CPS lawyers 'have no confidence in senior managers': Staff morale at an all-time low, survey finds

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The Independent Online
BARBARA MILLS QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions - under attack from police and barristers over the way prosecutions are being abandoned - is now facing a crisis from within the Crown Prosecution Service itself.

Senior CPS lawyers claim central management directives are preventing them from prosecuting cases effectively and could lead to strong cases being thrown out.

A survey of prosecutors in England and Wales found they had no confidence in senior managers; they said they were working in a climate of fear with morale at an all- time low. One principal crown prosecutor said: 'It appears that the CPS is run like Communist Russia in that change is imposed from above without any attempt to explain why the change is necessary, what benefits will accrue to the criminal justice system and how this benefits the public to whom we are supposed to be accountable.'

Last month, the Government's senior law officers leapt to Mrs Mills' defence when she was criticised by police and barristers after it was revealed that last year the CPS abandoned 193,000 of the 1.5 million cases passed on by police.

The survey was carried out by the First Division Association, the senior civil servants' union, after it received an unprecedented number of complaints from lawyers.

Yesterday Penny Palmer, a senior crown prosecutor, claimed managers were now setting targets for convictions, acquittals, compensation payments and the numbers of cases abandoned before trial which fettered independent decision-making over each case.

Normally a decision over whether or not to prosecute a case was decided on three tests - whether there was prima-facie evidence, whether it was in the public interest and whether there was a reasonable prospect of conviction.

The survey of the 2,200 Crown lawyers, found that three out of five believed current CPS policies adversely affected their ability to prosecute; 86 per cent had no confidence in senior management; nine out of ten believed the restructuring of the CPS, which reduced the number of regional areas from 31 to 13, had reduced their career prospects.

But a CPS spokeswoman denied that there were targets set for discontinuances or acquittals. 'We collate statistics on them but they are not targets and there is no link at all to prosecutors' performance related pay in any way,' she said.

And Mrs Mills said she did not accept the FDA survey's findings. 'The methodology is extremely suspect, and the questions are totally slanted,' she told BBC Radio 4's The World at One yesterday. She said the CPS was now carrying out a very detailed survey on why cases were discontinued.