Ken Macdonald: Our system of justice must enjoy public confidence

From a speech given by the Director of Public Prosecutions to the British Institute of Human Rights
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The Independent Online

Much is going on in criminal justice that directly impacts on the rights of victims and defendants. Over the past few years the mantra increasingly deployed has been "putting the victim at the heart of the criminal justice system" by involving victims more in the process, protecting their interests or reputations, and achieving more convictions.

Much is going on in criminal justice that directly impacts on the rights of victims and defendants. Over the past few years the mantra increasingly deployed has been "putting the victim at the heart of the criminal justice system" by involving victims more in the process, protecting their interests or reputations, and achieving more convictions.

It is often said that the pendulum has swung too far in favour of the defendant with references to protections afforded by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, greater and ever wider disclosure and the revived jurisdiction on abuse of process.

The Crown Prosecution Service and prosecutors find themselves at the heart of this debate. It is possible to find a balance that improves the respect with which victims and witnesses are treated, while at the same time upholding defendant rights and fair trial principles.

Of course it is the defendant who is on trial and the fairness of the proceedings is paramount. But the community, too, has a legitimate stake in fair outcomes. If people, including victims, feel they cannot secure jus- tice through the courts, we are entering dangerous territory.

It is also obvious that in carrying out their functions, prosecutors must have the confi- dence of the public. That's what brings authority. So, prosecutors must be responsive to, and engage with, the communities they represent.

But prosecutors must also remain impartial. This is an essential attribute of independence. A public prosecutor has to be just - and has to be seen to be so. This means securing fairness for both sides. In carrying out our role we have to apply the principles in the European Convention on Human Rights. That's a good thing and it informs the balance we strike between defendants and victims.

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