Royal Commission on Criminal Justice: Tighter control on training urged: Terry Kirby and Adam Sage report on proposals aimed at raising standards

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The Independent Online
A WIDE-RANGING package of measures aimed at improving the standards of police officers, lawyers and judges was proposed by the commission.

It urges tighter supervision of the police during investigations, but has rejected calls for an enhanced role for the Crown Prosecution Service or a system of investigating magistrates.

Research conducted on its behalf demonstrates that greater supervision of detectives conducting investigations is needed, the commission says. It recommends improved training in supervision at all levels, 'with particular emphasis on the mistakes most commonly made during investigations and how they can be avoided'.

It also recommended a new system of national training in interviewing skills - a suggestion welcomed last night by the police service, which has implemented such a package.

The commission goes on to urge improved systems for selection of CID officers and for the management and supervision of specialist squads, saying it was 'seriously concerned' at the faults revealed in the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad.

The report makes recommendations for improving the police disciplinary system, including making those acquitted of criminal charges face disciplinary proceedings, lowering the standard of proof in such hearings and establishing the right of officers dismissed to sue for wrongful dismissal. It also proposes a 'helpline' scheme under which officers or civilians can report concerns about malpractice.

The commission outlines measures aimed at improving the service provided by defence lawyers. Foremost among these is a call for judges to do more to ensure that lawyers who perform badly are penalised. The judiciary should be more willing to refer examples of incompetent work to disciplinary hearings, and more prepared to fine barristers who waste the court's time and money.

The commission says that a new code of practice is needed to offer guidelines to all advocates, and training for both branches of the profession should be extended and improved.

Additional funds should also be found to provide more training for judges, the report says, stressing the need for refresher courses. It goes on to criticise the failure to monitor the performance of judiciary: '(We) find it surprising that full-time judges seldom if ever observe trials conducted by their colleages.'