Monday, 9 April 2018

Two Cheers as Alison Saunders Steps Down

This is the full text of my reaction to the news that Alison Saunders is to step down as DPP in October. Excerpts have appeared in The Express - link).

The news that Alison Saunders is to stand down as the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), at the end of her five-year contract, might bring an end to the grotesque ‘target driven justice’, which is synonymous with her time at the top. By common consent, Ms Saunders has not exactly covered herself – or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) she leads – with glory. Too many things have gone disastrously wrong, too many times, and public confidence in our justice system is now at an all time low. Such is the damage, it will take much more than Ms Saunders’ departure to repair what has been broken.

DPP Alison Saunders
Although some will argue that swingeing cuts, amounting to around a quarter of its budget and a reduction in a third of its staff since 2010, have impacted on the CPS’ ability to provide a high quality service, it is difficult not to conclude that the malaise goes far deeper than insufficient personnel. To my mind, the real provenance of the problem has been the blatant politicisation of the organisation, a process which started before Ms Saunders took the top job in 2013 - a job, incidentally, which pays around £205,000 per annum (plus generous benefits and a £1.8 million pension pot).

The new ‘approach’ to delivering so-called justice was instituted by her predecessor as DPP, Keir Starmer (now Sir Keir Starmer MP, a Labour front bencher), who was appointed in 2008. He oversaw the transformation of the CPS from a taxpayer-funded body, tasked with making decisions about prosecutions based on evidence, to an increasingly politicised machine which sought to champion trendy causes which very vocal campaigners believed should be driving our justice system. Thus began an unhealthy obsession with DPP sound-bites, ‘initiatives’ and grandstanding for the media. Keir Starmer compromised the integrity of the CPS and Alison Saunders proceeded to exacerbate matters.

Sir Keir Starmer QC MP
Perhaps Sir Keir’s most regrettable legacy within the CPS was the importation of the ludicrous mantra, informing anyone making allegations of a sexual nature that “you will be believed”, no matter how bizarre, unlikely or outlandish the claims being made. This approach came as a direct result of political pressure amidst the ‘Savile effect’, that collective insanity which gripped this nation after the death of the platinum haired DJ in 2011.

Once this ideological dogma had taken root within the CPS  - the 2014 report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary said: “The presumption that a victim should always be believed should be institutionalised”, - traditional approaches, such as defendants being innocent until proven guilty, the police at least making an effort to pursue open minded investigations, were promptly ditched. When Ms Saunders took up her role as DPP in 2013, she was an enthusiastic adopter and advocate and a bad situation became inevitably worse.

Back in 2014, Ms Saunders, who had spent her entire professional life working at the CPS, told one interviewer that “Nobody knew who we [the CPS] were, what we did – so I think it’s good that we have a profile.” Unfortunately, years of back office work in the CPS bureaucracy had ill prepared her for the DPP role and many of her key interviews became highly defensive, as public criticism of controversial CPS failures mounted.

Too often it seemed that specific prosecutions – whether of investigative journalists, or of those accused of female genital mutilation or of media personalities accused of historical sexual offences – were more about getting a politically-correct result, rather than achieving justice. When these high profile cases started collapsing, the consequent damage to the CPS’ reputation was inevitable; Ms Saunders’ standing was similarly affected.

One of the most serious areas of concern during Ms Saunders tenure has been ‘target-driven’ practices, where CPS staff members are under constant pressure to achieve ‘results’ – that is, convictions in court. Common sense dictates that any legal system which operates on the basis of hitting specific, pre-set targets for the number of convictions in court, is at risk of multiplying miscarriages of justice, as well as encouraging prosecutors to charge potential defendants in cases where there is little or no actual evidence. This seems to have become the norm in sexual allegation cases, both modern and historical. No one can regard this as a proper, fair, sensible approach to administering justice in a country which gave the world the Magna Carta.

Another key concern was the apparent collusion between some CPS staff and police investigators over the vexed issue of disclosure of evidence – again, especially in sexual offence cases – to the defence. As evidence mounted that critical material, such as text messages and social media exchanges, were not being disclosed to defendants’ legal teams, trials started to collapse. It is of no surprise that judges have become much more critical of police and CPS failures and omissions.

Of course, we should not be concerned only about innocent people who have been dragged through the courts, their reputations indelibly tarnished, and about the victims of wrongful convictions, who are suffering as a result of the current chaos within the CPS; genuine victims of serious crimes are also being let down by a system which seems to be on the brink of collapse. Will jurors be prepared to convict a defendant they feel is guilty beyond reasonable doubt if confidence in British justice is continually being eroded by failed prosecutions and repeated scandals over a lack of disclosure of evidence? Jury members will inevitably worry, perhaps, that they've not heard all the evidence and acquit.

In recent months, Ms Saunders has not helped her cause by publicly declaring that she does not believe that there are any innocent people in prison as a consequence of failures to disclose relevant evidence to the defence. What a preposterous, immature, arrogant stance to take. Just last week, a devastating report by the HMCPS Inspectorate revealed that there had been a ‘steady stream of miscarriages of justice’ due to poor disclosure practices. Who knows how many innocent, but wrongly convicted, men and women are currently rotting in our dangerous, over crowded, dysfunctional prisons? Does the evidence point to Ms. Saunders being naive or supremely deluded?

I don’t think it is an understatement to say that there is mounting concern that the CPS and our wider justice system have come under the influence of ideologically-driven, political decision making. Collapsing trials and the unedifying prospect of innocent victims of false allegations languishing for months, or even years, on police bail, their homes ransacked, their lived trashed, have all damaged public confidence in a system which is now so underfunded that day to day life in our magistrates' courts are akin to ‘judicial A & E departments’; in short, the administering of justice on the cheap.

While Ms Saunders’ personally very lucrative departure from her post is to be welcomed by all concerned about the route our justice m.o. has taken over the last decade, it will not be enough to restore faith in a system which was once the envy of the world. Fundamental reform will surely require the ditching by prosecutors of the current wholly inappropriate target-driven approach, as well as a move away from ideological fashions and fads, which have done so much damage.

Is it too much to hope that the new DPP makes every effort to restore some faith in our justice system’s ability to protect the innocent and, by searching for and uncovering the truth, safely to convict the guilty? Time will tell.


  1. The justice system should never be driven by a political agenda and targets for conviction rates. The ideology has lead to many miscarriages of justice. I was listening to Jeremy vine on Radio 2 and there was a discussion about police cuts. The fact that many cases of crime are not investigated at all. When the police are given an allegation of SA/HSA, they jump into action! These cases are not investigated in a proper manner (as well we know). No evidence is needed to secure a conviction. Those falsely accused are easy pickings for the police/CPS. The truth does not matter - convict, convict, convict !! . Those of us who support an innocent one falsely accused/wrongly convicted have to pick up the pieces. We will keep on fighting for the injustice that has been dealt to us. It may take years - but we are willing to wait. The events of recent months shows how things are changing now. The genie is out of the bottle,and the corruption with the police/CPS has been exposed for all to see.

  2. " Will jurors be prepared to convict a defendant they feel is guilty beyond reasonable doubt if confidence in British justice is continually being eroded by failed prosecutions and repeated scandals over a lack of disclosure of evidence? Jury members will inevitably worry, perhaps, that they've not heard all the evidence and acquit."

    Or they do what they did in my BF's trial and stack the jury with 9 women who clearly had their minds made up after the first day of the trial. You know it's a bleak situation when your barrister says there's no point in taking the stand to defend yourself.

  3. When she was Home Secretary, Theresa May called for adherence to the Peelian Principles for Policing by Consent. The current situation, contributed to by Saunders seems a far cry from those ideals.