DPP rebukes judge for criticising CPS in court over prosecution
Keir Starmer tells judiciary to tone down public criticisms of Crown Prosecution Service
I was surprised that the judge made public and personal comments about the advocate in question
Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions
Director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer launched a staggering attack on a judge for criticising the Crown Prosecution Service in open court.
Exaro has obtained an astounding letter in which Starmer says that the judge, Richard Griffith-Jones, should have raised his concerns privately with him or senior colleagues at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) instead of making them public.
Starmer, who steps down as director of public prosecutions (DPP) for England and Wales in October, describes the judge’s blistering criticisms of a prosecutor and the CPS, which were made at the end of a murder retrial, as “inappropriate”.
And in a breath-taking rebuke to the judiciary, Starmer warns that he expects judges to keep public criticisms of the CPS to an “absolute minimum”.
The row began after Exaro revealed how the judge, before sentencing in a murder case, condemned the prosecution at the original trial.
In excoriating remarks, the judge said that the CPS had employed one barrister in the first trial when two were needed, and that the single prosecutor was “patently out of his depth”.
Aaron Mann, 33, of Hartshill near Nuneaton in Warwickshire, was jailed for life for murdering his girlfriend, Claire O’Connor, a mother of four.
The judge released to Exaro a full transcript of his damning comments, which were made at Warwick Crown Court. He also asked for the transcript to be sent to the DPP and the chief crown prosecutor (CCP) for the West Midlands, Harry Ireland.
Starmer then met the judge to discuss the case.
Emily Thornberry, shadow attorney general, wrote to Starmer about the Mann case, along with other sharp criticisms made by judges of the CPS.
The CPS has released to Exaro Starmer’s reply to Thornberry.
He writes in his letter: “I have read the transcript of the judge’s comments, I have had a report from the chief crown prosecutor of CPS West Midlands, I have read various medical notes and I have been to Warwickshire to discuss the case with HHJ Griffith-Jones.
“I accept that there were significant shortcomings in the way that the case was first handled by the CPS in-house advocate in question.
“I accept that the judge, all interested parties and the public were entitled to a better service than was provided by the advocate in that case.
“However, I am very clear in my view that the shortcomings were health-related. The advocate was ill, and ultimately he had to withdraw from the case altogether on health grounds.
“In the circumstances, I was surprised that the judge made public and personal comments about the advocate in question.
“I would have expected the judge to have afforded me or the chief crown prosecutor of CPS West Midlands the courtesy of an opportunity to comment before doing so.
“In light of the health issues that lay at the heart of the performance issues in this particular case, I think that the judge’s comments were inappropriate.
“I made my position clear to the judge when I met him on July 15. We agreed to disagree on the point.”
The DPP continues: “While I recognise that individual judges will from time to time make critical comments of the CPS in specific cases, my view is that these should be kept to an absolute minimum.
“A better approach is for comments to be made to the relevant chief crown prosecutor or to me, so that they can be dealt with thoroughly and in an informed way. That is the approach adopted by many judges around the country, and it works very well.”
The CPS has had budget cuts of 27 per cent, Starmer says. But conviction rates have “remained consistent” at 85 per cent or above for the past eight years.
He adds: “I accept, of course, that there are shortcomings from time to time. Where they are brought to the attention of my CCPs or me, we always endeavour to deal with them.
“But, against a challenging financial backdrop, it is important to appreciate the hard work and commitment of my staff in maintaining performance.”
Thornberry told Exaro: “The CPS should respond to judicial criticism by addressing the underlying problem, rather than asking judges to be quiet.”
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