Black DPP sought to end white bias charge

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Headhunters are approaching leading black barristers in an attempt to fill the key post at the Crown Prosecution Service while shaking off criticism that the legal system is racist and biased towards white middle-class males.

Prominent black barristers, The Independent on Sunday has learned, have been contacted by Odgers, a firm of recruitment consultants, in the search for a new Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a key position in the criminal justice system.

Names understood to have been put forward include two QCs. They are Courtenay Griffiths, who rose to public prominence defending in the Damilola Taylor murder trial, and Anesta Weekes, who was involved in the inquiry into the killing of Stephen Lawrence.

Peter Herbert, the deputy chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority and a member of the Attorney General's race advisory committee, is also thought to be on the "wish list".

The appointment of a black DPP would be a radical departure for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Sir David Calvert-Smith, the current DPP, who steps down in October, was educated at Eton and Cambridge. He took over in 1998 after the service was condemned for mismanagement which led to unnecessary acquittals. He has branded British society as institutionally racist and said the CPS and police have become scapegoats for race problems in the UK.

Other names under consideration fit the traditional DPP profile. They include Sir John Nutting, whose cases have included the Jonathan Aitken perjury trial. There is also Bruce Holder QC, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, and a leading QC for criminal cases, Ken Macdonald.

The annual salary for the three-year Cabinet Office appointment is about £130,000 but the job has been regarded as a poisoned chalice, and one insider said the CPS was finding it difficult to fill the post. "If you are a successful QC you are going to be already earning from £750,000 to £1m a year," said the source.

The CPS has been fiercely criticised for its failure to secure convictions in several high-profile cases and to recruit more staff from ethnic communities. Mr Herbert believes Britain is lagging behind the US in how black and Asian people are represented in the legal system.

A CPS spokeswoman said that applications for the post from ethnic minority groups and judges were welcomed. "Because of all that has happened, we are now one of the leading-edge government departments in terms of race and equality issues," she said.