Case for legal efficiency looks certain to alarm: The Director of Public Prosecutions, Barbara Mills QC, tells Adam Sage of the proposals for radical change that she will make to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice next week

UNLIKE most lawyers, Barbara Mills QC does not have a habit of making the humdrum sound like an eternal truth. Indeed, with her, it is rather the opposite. When Mrs Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, proposes radical changes to the criminal justice system, it is with the simplicity of someone ordering office stationery.

Yes, she said, defendants ought to disclose their case before their trial, and yes, failure to do so should be backed by sanctions. The right to silence? It could be weakened in some circumstances.

From her businesslike manner, a listener might assume that she was repeating commonly-held and uncontroversial views. That is not the case. Her opinions, which she will expound to a meeting of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice next week, will meet opposition. The notion that the defence should be told the prosecution case without having to reveal its own is deeply embedded in legal circles. But Mrs Mills said this not only tilts the balance unfairly in favour of the accused, it is also inefficient.

If prosecutors knew - at least in outline - what their opponents were going to say, trials would be shorter and costs lower. 'I see this as not just helping the prosecution, because that's not the point, it's using the resources of the criminal justice system as best you can.'

Her comments will alarm many defence lawyers, who will argue that you cannot put a price on justice. But they seem to have found a sympathetic ear at the Royal Commission, which Mrs Mills said is considering the issue.

This concern with efficiency and value for money appears high on her agenda. In an interview with the Independent, a constant theme was the need for the system to work faster and more smoothly. Minor offences, such as failing to get a vehicle licence, should be decriminalised, she said. They clog up the courts and would be handled better by the other authorities.

But what if a motorist wants to argue that he or she is being wrongly penalised? 'I think you've got to have some sort of safety valve so that if you want a hearing you can have it,' Mrs Mills said. Yet she believes most people would 'probably groan but pay up'.

If this idea is likely to arouse interest and opposition, so too will Caution Plus, another proposal Mrs Mills seems to have taken to heart. 'This is an extremely interesting concept, yet, I have to say, to be properly developed.'

Under this system, offenders could be penalised at the same time as they were cautioned, avoiding a criminal record but perhaps picking up a fine. Thus, her predecessor, Sir Allan Green QC, who was cautioned after a kerb-crawling incident, might also have been asked to pay a financial penalty, or undertake a few hours of community work.

This, needless to say, is not an example chosen by Mrs Mills to explain the scheme. She prefers the case of a shoplifter asked to pay a penalty to the store he or she has stolen from. The system would be designed to remove minor cases from the criminal justice system, an aim widely recognised as laudable.

But there are problems. Who decides on the penalty element? The police? The Crown Prosecution Service? Mrs Mills admitted that she does not know, but said it is an area being looked at by the Royal Commission. Her own organisation has often been criticised for failing to meet the high standards of efficiency she demands from other parts of the justice system. But that has changed, she said. The CPS is 'running very well', helped by improving relations with the police.

However, her life has not been made easier by a judgment from Lord Lane, the former Lord Chief Justice, that the prosecution must disclose disciplinary findings against police officers.

Mrs Mills said she hopes to have arrangements for meeting the ruling in place shortly. But negotiations with the police have been difficult, particularly over the disclosure of complaints that have not been resolved. Officers fear that criminals will make spurious allegations against them to undermine their credibility before juries. Yet she insists such complaints will have to be revealed, even if only in summary form.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Events Consultant

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has arisen for an ex...

Recruitment Genius: Injection Moulding Supervisor

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Busy moulding company requires ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - £35,000 OTE

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Advisor is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor / Contact Centre Advisor

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As the UK's leading accident an...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003