CPS Advocates Reform

Less than five years ago, it was regarded as unprofessional for a barrister to refuse work from one side or the other in a criminal case. Now it’s an entrenched reality. There were fashionable defence lawyers, of course, just as there were Treasury Counsel who prosecuted at the Old Bailey. But, on the whole, criminal barristers would take the first brief that came along — whether it was north or south of the river.

Now, the Crown Prosecution Service has in-house advocates at all levels. Today, it announced a national system of advocacy assessment, allowing it to grade the performance of its staff.  It wants the Legal Services Commission to bring its proposed assessment scheme into line with the CPS structure — perhaps a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that the strategy would  ensure public money was being spent wisely.

“Four years ago the CPS saved around £413,000 by conducting its own hearings in the Crown Courts.  The savings have now risen to £11.5 million in the last financial year. In the current economic climate, saving money is essential.”

But saving money is not the main reason behind the advocacy strategy, according to a CPS paper.

“The increased experience of advocacy, particularly in the Crown Court, leads to better charged and better prepared cases and increases the accountability of the CPS to the public,” the paper says.

“It also provides career development opportunities for our prosecutors, encourages ambitious staff to remain in the CPS and is helping to persuade high quality candidates to apply to join the service.”

But at what price to the independent Bar?

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