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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
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Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Witness: Mr Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, gave evidence.
Q90 Chair: Mr Starmer, thank you very much for giving evidence to us today. I apologise for keeping you waiting. We were having a long discussion with the new Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, and inevitably these things overrun.
Mr Starmer: Your clerk kept me updated, thank you.
Chair: Excellent. Thank you very much, first of all, for the letter that you sent to us in response to my original letter to you in October last year, and for the latest letter that you have sent to the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, who sent us a copy on Friday. We are most grateful. We have just had a chance to absorb this. Can I take it that you are aware of the account that Mr Yates gave to us when he gave evidence to us last week?
Mr Starmer: Yes, I am. Could I just begin by highlighting the caution and caveats at the beginning of my letter on 1 April 2011?
Chair : Of course. You can certainly do that when we get onto the letter, but can I just set this background? We might put questions to you about other witnesses who have been before us. Are you aware of the evidence that he has given?
Mr Starmer: I am aware of the evidence that he has given. I have deliberately attempted to set out simply, in neutral, chronological order, a detailed account from beginning to end.
Q91 Chair : We are very grateful for it. Secondly, are you aware of what Mr Bryant has suggested in the evidence that he gave to us, or is that in a box that you are not aware of?
Mr Starmer: No, I am aware of all of that. I have resisted responding to Mr Yates or Mr Bryant. I thought it more helpful to the Committee to simply set it out in full, in detail and chronologically, so that you can see.
Q92 Chair : We are most grateful. Turning to your letter, which you have referred to already-this is the letter dated 1 April 2011-can I take you to almost the last paragraph? I know the danger is that we will do as you have suggested we shouldn’t do, which is ignore the caveats, but we have taken on board all the caveats that you have put forward.
Mr Starmer: One further word on the caveats, if I may. One of the caveats is that, in addition to the review that I asked my principal legal adviser to conduct, which she is conducting and is not complete, there is a live investigation, and the Committee may not know-the news has just broken-that two individuals have been arrested this morning in relation to this operation and are currently in custody awaiting questioning, and therefore-
Chair : The timing is almost perfect for your appearance.
Mr Starmer: I will make no comment about that.
Chair : We are certainly grateful for that. I was not personally aware of that.
Mr Starmer: I have to be so careful on anything that falls within the remit of the live investigation, for obvious reasons that the Committee will understand.
Q93 Chair : We are not going to ask you about the live investigation, simply because this Committee-by way of background to you-are looking at RIPA. We are looking at the law. Obviously, what has happened in respect of the News of the World and Mr Yates’ examination of what has happened, and your advice, are relevant to our recommendations that we hope to make to Parliament after we have heard from the Information Commissioner as to whether the law is clear and whether the law should be changed. We are interested in that kind of abstract argument, so if you want to keep it at that, we are happy with that.
Mr Starmer: I will, and thank you for that indication.
Q94 Chair : Taking you to "e" of your letter, page 11, just on the basis of the legal advice, because this affects the open evidence given by Mr Yates, Mr Yates told this Committee that, in effect, on 1 October at a case conference, the advice that he was given by leading counsel from the CPS altered the scope of the investigation in that, prior to this, he felt that the advice given by the CPS limited the scope of the investigation-so we are in interested in scope here as opposed to anything else. So "e" in your letter, "In my view, the legal advice given by the CPS to the Metropolitan Police on the interpretation of the relevant offences did not limit the scope and extent of the criminal investigation". That is what we are interested in. Was the original advice that was given in any way a limit to what the Metropolitan Police could do?
Mr Starmer: I understand.
Chair : What is the answer?
Mr Starmer: In my opinion, it wasn’t, and the conclusion at page 11 "e" is based on everything that goes before it in the previous 10 pages, where I have tried to set out the advice that was given from the start on a number of different offences. In summary, as far as RIPA is concerned, what I have termed "provisional advice" was given on the interpretation of RIPA, which suggested that it might have to be interpreted narrowly, but no final decision was taken on that. In fact, no definitive view was ever articulated on that.
As far as the Computer Misuse Act is concerned, advice was given in relation to offences under that Act almost from the beginning of the CPS involvement. Of course the significance of that is that, under that Act, it is not necessary to establish whether a message was intercepted before or after it was listened to by the intended recipient. Advice was also given about conspiracy charges, which again do not necessarily require proof that a message was intercepted before it was listened to by the intended recipient.
That is why, putting it all together, my view is that nothing but a provisional view was given on the interpretation of RIPA. In any event, however, the advice that was given on the other two offences leads me to the conclusion that the legal advice given by the CPS, in this case, did not limit the scope or extent.
Q95 Chair : Yes. Mr Yates, of course, told the Committee that he believed it did limit his investigation. He was very clear on this when he gave evidence to us last Tuesday, and he then said that on 1 October, things changed. Your advice changed. I appreciate that you were not the DPP on the original occasion, but you have had a review of all the advice that has been given. Do you think that there was a change on 1 October?
Mr Starmer: I certainly accept that in October, when for the first time under my watch this became a live issue for the CPS-until then I had simply been looking back and trying to piece together what had gone before; this was the first time it became live on my watch-at that stage, I was concerned that clearer, more robust legal advice should be given to the Metropolitan Police. Looking at the history and the detailed analysis we have provided, I don’t, for my part, think that that was a radical departure from the approach that had been taken before. I do accept that it was clearer and more robust, and insofar as-
Chair : But consistent.
Mr Starmer: But consistent. Insofar as counsel previously had been prepared to take a pragmatic view for the purpose of the particular prosecution, I think I was indicating that in future, I thought the clearer and more robust approach should be adopted. To that extent, I think it would probably not have adopted, looking forward, the pragmatic approach that was taken at the time.
Q96 Chair : Indeed. One final question on process: I am fascinated by all these calls that are being made to people at the CPS on such a very important issue. It is a matter of huge public concern and public interest. People keep ringing up and saying, "By the way, has this offence been committed? Has it not been committed? This is not confirmed in writing." Requests are not put in writing. It seems-I wouldn’t say chaotic-but a little bit relaxed. Is that the normal way it is done?
Mr Starmer: I don’t think that is a proper interpretation of events. I say that for the following reason. It is not uncommon for an investigator, very usually the police, to seek the advice of the CPS before charge. That is a perfectly sensible thing to do, so that they don’t waste time and energy investigating something that is never going to result in a charge. Very often there will be exchanges. There might come a point at which a definitive view needs to be taken on something, and one of the points that leading counsel has made to me is that, had this become an issue that absolutely needed to be determined-i.e. the proper interpretation of RIPA-he would have expected to have been required, and he would have wanted, to give a formal written advice, and we would have expected it. What you see here, I would suggest, is evidence that no definitive view had been reached. Had that been a real issue, you would have probably seen the more formal advice.
Q97 Chair : Which happened on 1 October, "We need a robust set of advice. We are proceeding; tell us what to do. What is the law?" and so on. That is basically what you are saying?
Mr Starmer: Yes.
Q98 Dr Huppert: Thank you, Mr Starmer, for coming before us, and also for writing one of the most compelling pieces of legal literature I have ever had the pleasure to read. It was fascinating. I am still trying to work out who did it at the end.
It is a helpful coincidence, in some sense, that we are meeting just after the former News Editor and current Chief Reporter at News of the World has been arrested. I don’t expect you to comment on that case at all. I think it is worth the Committee noting, though, that they were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to tap into or hack mobile communications, which I think does relate to the breadth here. Can I just press you on your conclusion in "e", and what you said at the end of your letter is that you shared this letter with Acting Deputy Commissioner Yates and invited him to identify any factual inaccuracies, and that he did not do so. Do you think that means that he now accepts that this version of events is what happened, and therefore what he told us about previously was clearly not what happened?
Mr Starmer: I am very clear about this. I am not here to give evidence of what Mr Yates may or may not think, and it is not a sensible thing for me to attempt and it is not a fair thing for me to attempt. What I was anxious to do, when the Committee asked me to give evidence, was to go through all of the records that we had-I have set out the process-and to give the detailed narrative and chronology in as much detail as I could, and far more than we normally would, so that the Committee could see the whole picture, full stop. What I also wanted to do, because I knew that the Committee may ask me whether there are differences between me and Mr Yates, is to provide him with an opportunity to see the draft before it was sent to the Committee, so that if there was a factual inaccuracy that was identified and I could deal with, I could deal with that in the body of the letter and ensure, whatever conclusions one draws or observations one makes, that at least the factual background is agreed. Now, as I have said in the-
Q99 Chair : Did he respond and say he was wrong?
Mr Starmer: He did respond and he did not identify factual inaccuracies, and that is why I have put in the penultimate paragraph, I think, that I had included that as part of the process. Beyond that, I don’t think it is for me to say.
Q100 Dr Huppert: We could conclude now that at least he accepts that this is the best factual description of what happens that exists anywhere, and that this is what we as a Committee should take as the basis for what actually happened?
Mr Starmer: I specifically asked him in terms to identify any factual inaccuracies, and he responded to me with a number of observations but with no factual inaccuracies. That was specifically what I was wanting.
Chair : I think what Dr Huppert is looking for is a definitive view. We know you can’t speak on behalf of Mr Yates. I think he does that very well himself, and indeed has written back to us on this matter.
Q101 Dr Huppert: So we should take it now as the agreed factual basis that the legal advice given by the CPS to the Metropolitan Police, at the early stage of the investigation, did not limit the scope of that criminal investigation-your conclusion at "e"?
Mr Starmer: I am trying to be careful. I am not trying to be unhelpful. I asked Mr Yates to indicate if there were any factual inaccuracies, and he dealt with that.
Q102 Chair : His answer was, no, there were none?
Mr Starmer: No factual inaccuracies. The conclusions at "a" to "e" are mine. They are what I draw from the facts set out in the previous 10 pages. I am clear enough about that; I don’t have any difficulty with that at all. What I don’t want to do is to put words into the mouth of Mr Yates.
Chair : Nor do you need to, because it is open to this Committee to send him a copy of your letter and to ask him what he thinks of that.
Mr Starmer: Precisely. Thank you.
Q103 Dr Huppert: We can certainly take it then as factually clear, as on page 5, that the advice formally given, by the CPS to the Metropolitan Police, in July 2006 was that you could look at offences under the Computer Misuse Act, under RIPA and on conspiracy?
Mr Starmer: Yes. I am absolutely clear about that. It has been checked with Mr Yates, but I have personally looked at the documents and I have asked my principal legal adviser to look at much more than that. I am absolutely clear in my own mind about that.
Q104 Mark Reckless: Can I take you to the letter we have just had-basically overnight? This is on page 5 of your 1 April letter, and I believe from the context you are referring to an e-mail by the Head of SCD sent on 25 April, but correct me if I am wrong.
Mr Starmer: Yes.
Mark Reckless: I refer to the statement, "The offences under section 1 of RIPA would, as far as I can see, only relate to such messages that had not been previously accessed by the recipient". Isn’t that fairly clear advice that the CPS gave for a narrow interpretation?
Mr Starmer: I accept-as I do, I think, in the first conclusion-that advice was given from an early stage that the offence might only be made out in those circumstances. My own view of the e-mail of 25 April is that it is provisional. The key words are, "As far as I can see" and then dropping down two lines, "This area is very much untested and further consideration will need to be given to this". My interpretation of that-and I can only speak of my own, because I have pieced it together-is this is provisional. It is flagging up a problem. It is undoubtedly indicating that that might be the case, and I can understand why it would be read in that way. I readily accept that. It is provisional, however, it is not definitive, and it is indicating, in a sense, "We are going to have to come back to this issue at some stage further down the line," but I accept the terms of the advice that it is identifying that that might be the case and, evidentially, that might have to be proven. I accept that.
Q105 Mark Reckless: So you defend that on the basis that it was provisional and not definitive. Yet, in July 2009, you provided written evidence to our sister Committee, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, in which you stated, "The law: to prove the criminal offence of interception, the prosecution must prove that the actual message was intercepted prior to it being accessed by the intended recipient". You then go on, under "Conclusions on material", to say that it being intercepted prior to being accessed by the intended recipient was, "An essential element of the offence". That is fairly definitive, isn’t it?
Mr Starmer: Can I just explain the context of that letter, because that may help, and I dealt with it in the body of the letter that I sent on Friday? On 9 July, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee requested me to give written evidence. I did that on 16 July, giving them the conclusions of an internal review that we had done, and that was my response to the Committee. In the meantime-that is, between 9 and 16 July 2009-other witnesses had appeared before that Committee and two pieces of information had been given to that Committee: one was a contract and one was an e-mail in the name of Neville. I knew that my evidence on 16 July had not dealt with that, but I then appreciated that the Committee had raised some questions about those two pieces of information-unsurprisingly. I therefore wrote on the 30th to try and deal with that.
The context of the letter of 30 July is to explain, first-which was a critical issue-was the e-mail in the physical possession of the CPS at the time, which would lead to the question: was any advice given at the time? I looked into that and the answer was, no, it wasn’t, but it was on a schedule of unused material, which would have been looked at by junior counsel, who would have gone normally to the police premises to look at the schedule of unused material. He had no recollection of seeing the specific e-mail, but accepted that, in principle, it was his task to look at the unused material and he probably would have seen it at some stage. I then engaged in the exercise, which in retrospect may not have been as helpful as I wanted it to be, of asking leading counsel, "What approach would you have taken at the time had you known about the e-mail?" It was a hypothetical analysis, because I had already established we did not see it. That was what I was trying to convey in July 2009.
Having discussed it with leading counsel, I then tried to summarise the position that I understood he had taken-the pragmatic view-because his view was, "The law is unclear. It is capable of being read either way but for pragmatic, sensible reasons, if it becomes an issue, I would prefer to take a narrow view." I was trying to summarise that. As I have said in the body of my more recent letter, looking at it again I accept that: one, perhaps it was not as helpful as I thought it would be to engage in a hypothetical exercise at all; and, if I was going to engage in it, it would have been better to have made it clear that that was the pragmatic approach as I understood it from counsel.
To give some context to this, I was trying to reply fairly quickly to the Committee. I was talking to leading counsel, who did not have all his documents before him, and nobody at that stage went through the documents in detail. It has taken us days and weeks to go through all of these documents to get everything absolutely clear.
Q106 Chair : How many people are involved in this process at the CPS? It sounds as if an enormous number of people and resources are being used on this.
Mr Starmer: At the moment I have a small team working on this, headed up by the principal legal adviser. There is a live investigation and I don’t know at the moment what further resources we will need, but this issue of the interpretation having assumed the importance it has, we have done our best in the time available to go through all the documents to produce the detailed narrative that we have. That is the context of the letter.
Q107 Mark Reckless: Mr Starmer, there are all these investigations and the input from the CPS on what the interpretation might be, but to me it seems very clear, looking at the statutory provisions. You have the section 1(1) RIPA offence, which is to intercept a communication in the course of its transmission. You then go to section 2, which goes to the meaning of interception and transmission, and at section 2(7) it says, "Transmission includes storing a message in a manner that enables the intended recipient to collect it or otherwise to have access to it". So how on earth do you justify this suggested narrow interpretation of section 1(1) in the light of section 2(7)?
Mr Starmer: David Perry, leading counsel, thinks that it is not clear. Separately instructed leading counsel that I instructed thinks it is not entirely clear. It has never been settled by the court. It is capable of more than one reading. There are conflicting statutory canons of construction where you have any ambiguity in a statute. On the one hand, with a penal statute it is to be narrowly interpreted because it is a criminal provision; on the other hand, you have Article 8 of the European Convention, which requires protection, and therefore possibly a wider interpretation. Can I just add to that, the only case law that is of any assistance so far on this is some observations of Lord Woolf in the NTL v Ipswich case, and they do suggest a narrow reading.
So I accept the thrust of your point but, to be fair to everybody involved in the process, two times leading counsel think it is ambiguous and can be read two ways. Lord Woolf is suggesting-I accept in relation to e-mails, but if it is read in a particular way, it has to be read in a way that makes sense for any type of communication-and indicated there that it would be a narrow interpretation; and canons of construction go either way. My own view is that it is the wider interpretation, and I have made that absolutely clear but I don’t think it is right for me to criticise others for having formed the view that this provision is not clear.
Chair : You are the DPP, and if you feel the wider analysis should be followed-
Mr Starmer: My own view is it is the wider view and that is why I was very keen that, as soon as this arose as a live issue on my watch, there should be no ambiguity as to my position, and that is why I wrote in the terms I did.
Q108 Mark Reckless: I am glad that leading counsel are giving some protection to your position apparently. In light of section 2(7) and it saying, "To collect or otherwise have access to", I find it very difficult to understand this narrow interpretation point, which the CPS is saying is at least arguable. We are having great difficulties on this because you have written to us, on 1 April, saying the observations of Lord Woolf in NTL v Ipswich Crown Court 2002 pointed to a narrow view. I think that is in your letter to the CMS, copied to us. Yet on 29 October you said to us the exact opposite: you said that the company would have committed the section 1 offence, since diverting the content of the e-mails to storage-this was after they had been read-and so making them available would amount to interception.
Mr Starmer: No. What happened in NTL is: that was a production case and it was a question of what could lawfully be produced, so it was looking at a different statutory provision. The point Lord Woolf was making is that he did not consider that, after the e-mail was sent to storage, it was an interception for the purposes of RIPA. The whole point was-[Interruption.] I was summarising. The position is this: would the production order in NTL breach RIPA because you would be accessing a stored e-mail? Therefore, what Lord Woolf was trying to analyse is: is it a breach of RIPA to order production in the circumstances in which he was-
Mark Reckless: Unless you had the PACE authorisation.
Mr Starmer: In that context he made comments that suggested that it would not be an offence within RIPA because it had moved to the storage part. There is no inconsistency between that analysis-I have been over it many, many times-and any evidence I have given to this Committee or any other.
Chair : I do not think we are looking for inconsistencies. We are looking for clarity.
Q109 Mark Reckless: I am. What you just said to us seems to be the polar opposite of what you wrote to us on 29 October, when you said, "The company would have committed the section 1 offence, since diverting the contents of the mails to storage", and I remind you, this is after they had been read, "and so making them available would amount to interception".
Mr Starmer: No, that is what it was considering. The company argued that. Which bit are you saying is wrong here?
Q110 Mark Reckless: I am saying that you told us one thing on 29 October and the CMS another thing on 1 April.
Mr Starmer: Can you just take me to the particular passage in the letter. I have it at page 4.
Q111 Mark Reckless: On page 4, "The court held that, subject to authorisation by the making of the order, the company would have committed the section 1 offence, since diverting the content of the mails to storage, and so making them available would amount to interception" and the case related to the e-mails having already been read, so the moving to storage is after that.
Mr Starmer: "Subject to the authorisation." Listen, the best I can do is to provide the Committee with a copy of the judgment. There has never been any ambiguity in my mind on this whatsoever.
Q112 Mark Reckless: It bears out what you said in your letter on 29 October, but contradicts what you say in your letter of 1 April.
Mr Starmer: I do not accept that.
Chair: You do not accept that. Anyway, that is Mr Reckless’ view.
Q113 Bridget Phillipson: As a non-lawyer, could you just clarify for me? Is it a case of you hold the view that a wider interpretation could be adopted, while others believe that that is not the case-that there is a more narrow interpretation of the law? How is that tested? Is it through prosecution?
Mr Starmer: It can be tested in any court where the issue arises. It could well, and might most probably, be tested in a criminal case where somebody takes the point. It can arise in other contexts, in civil proceedings, but there is no reason why it could not arise in an ordinary criminal court.
Q114 Bridget Phillipson: Had the wider interpretation been considered, it would have been possible to test that as a point of law?
Mr Starmer: Yes.
Q115 Bridget Phillipson: Would it have made any difference if the Met had said to you, "Look, this is a major issue. We believe there are lots of victims. We think this should be tested and we should look at how the law operates"? In the relationship the CPS has with the Met, is it that you give the advice and they act on it, or they say, "We think there is a really strong case here. Can you say whether we can proceed?"
Mr Starmer: Yes. No, I take the point. There are some cases where that might well arise, where the law is not entirely certain, it looks as though, for example, there is criminal conduct and the investigators and prosecutors decide together, "We think we have a sufficiently strong argument to test this in the case." The approach in this case of leading counsel was slightly different, which was to say, "I think it is ambiguous. I don’t want to risk the whole case on this point of statutory construction, and therefore I am going to take a pragmatic view, if and when it arises." In fact it didn’t, but I accept, as a general proposition, that it sometimes happens that investigators and prosecutors decide that they feel sufficiently strongly about their argument that they will test the provision in legal proceedings.
Q116 Bridget Phillipson: Do you think it would be helpful if RIPA was clarified, for avoidance of any doubt in the future, so it is far clearer what is and is not an offence?
Mr Starmer: Certainly, I think clarity of the law is a good thing, particularly when we are dealing with criminal cases. There are two ways of achieving that: one would be to amend RIPA and make it clearer; the other would be to have a definitive court ruling. It may be that if there was a definitive court ruling, and it would probably have to be the High Court, Court of Appeal or above, that that would so clarify the position that there would be no need to amend RIPA, but they would be the two routes. I don’t think it is helpful to have ambiguity in the criminal law.
Q117 Chair : The problem is that the defendants on the last occasion pleaded guilty, so it really wasn’t tested.
Mr Starmer: They pleaded guilty, I think at a plea and case management hearing, back in October 2006, and therefore it never became an issue for determination.
Chair: Mr Reckless has one more bite.
Q118 Mark Reckless:It seems to me that there are two problems with what you say: first, that the indictment included cases where there was no evidence to suggest the interception was before it had been read, so you would have lost those if the narrow interpretation had been taken. So why did you include them if the CPS believed the narrow interpretation? Secondly, you say the law is not clear and we need a court judgment on this, but Lord Woolf said in this NTL case at paragraph 21 that, "It seems to me that the language of the provisions of section 2 being clear, Mr Hudson’s"-i.e. NTL’s counsel-"submissions are correct". So that is a broad interpretation. What basis is there for CPS to have been pushing this narrower interpretation, given how clear the statutory language is?
Mr Starmer: I am very happy to provide a further analysis of the NTL case for the Committee if that would be helpful. The approach that was taken-
Chair : I am sure it would be helpful.
Mr Starmer : I will provide it. It is clear enough the view that David Perry QC, who is an eminent QC, was taking on this at the time. I will provide his analysis, so that you can see it and see whether you agree with him or whether you do not agree with him.
Chair : That would be extremely helpful.
Q119 Steve McCabe: Mr Starmer, it seems to me the big confusion in this is issue is how the Metropolitan Police, and possibly Commander Yates, came to be fixated on the idea that this narrow interpretation of RIPA was crucial to their investigation. Can I be clear: what you are saying is that they were certainly advised that they could have used the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and there could have been conspiracy charges, so there is no question that the Met were told, "There is only one route you can use here to pursue this investigation and to bring charges"?
Mr Starmer: They were advised of that from an early stage, as set out in the chronology. I accept from the e-mails, that it was certainly being suggested that provisionally there might be a narrow interpretation of RIPA. For the reasons I have set out it never became an issue but, alongside that, they were aware of, advised of, and were proceeding on the basis that the other offences were to be investigated and were available.
Q120 Steve McCabe: As Mr Reckless says, it is not absolutely clear that they were quite so fixated on the narrow interpretation when they brought the charges against Mulcaire and Goodman, because in fact they brought a mixture of charges where things had been listened to and had not been listened to, so it isn’t clear that what became central to their thinking subsequently was operating at that stage. Is that fair?
Mr Starmer: It is my interpretation, and leading counsel’s view, that the way the charges were set out and the final indictment demonstrated that no definitive view had ever been taken that the narrow interpretation was the only interpretation.
Q121 Steve McCabe: The crucial point you make at section "e" of your letter is that, in your view, there is no way that the legal advice given to the Met by the CPS would have limited the scope of their investigation?
Mr Starmer: Yes, absolutely.
Q122 Steve McCabe: Incredibly, they seem to have interpreted that exactly the opposite way and either misheard the advice or disregarded it, because it did clearly limit their investigation, or at least that is what we are now told happened. Is that fair?
Mr Starmer: I have been anxious not to attempt to give evidence on behalf of the Metropolitan Police. Having gone through this myself that is the conclusion that I draw.
Q123 Steve McCabe: The point I am making is: you are absolutely clear, from the CPS, there is no way you believe they were given advice that limited the scope of their investigation?
Mr Starmer: They were not given advice that limited the scope of their investigation by the CPS.
Q124 Dr Huppert: I think this Committee is very concerned about the history and clashes between the evidence that you provide and what we have heard from the Metropolitan Police and Deputy Commissioner Yates, or whatever his correct title is. Can I look at the future, though? What is your current advice on the legal position and the advisability of bringing potential prosecutions under the Computer Misuse Act, possible conspiracy charges, and the Data Protection Act? Do you have a current view on all of those and whether they are usable?
Mr Starmer: I do but, if you will permit me, I am not going to share them with the Committee. We have two people in custody; we may be making decisions in the reasonably near future. At some stage, in some helpful way to the Committee, at an appropriate point I will obviously share anything that is of assistance to the Committee, but at the moment I think the timing would be wrong.
Q125 Chair : Mr Starmer, you have been very clear and open and transparent with this Committee today and your letter is very clear. It is a most astonishing letter, in the sense of the evidence we have received previously from Mr Yates. For completeness I think, even though you have already sent it to him for comment, the Committee will probably want to send it to him just for him to have a look at.
Mr Starmer: Of course.
Chair : You are very, very clear about the evidence given and it does, in our view, contradict what was told to this Committee by Mr Yates last week, but we will be pursuing it in our own way. We are most grateful. We know you must be extraordinarily busy. Thank you very much for coming today.
Mr Starmer: My pleasure.
Q126 Chair : Before you go, just generally on your other functions as the DPP, how is it going with the CPS these days generally? No more lost files? Everything all efficient?
Mr Starmer: We are performing well. I think since we last discussed this-I remember a similar question last time we met-we have introduced core quality standards, which allow us to gauge how well we are doing on the preparation of files across the country and we are measuring that on a consistent basis. We do prosecute about a million defendants a year, so there will always be difficulties, but performance is good and the management of that performance is good as well.
Q127 Chair : And the quality of the people you are recruiting to the service-you are happy they are of the highest possible quality? It is now seen as a career structure?
Mr Starmer: I think the CPS is in a very good place in that respect. We have very good, committed staff. We have very good senior leaders. I think that is generally accepted. As to recruitment, at the moment, obviously, we are on a recruitment freeze, but I think that the CPS has built a very sound platform for itself.
Q128 Chair : Finally, as far as independence is concerned, you are very satisfied that you remain an independent service? Obviously, we have looked at the correspondence between you and the Metropolitan Police. They consult you, they ask your advice, but at the end of the day the public can still feel confident that you are an independent service providing independent advice, and not part of the-
Mr Starmer: The public can have every confidence in the independence. It is written into everything we do. It is in the conduct of everything we do. I would not sit here as DPP if I thought independence was compromised. I would walk away. Secondly, one of the things I have done is to try and make us transparent so that people can hold us to account, and you will see much more by way of reasoning, much more put into the public domain by the CPS these days, so that everybody can look at the decisions we have made and question them. On our website, for all of our big decisions, I now insist that full reasons are given, so that people can see the basis upon which we have made our decisions and to give them confidence as to the independence by which those decisions are arrived at.
Q129 Chair : But as far as your relationship with the police is concerned, bearing in mind what you have told us today, perhaps fewer phone calls, more e-mails, more stuff in writing, so that people are clear?
Mr Starmer: I would like to go away and reflect on that. Very often, in many cases, we are working in very fast time with the police. One can only imagine the situation with, for example, a counter-terrorism operation where things happen very, very swiftly. I will reflect on what you are saying, but I would not want to formalise things to a point where the real-time, fast-speed relationship does not work effectively.
Chair: Mr Reckless has a final point. He is not going to open the discussion about interpretation. It is a quick point.
Q130 Mark Reckless: On a different matter. Given the difficulties we have seen here with the CPS working with the police, might it not be better to localise the CPS and have the various areas reporting in to the elected Commissioners we are going to have from next year?
Mr Starmer: I don’t personally think that that would be the right way forward. I think the independence is clear. The relationship works very well. I understand the issues that the Committee are looking into but, day in, day out, hundreds of thousands of cases in and out day in, day out, we have a good relationship and it works very well. That is a good position to be in.
Chair : Thank you very much, and the Committee will write to Mr Yates.
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