about women’s safety that followed, and we are engaged in discussions to agree an end-to-end series of system improvements.
We will need to work closely with our partners to jointly deliver improvements and find better ways to support victims – and I am grateful for your valuable involvement in these important cases.
2025 Advocacy Strategy
Last month I launched our 2025 Advocacy Strategy which sets out an ambitious vision of how we see the future of advocacy in the CPS.
It recognises that working collaboratively with our strategic partners is fundamental to delivering advocacy which meets the needs of the modern CJS and facilitates our core role: fair and independent prosecutions.
I encourage you all to read it and won’t outline everything set out, but let me mention a few important commitments.
Foremost is our pledge to maintain a mixed economy of advocates, to meet our needs and support longevity in the provision of quality advocacy services. We are clear that raising standards and having high quality advocates at all levels and across all court venues benefits not only the CPS but all participants in the criminal justice system.
To that end, we remain committed to the principle of instructing the right advocate for the right case, recognising the value and importance of having a talented, adaptable, and diverse cadre of advocates delivering justice for the public we serve - whether from our own in-house cadre or from the self-employed Bar.
Good progress has already been made with Bar colleagues on work to improve the diversity of our Advocate Panel, and offer greater opportunities for progression, particularly for advocates from underrepresented groups.
We recently hosted an open evening for prospective Treasury Counsel monitorees, and will also be introducing a development programme for those interested in becoming Treasury Counsel in the future.
Another key development will be our new Briefing Principles, which will set out the factors relevant to determining the right advocate for the right case. In addition to well-established considerations, such as ensuring high standards of advocacy, the principles recognise the importance of equality of opportunity, and the role the CPS plays in supporting the progression and development of advocates.
We will also be publishing a new CPS Diversity and Inclusion Statement for the Bar in the coming months. The Statement, which is being developed with Bar colleagues, will set out our requirements and expectations on equality, diversity and inclusion, and apply to all prosecuting advocates and sets of chambers whose members prosecute, or seek to prosecute on behalf of the CPS.
In all of this work, progress can only be made if we continue to engage openly, honestly and at all levels. That means being clear about our values and the high standards we expect of those who prosecute - praising quality but also holding people to account where performance is not good enough.
The last year has tested us all - personally and professionally. It also caused me to reflect on what is important in our justice system and I was pleased to discuss this in an event with the Bingham Centre last autumn. I am proud that throughout the pandemic, the CPS has remained firmly rooted in its mission to deliver fair and independent prosecutions, which underpin the rule of law. And I am just as proud that we have also demonstrated independence alone is not enough - that we need to carefully balance it with being collaborative, responsive and adaptable, to make sure that the criminal justice system is here to serve everyone.
That will be vital in the coming months and I look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with you as we face the challenges ahead. Thank you.