Right of Reply: David Calvert-Smith

The Director of Public Prosecution replies to criticisms of the Crown Prosecution Service's decision to introduce 'lay prosecutors' in courts
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The Independent Culture
THE DECISION to use lay presenters in the magistrates' courts is the result of two complementary government policies. First, a need to speed up the criminal justice system so as to make it more effective both from the point of view of those immediately effected and of society at large. Second, a need to shift the focus of CPS lawyers away from the high- volume minor crime which forms a large part of the magistrates' courts work and on to the more serious cases in the magistrates and crown courts.

Lay CPS staff, presenting straightforward uncontested cases in magistrates' courts, have proved highly successful in the six pilot areas. This released prosecution lawyers allowing them to concentrate on more difficult casework.

We have no plans to recruit lay presenters from outside the Crown Prosecution Service. We are confident that the CPS has sufficient skilled and experienced staff to handle all the cases suitable for lay presentation.

Each lay presenter is required to complete a series of training courses, to acquire the legal knowledge and advocacy skills which conform to the national standards expected of Crown Prosecutors for the relevant range of cases. All will be supervised by a qualified lawyer.

Safeguards are in place to protect defendants. Key witness statements are given to defendants before the case is heard and free legal advice and representation is available at these early hearings. The court must be satisfied with the defendant's plea before accepting it.

The CPS will closely monitor the progress of the lay presenter to speed up the criminal justice system when they are introduced nationally. We are confident that the arrangements are sufficient to deal with the concerns raised.