Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



Mr Watson

  40. Have you any figures in terms of hard numbers rather than statistics for the number of cases that have failed to be taken on the day they are planned as a result of a police witness failing to attend court at the right time or on the right day?
  (Mr Przybylski) I would like to be able to give you the hard numbers, but I have got a chart that shows me the proportion. In the Crown Court, for example, we analyse cases that are called "judge ordered acquittals" and these are cases that proceed to trial but, as the case is called on, we find that that we cannot proceed for one reason or another. One of the reasons that we cannot proceed is because a witness is missing, refuses or is unable to give evidence, withdraws their complaint—all these sorts of issues. About 5 per cent of judge ordered acquittals are lost for those reasons.

  41. This is police witnesses in particular, or this is all witnesses?
  (Mr Przybylski) This is all witnesses. We do have some figures, but only held locally. I am sure mention has been made already, about the way that the organisation is ramping up its IT capacity, and very shortly we hope to have some pretty sophisticated information being brought back.

  42. Would you be able to present us with that?
  (Mr Przybylski) We cannot yet. By 2004 I will be able to do that.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Perhaps I could interrupt Mr Przybylski and just say this, we do get a kind of snapshot, area-by-area, from the Inspectorate, who do actually record the failure of police witnesses to attend when they are looking at their sample of files which they examine. They home in, not surprisingly, on cases that fail for one reason or another and try to analyse the reasons. There is always a small but noticeable number of cases which fail for the reason you have just mentioned, but it would be quite wrong to try, without the sophisticated data that our new IT system will be able to throw up, to say that it is X or Y per cent, let alone a hard number. It is a very rare but persistent feature.

  43. We look forward to 2004 then.
  (Mr Przybylski) If I could add, we are alive to the issue and we are trying to do something about it at a local level. In each area we are operating a system called joint performance management with the police, and one of the areas that we look at are those cases that are discontinued and those cases that do not succeed in the Crown Court because they are a judge ordered acquittal. We look both at the offence type of those cases and, also, about 25 recurring reasons for an unsuccessful outcome. That information is captured at local level. What we do not have is the capacity to draw it all back into the centre.

David Winnick

  44. Particularly in instances of theft of mobile phones, hardly a day goes by without press reports in London and elsewhere about thuggery, if I can use that expression, in order to steal mobile phones. How seriously is this being taken by your department?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Extremely seriously. We are working together with the police, who unsurprisingly are taking the lead since they investigate the cases, on schemes whereby particular hot-spots (as I think they are known in the current jargon) are targeted by the police and suitable resources made available by the CPS so that if the police do carry out a major operation, shall we say, in a particular London borough, where there is particular prevalence of, shall we say, theft of mobile phones or street mugging generally, we can bring the appropriate response to bear. There is also, I believe, in the wings a project to be headed by Mr Denham of the Home Office which will target persistent youth offenders. A very large number of the offences that you have just described as theft of mobile telephones are carried out by youths, who of course need special treatment in the sense that there is a different legal system.

  45. Did you see the report in last night's Evening Standard where a 12-year old person with her 7-year old sister and a cousin, the 12-year was actually knifed and the mother thought her daughter was dying? Fortunately, that was not the position. Apart from the actual stealing of the mobile phone, the child could have been murdered.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Absolutely.

  46. If this was such a unique case one would hesitate to raise it, but it is not so unique.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Not unique at all.

  47. That is why I am asking, Director, if in fact those sorts of cases are really being given seriousness when it comes to prosecution casework, which is absolutely essential for parents to feel that their children are safe on the streets?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) An unequivocal yes.

  48. One other problem, as I understand it, is that when cases come to court the person who is alleged to have committed the offence can be bailed up to eight or nine times, and then there is the accusation that there is intimidation of witnesses; youngsters are told that if they give evidence in court they will know what is going to happen to them. How is that going to be dealt with by the police?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) As you say, that is a police matter. The only thing that the Crown Prosecution Service can add to the process is to be rigorous in examining decisions to grant bail, and where we believe there is a respectable argument for repealing that decision to do so. That is something, clearly, our lawyers, particularly in London but in other metropolitan centres as well, will be homing in on so that if there really are grounds for a secure remand for the youth in question—if it is a youth—or a remand in custody—if it is an adult—then we do not necessarily take the magistrates' decision lying down and appeal to the Crown Court.

  49. When I spoke about eight or nine times someone being given bail, that arose from evidence on the 5th of this month from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir John Stevens. I wonder if it would be possible to give us a note, if the Chairman has no objection, about cases where this has actually happened, where it has happened and how frequently a person or group of people could actually, having been charged, be given bail, say, over six times. Would that be at all possible?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I am sure that if I were to speak to any Crown Prosecutor in London he or she would be able to come up with particular incidents. Trying to do it on a more comprehensive basis, I think, would be very difficult.
  (Mr Przybylski) I think the Director is right to say that prosecutors will be able to provide anecdotal information but we do not have the infrastructure to be able to capture that sort of information as yet. We are hoping to get that, but we do not have it yet.


  50. I think it is the police, anyway, that can provide the evidence. Northumberland Police, I recall when Sir John Stevens was Chief Constable, did research in relation to Northumberland which showed that repeat offenders were being bailed eight or nine times, sometimes re-offending as soon as they left the door of the court. There is an issue about the shortage of secure accommodation, which is one of the big difficulties, is it not?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Yes, it is.

David Winnick

  51. Also, it is an indication of how far you feel that things are being dealt with effectively, so that, again (I repeat what I said earlier), parents can have some confidence that their children can go about with mobile phones or otherwise without the sort of incident to which the article last night in the paper referred.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Absolutely. It may be pertinent to say that there has been a good deal of comment recently about the remarks that the Lord Chief Justice made in a sentence review case dealing with street mugging. All the Crown Prosecution Service (and then the Attorney General who took the reference) was actually seeking to do was to uphold what is the current tariff for street theft because street theft, and you pointed to a particular case in last night's paper, is almost invariably accompanied by actual violence.

Mr Watson

  52. We hear on the bulletins this morning that the Government take persistent offenders so seriously that they are announcing a policy shift later to tag persistent offenders between the ages of 12 and 16 who are on bail.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Yes.

  53. Were you consulted on that policy shift and have you a view on it?
  (Mr Przybylski) We do not recall being consulted.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Personally I cannot say that I expressed a view. Whether somebody in my organisation dealt with it I cannot say.

  54. Would you express a view on it now, even in a personal capacity?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Clearly anything which, as Mr Winnick says, makes the period between arrest and trial safer for the public without unduly interfering with the rights of the defendant is to be welcomed. That is assuming it works.


  55. Can we turn to the ethnic make-up of the CPS? As you will recall, it was the subject of the Denman Report a little while ago. You are in a profession which is dominated by white middle-class males, Mr Calvert-Smith. What plans do you have to try to change that?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) On numbers we have set targets area by area and I am pleased to say that the vast majority of CPS areas are now statistically representative of their populations, though not all, and we need increased efforts in certain areas of the country. We have also attempted to take positive action where that is within the law to try and encourage minority ethnic lawyers into the organisation and to ensure that the imbalances which continue at the higher levels of the organisation are gradually eroded. The Equality and Diversity Unit within the Crown Prosecution Service has wrought a remarkable transformation, I believe, not only in helping managers to manage diversity, whether by achieving targets for employment or achieving dignity in the workplace so that people are treated with respect, whatever their background or disability may be, but also in generally mainstreaming diversity into managers' minds—and I do not exclude myself from this—because diversity is something that has to be part of every initiative that we take. I am very hopeful still that I will leave this Service in a far better position than I found it from the point of view that you have asked, but clearly, long after I have gone, there will still be work to do.

  56. I think everyone understands that this has to be a gradual process but there is this extraordinary story of the eighth and ninth floors of Croydon where some form of segregation appeared to operate, according to the Commission for Racial Equality. Is that true, first, and, secondly, what has been done about it?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) May I answer your second question? I know the Chief Executive wants to come back on the first one if he may.

  57. Perhaps he would like to take the first one then.
  (Mr Foster) As you know, the Sylvia Denman report said that the CPS was institutionally racist. That is a finding we accept and that is a finding we have been absolutely driving to redress. Both David and I take a personal accountability for that. The figures are quite encouraging if you compare the CPS with the Civil Service as a whole. Across the Civil Service 7.2 per cent of staff are from minority ethnic backgrounds. The figures are as of October of the year just gone. Within the CPS nearly ten per cent (9.5 per cent to be exact) of staff are from minority ethnic backgrounds, so there are proportionately more minority ethnic staff in the CPS than there are in the Civil Service generally. At senior Civil Service levels, that is to say grade 5 (divisional manager and above), the figures for the Civil Service as a whole are 2.3 per cent whereas within the CPS the figure is nearly double that, four per cent against a Civil Service target of 3.2 per cent. If you look simply at the numbers we are doing better than the Civil Service as a whole. I should add one other thing, which is that because of what was going on prior to Sylvia Denman's very helpful report, there are still in the pipeline a number of cases where staff have complained of racial discrimination and I have no doubt that there will be further industrial tribunal cases of that kind. What I would hope is that the culture that we have seen since July of last year is changing quite rapidly and we are working with the CRE jointly to drive forward on that. One final thing: we have now trained every single member of the CPS. Every single member has been through a two-day equality and diversity programme and we have put in place arrangements which ensure that any new recruit into the CPS will go through similar training. It will take a long time to change the culture but we are determined to do so.

   (Mr Calvert-Smith) Very quickly on Croydon, the Croydon problem was the result of the merger of two different offices of the CPS into one building. One of the offices, because of where it had originally been physically located, had a high proportion of minority ethnic staff. The other, again because of where it was located, did not. What happened was that when the offices merged staff took part in a preference exercise as to which team (because they still covered disparate areas of London) each member of staff wished to serve on. Unsurprisingly, those who were used to the courts in their old area plumped for the team which covered those courts, which led to a continuation if you like of this imbalance. Although that was perfectly well intentioned, it led, as you say, to a segregation and the problem then arose that a feeling was engendered within what was then one office of a first team and a second team if you like. It became a common wisdom that if you wanted to get on in the CPS from the Croydon office you had better join the first team, and insufficient was done in the CRE's opinion, which we entirely accept, to intervene and destroy this culture which had arisen of a first team and a second team, although, as the CRE accepted, the situation had come about without any malice or without any deliberate intention to discriminate, hence no non-discrimination notice as a result of the report, so that all CPS areas are now enjoined—and it was very timely because we are reorganising into these criminal justice units, trial units, and people are going through the same sort of preference exercise: "Which unit would you like to be in if we can arrange it?"—to make sure that this situation does not happen again and develop into this A team and B team culture.


  58. Are women well represented in the higher levels of the Service?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Not nearly well enough, and I am afraid to say we have not done well enough, or as well as we had hoped we would, so far as making the senior echelons of the Service sufficiently representative is concerned. We are behind, I am ashamed to say, the target set for the Civil Service generally by the Cabinet Office. All I can say is that both Richard Foster and I are very well aware of this and are doing everything we can in what is not a high turnover organisation, particularly at the top, to rectify the situation.

Mrs Dean

  59. Turning to vulnerable witnesses, will the CPS programme for direct communication with witnesses be fully implemented by October as scheduled?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I am confident that it will. We have an elaborate, and I hope comprehensive, set of training initiatives to make sure that our prosecutors and case workers are fully up to speed with the new measures that the Act allows, and therefore, so far as knowledge and ability to carry out the recommendations are concerned, I am absolutely confident. There are two nagging worries I have. One is a police worry, but of course it knocks on to us, and they are both logistical. The first is, are we going to manage to get this new initiative done on DVD videos or are we going to have to make do with the old style videos which the police, I am sure without exaggeration, suggest will require a new warehouse almost every three months? One smiles but something has got to be done about this if we cannot do it all digitally. That is still an unanswered dilemma, not one that we have to answer but there will be a knock-on effect to us. Secondly, there is the question of how many of these video tapes will need to be transcribed. The CPS currently transcribe, where they are required to be transcribed, videos in child abuse cases where there is already the facility to take evidence on video. That is a significant resource. It is impossible to tell in advance how many of these video interviews will need to be transcribed; hopefully very few, because, particularly if it is DVD, it is so easy to look at the thing and cut it and paste it, but the only two slight flies in the ointment in my mind at the moment (which we are hopefully going to address by October but are not quite out yet) are these logistical problems so far as training and making people aware of the various measures are concerned, the pre-trial meetings and all the measures that can be taken to help witnesses give best evidence.

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