My father’s side of the family have been in the military for generations. The British army has long known the problems of what is known as “friendly fire”. That happens when one unit of an enemy mistakes a unit from the same army as being the enemy and opens fire. Bullets are no less deadly when they come from the guns of your friends than if they come from the enemy. Friendly Fire can and does cause casualties in all wars, no matter how much is done to avoid it.
Just recently two branches of the criminal justice system have been devoting a considerable amount of time and energy attacking each other instead of tackling the criminals who they should be targeting.
First to open fire was Sir Mark Rowley, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. In his sights was the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS]. Sir Mark said “When you look at the fact that the cases the CPS prosecute, 80% of them are successful, guilty pleas or convictions, that suggests that we’re not taking on the harder cases, cherrypicking the easy cases rather than trying to get as many cases [to court].”
Sir Mark went on to say that the CPS worked too slowly, took too long to make decisions and that too many of their staff were home working.
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Craig Guildford, the chief constable of West Midlands police, spoke out in support. “I welcome Sir Mark’s comments and would echo their intent,” he commented.
Unsurprisingly, Max Hill, the Director of Public Prosecutions, stood up for his CPS. He hit back with “It is not true that prosecutors ‘cherrypick’ cases to improve prosecution rates. We are proud of our high conviction rate. The CPS remains steadfast in its commitment to working with all police forces in bringing criminals to justice.”
What lies behind this unseemly dispute is a deeper issue in the Criminal Justice System. Over recent years the time taken to get a case to court has gone up and up. The percentage of suspects charged has gone down. The number of successful prosecutions has gone down.
Everyone knows that there is a problem, but nobody can agree on what is causing it. The fact that so many courts were closed during covid lockdowns has without doubt caused many of the problems. But getting back on track is proving difficult. I have heard it said that the courts dragged their feet over opening up again – remaining closed when most others were back at work. The police blame the CPS for not agreeing to charge suspects. The CPS blame the police for insufficient evidence. Everybody blames somebody else. And still the problems get worse.
You will be pleased to learn that here in Leicestershire the police are taking steps to ensure that they get their part of the process right. Rather than blame others, the Leicestershire Police are pulling out all the stops to ensure that they get their bit right.
Presenting the CPS with all the information needed to charge a suspect is essential. Making sure that the evidence is in the proper format is no less important. And constantly reminding officers and staff of this is what makes Leicestershire Police so good at what they do.
That is why this poster has popped up recently on walls at police stations across our city and two counties.
Well done Leicestershire Police!
By Rupert Matthews, Leicestershire Police Crime Commissioner