DPP Speech to the Bar Council, 9 September 2023
Thank you for inviting me to address you again, in what will be my final appearance before you as DPP. I have enjoyed a long association with the Council, in a variety of former roles both for my Circuit and for the CBA, and now for the CPS. I have been proud to serve in every one of those roles, so I have approached this final appearance with much reflection over many years.
As my five-year period of office as DPP nears its end, allow me to spend a few minutes sharing some thoughts.
I have seen the way that the CPS and Bar work together, and the importance of that relationship, over many years – most recently in leading the CPS, but also over many years prosecuting on their behalf as a self-employed Barrister, and subsequently engaging with them in different leadership roles for the Bar.
In the past, these addresses have – for good reason – tended to focus on those at the external Bar. But if I leave my role as DPP convinced of one thing, it is that we are – and must continue to seek to be – one Bar. Alongside those at the self-employed Bar who prosecute, there are hundreds of employed barristers within the CPS , including our Crown Advocates. Each barrister’s contribution to the profession is equally valuable.
We may operate in different contexts, but we share the same objectives and the same challenges. When I took up post as DPP, I emphasised that we needed to work together, because we are all part of the same effort. That joint effort is defined by the commitment we show one another, and the work we have done to support you and improve the way we work together.
Clerking / Allocation of work
We have invested significantly in our clerking function, professionalising the role of our clerks and strengthening links with local chambers – in turn supporting better engagement on performance, progress and development of advocates.
We also published our Briefing Principles, setting out the factors we will consider when selecting advocates and dealing with returns. Those principles emphasise the importance of equality of opportunity – a concept we were only just starting to talk about five years ago, but one which is now written into our policy and something against which we can be held to account.
Much of the credit for this important change in focus goes to colleagues at both the CPS and the Bar, who have tirelessly championed diversity and inclusion. There is undoubtedly more to do – but the CPS Briefing Principles, and Diversity and Inclusion Statement for the Bar, are essential building blocks – creating a framework against which progress can be measured and scrutinised.
Our support for development and progression has also continued: from the support offered to advocates seeking to join our Panel, to initiatives like our internal development pathway for aspirant Crown Advocates. We have also launched the Treasury Counsel Pathway – now in its second year – which seeks to identify and support talented advocates from underrepresented groups who aspire to become the Treasury Counsel of the future.
Support and Wellbeing
We have also offered support in other ways – including the practical steps we introduced very early in the pandemic around safety, engagement, and distribution of work during the period of reduced sitting days. We also took interim steps to expedite payment and maintain steady cashflow for those at the self-employed Bar.
More recently, I announced in a Bar Talk blog that we are now offering advocates dealing with distressing casework access to our free and confidential 24/7 wellbeing helpline.
And then there is remuneration. When I first addressed you as DPP in January 2019, I committed to review our fee arrangements – but stressed the need for realism about the financial constraints within which the CPS operates. Four and a half years on, and those spending pressures remain – so it is within that context we must view the positive fee changes brought in earlier this year, which saw a 15% increase applied to all CPS fee rates – with last month seeing 80% of our GFS payments falling under the new scheme F. This was the second time in just over four years that we secured funding to enable significant investment in prosecution fees.
We have made good progress over recent years, and I have no doubt that that progress will continue under my successor.
The reason all this matters, is because you matter – both to the CPS and to the wider criminal justice system. The changes we have made share the aim of providing you with a platform to deliver your core function: criminal advocacy.
Or, as our Briefing Principles set out: good quality, effective advocacy, which offers flexibility, resilience, and sustainability.
The pressures we face across the system make that more challenging than ever before. Although Panel numbers continue to rise, the criminal Bar has contracted over recent years at a time when demand has increased – particularly in respect of specialist casework, such as RASSO.
The CPS exists to prosecute cases, and to do that we need high quality advocates who are committed to that aim, whether from the self-employed Bar or from our in-house cadre. We are all operating within the context of acute capacity issues – I know how challenging that is. But we must maintain the quality and standards of what we do. All our cases require a well briefed prosecution advocate who is proactive, fully prepared, and ready to progress matters. We cannot allow the recent issue of cases without a prosecution advocate to become business as usual. To address this, we must all be prepared to adapt – and we must be committed to working constructively together to find a solution.
As part of that, we must work together to halt and reverse the decline in numbers we have seen in recent years across the criminal Bar as a whole. We must think carefully about how we can make the criminal Bar a more attractive place to be – not only to cover the work, but to continue to attract the best and the brightest regardless of background. How can we make the criminal Bar more accessible to those who would make excellent criminal barristers, but who may still consider the profession closed to them? We have made progress – but there is more to do to ensure we have a robust and diverse profession, now and for years to come.
So, I leave you with two things – my thanks, and my hope for the future. Thank you for the prosecution work you undertake, which makes a huge difference to the communities we serve. Thank you for your constructive engagement with the CPS over the past five years – for your willingness to come to the table, and to find common ground even in the most challenging circumstances. It is this readiness to cooperate and to adapt, and our shared commitment to delivering justice, which underpins my confidence in the Bar – and my faith in its future.