Careers at the Crown Prosecution Service

The largest legal employer in the UK has a unique role to play in setting standards, says Russell Hayes

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the Government department responsible for prosecuting people in England and Wales who have been charged with a criminal offence. It employs approximately 8,800 staff, including caseworkers, administrators and around 2,850 barristers and solicitors.

As the principal prosecuting authority, we are responsible for advising the police on cases for prosecution, preparing cases and presenting them in court. We handle over 1.3 million magistrates' court cases and 115,000 Crown court cases every year. Our work includes advising the police, legal research, attendance at hearings in the magistrates and Crown courts, case preparation and management and liaison with victims and witnesses.

The legal profession has been criticised in the past for not being representative of the community it serves. As the largest legal services employer in the UK, the CPS has a unique role to play in setting the standard amongst the profession. By increasing access to qualifications, the scheme broadens the profession, encouraging women, black and minority ethnic (BME) groups and people who would not normally consider - or be able to afford - Further or Higher Education to become qualified. Each year approximately 70 per cent of the scholars are women and 30 per cent are from a BME group.

There are two types of job non-legally qualified people might apply for: caseworker and administrator. The role of the caseworker is to assist prosecutors in case management. Duties include casework preparation, casework management, attendance at court, post-court administration, assessment of professional fees and liaison with witnesses and other organisations within the criminal justice system. Experienced caseworkers and those with a legal qualification can progress to the role of designated caseworker (DCW). DCWs present some cases in the magistrates' court and, with training and practice, develop excellent advocacy skills. Some caseworkers also become managers and will sometimes manage a team of 10 to 20 caseworkers and support staff.

Other staff work in administrative functions such as finance, IT, HR and management support. Administrators are recruited from all kinds of backgrounds, with a variety of experience and ability. The CPS will also fund staff to study towards professional qualifications including HR, finance and procurement. Administrators can also choose a management route and, with advice and guidance from managers, can progress to senior positions within the organisations - but only if they display excellent leadership, decision-making and planning skills, amongst other competencies.

The CPS is committed to ensuring that all staff are fully equipped with the very best skills and tools to do their jobs as effectively and efficiently as possible and to provide a clear career path for those staff. Administrative and support staff can qualify as lawyers; in this way CPS offers a career path from administrator through to Crown prosecutor.

The Law Scholarship Scheme provides an education and training framework for employees. It is in four stages:

Stage 1: A-level, NVQ 3, or equivalent

Stage 2: Law degree, ILEX (the Institute of Legal Executives' qualification) or convert a non-law degree

Stage 3: Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar Vocational Course (BVC)

Stage 4: Legal Trainee Scheme - training contract or pupillage

A/AS-level student Sabina Mohammed said: "Once I completed my A-level I applied to do a law degree, I complete this is in 2008 and look forward to going further." CPS provides funding for the duration of each stage for course fees, books and exams; many staff benefit from flexible working hours to enable them to work and study.

The scheme presents a route map for people who aspire to become qualified in law. Charlotte Rind completed a law degree then went on to do a legal practice course (LPC): "CPS Hertfordshire agreed to let me study for the LPC at the College of Law, London, on a weekend basis. Without sponsorship I would not have thought it would be possible to further my studies." This is particularly the case in the legal profession; it takes a long time and a good deal of dedication to train as a lawyer.

Russell Hayes is press officer for the CPS.

To find out more visit www.cps.gov.uk/working/index.html. The CPS's virtual college that hosts e-learning programmes is at www.prosecutioncollege.cps.gov.uk

What would you do?

Here's an example of the sort of cases you might have to deal with if you were a duty prosecutor at a police station. Things aren't always cut and dry, and sometimes you have to make tough decisions. And be warned: you won't find a "right" answer when you've finished reading!

Henry is 15. One day, instead of going to school, he puts on a balaclava mask and goes into an off licence. Henry tries to rob an elderly female shop assistant at knifepoint. She is 75 and terrified.

The shop manager walks in as Henry is brandishing the knife, overpowers him and holds him until the police arrive. He admits the offence saying that he did it to prove his "bottle" to his classmates.

After his arrest and without prompting, Henry wrote an apology to the shop assistant and the manager, expressing his remorse and hoping that the assistant had recovered from the attack.

The Youth Offending Team has found that Henry's home circumstances are excellent, but that he has been bullied at school. The offence is out of character. and they recommend that he is given a police warning. The victims are content with this. The police are concerned about the seriousness of the offence and seek advice from the CPS. Is a prosecution needed in the public interest?

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