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CBA Monday Message 29.10.18

Message from the Director Of Public Prosecutions:
Alison Saunders

In a week where I’m doing a lot of things for the last time, it is a pleasure to take on a first by writing this Monday Message.

Throughout my time as DPP, and before that in other roles within the CPS, I have valued the contribution of and relationship we have with the external Bar generally, and specifically with the Criminal Bar Association. Although we represent different parts of the criminal justice system, we rely on each other – the CPS needs a strong external Bar, whether prosecuting or defending, and you need a strong CPS, if the whole system is to work.

When prosecuting on our behalf you bring a fresh perspective to a case.  We particularly value your courtroom experience and advice on case strategies. I see outstanding examples of your skills in talking to victims and witnesses, and supporting them to give their best evidence, and am also grateful for the flexibility and resilience you display.

From my perspective, the biggest strength of the Bar is the added value you bring to our casework and the balance you strike between working with us to effectively prosecute cases while remaining objective and acting as our critical friend.  With more than 2,800 members of the Bar on the CPS Advocate Panel, that is either a lot of friends or a lot of criticism! I prefer to see it as the former. I feel we have strengthened our relationship in recent years, and I am grateful for your role in doing so.

There have been challenges for us both in that time, and during my time as DPP the greatest tests have been the resource constraints we all face and of course the issue of disclosure.

Our caseload has changed dramatically in recent years, at the same time as we dealt with much reduced funding. It has not been easy to maintain our joint performance and I am very grateful for the efforts of everyone whose professionalism, skill and dedication made this possible. It also brought another challenge – the need to lead and contribute to reform across a system where everyone has a different role and different pressures. But with Transforming Summary Justice, Better Case Management and more effective digital working we have done that.

We have also started – but absolutely not finished – our work in relation to disclosure. Disclosure issues are systemic and deep-rooted. In recent years the challenge of discharging our statutory duties has been made more difficult than ever before by the widespread use of mobile phones and other communication devices. There are no simple solutions and a new approach was needed if we were to make real progress. That is why I have been grateful for your constructive engagement in the various seminars and workshops we have run – I think these demonstrate the value of us working together and hope that will continue.Thank you to all those involved, particularly those who have attended the monthly meetings of the National Disclosure Forum.

I am sure that these challenges will continue. Everyone will need to keep their focus on disclosure, ensuring that the progress continues and future technological developments are managed effectively. The financial environment will continue to create pressures too – the stresses across the system have been well vocalised by you and others over the last year, and without investment practical issues will continue to emerge across the system.

I was asked to include in this message an answer to the question ‘If money were no object, what change would you make to the CJS?’ The temptation is to list lots of fixes for every frustration and challenge we face – but I’ve limited myself to two things:

  • I would want to address reward across the system – for CPS and other public sector staff, as well as for you.
  • I would bring further improvements in how technology supports us in our roles. Digital forensics offer us valuable evidence in cases, but at the moment they simply take too long. And everything from faster wi-fi connections in court to the use of Artificial Intelligence could make everyone’s roles easier and the system faster and more effective for victims, witnesses and defendants.

Unfortunately it is not as easy as that, and further improvements will need to be developed, invested in and supported across the system if they are to make a difference to the way we work, and the service we all provide. Crucial to that will be continued engagement across different parts of the criminal justice system, including the crucial relationship between the CPS and the external Bar.

Thanks to all who work with us on the prosecution or defence side for your continued commitment and professionalism despite the challenges you face daily.

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