Leaked email shows CPS puts cost first, quality second when prosecuting serious crimes

25 February 2013

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, along with the Criminal Bar Association and Circuit Leaders have today published evidence that the Crown Prosecution Service ('CPS') has adopted deliberate practices not to instruct the correct advocate for a given case if there is a financial interest to the CPS in keeping the work in-house.

An internal CPS email reveals beyond doubt what the Bar has long thought to be the practice in terms of how the CPS instructs advocates, namely:

  1. Complex, difficult or 'messy' cases requiring a superior level of expertise are briefed out to the independent Bar - especially if they are likely to be poorly remunerated, and

  2. Cases which are weak or likely to be particularly profitable are to be kept in-house, which will result in misleading figures as to how cost effective in-house CPS advocates are.

Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, also speaking on behalf of the Criminal Bar Association and all the Circuit Leaders, said:

"The public interest demands that the correct advocate is instructed to prosecute a case based on skill and the complexity of the case. Today, we are able to show, with incontrovertible evidence that the CPS is deliberately acting against the public interest and the best people are not being used to prosecute serious crimes.

"The emergence of the CPS in-house advocate and the focus on cost and budget rather than quality of advocacy is a serious blow to the criminal justice system. We would never have known for certain that this practice was going on, without the evidence that we are publishing today.

"The public and the Bar might justifiably believe they have been misled.      

"Both Michael Turner QC and I have informed the Director of Public Prosecutions on the topic. He has offered his apologies and has stated in terms that this communication was unknown to him or anyone in his office and does not represent any general policy. He has promised a full investigation.

"We await that investigation to see whether the stated method of instruction in the attached email is indeed limited to the five North London Courts or if the notion of dividing work with cynical disregard for standards is more prevalent than we have been led to believe.

"Whilst, of course, we accept the Director's word that it does not represent policy, it exposes a culture that has grown up within the CPS that is driven by cost and cost alone. The instructions contained in the email demonstrate an utter disregard for ensuring that cases are prosecuted by those with sufficient experience and skill to do so.

"Equally, whilst recognising that the Bar is best equipped to deal with cases, it encourages the use of in-house advocates wherever possible. It is clear to us that, in introducing CPS cuts, no proper impact assessment was carried out. A culture such as the one exposed by this email cannot be dealt with by proclamation alone. The only remedy is to fund the service adequately. We would urge the Government to recognise that their present regime of cuts neither serves the victims of crime nor presents value for money for the taxpayer.

"We have written to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and the Attorney General to make them aware of this practice."

Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, CPS, has responded saying:

"The e-mail in question should not have been sent and categorically does not reflect the CPS policy on allocating cases to advocates. The circulation of the e-mail was small (about 43 recipients in an organisation of over 6,000 staff), it only covered advocates dealing with cases in North London Crown Courts and its existence was short-lived (it was dated 15th January 2013 and was withdrawn on 19th February 2013). I have had assurances from all Chief Crown Prosecutors across England and Wales that no such or similar scheme has been operated elsewhere in the CPS. I am disappointed that the e-mail was sent and I have assured the Attorney General, the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association that I will ascertain how it came to be sent and revert to them on the matter."


1. The redacted email can be found here.

2. Further information is available from the  Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 orPress@BarCouncil.org.uk .

3. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes:

• The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services
• Fair access to justice for all
• The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and
• The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent  Bar Standards Board.