Prosecutors learn case for defence

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THE DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions wants lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service to be seconded to leading firms of defence solicitors so they can learn greater respect for their opponents.

David Calvert-Smith, who once worked as a defence lawyer, said some prosecutors were overly suspicious of defenders. He said it would be helpful for prosecutors to learn that defending was a difficult but essential role in a balanced judicial system.

The DPP, who heads the Crown Prosecution Service, also believes that working alongside defenders will enable prosecutors to later outwit their opponents in court. Mr Calvert-Smith said: "By doing this you get a more skilled prosecutor. If you can think like a defender you know where they are going."

The DPP is concerned that proposals by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, to create a public defender system may have a detrimental effect on the ethos of the profession. Mr Calvert-Smith said that the idea of dividing lawyers into two camps - those who exclu- sively prosecute and those who only defend - would change the atmosphere in the court room.

He said: "Judges will have to say, `He only prosecutes so he might just be saying that'. The [current] ethos of the whole profession is that people can do both and that everybody trusts everybody." But the DPP said he did accept that there was a role for a "specialist defence system", provided that there was still mobility within the profession between defending and prosecuting.

The idea of placing prosecutors on secondment with defence lawyers provoked a wary response from the legal profession yesterday. Louise Christian, of leading defence firm Christian Fisher, described the proposal as "unrealistic and impractical" and said most defence solicitors would not want prosecutors "hanging around".

She said the DPP needed to change the ethos of the CPS so that it became much more of a public service. "In the States, lots of lawyers go into prosecution because it's highly- regarded, and seen as worth- while, community-minded and well-paid. Here prosecutors tend to be people who have failed to make it either at the bar or in solicitor's practices, so they don't attract a high calibre of people," Ms Christian said.

But Ross Dixon, a criminal defence lawyer with Hickman and Rose in London, was more supportive. "Anything that reminds prosecutors of their duty to remain objective is a good thing," he said. "They are in a position which is difficult to subject to proper scrutiny. The decision whether to disclose [evidence] rests with the prosecuting officer, and as defence lawyers we may never know what's there."

Although Mr Dixon said he applauded the aim of the DPP's idea, he added: "I can't quite picture having a prosecutor trailing around with me - and my clients being too delighted about it."

Kamlesh Bahl, vice president of the Law Society, said: "There can be times when the defence and prosecution view each other as the enemy rather than as two groups of professionals with a job to do. Anything which can help to inform both sides of the needs of their clients - whether representing the Crown or individual defendant - and instils a better understanding, has got to be a good thing."