Former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald has warned of the “dangerous” impact of spending cuts on the Crown Prosecution Service.
The CPS — the principal prosecuting authority for England and Wales — has seen its budget reduced by 25% since 2010, with staff numbers down by almost 2,500 over the period.
Speaking to the BBC’s File On 4, Lord Macdonald — who served as the head of the CPS from 2008-2009 — warned that cuts could be undermining the ability of the DPP to attract "first-rate advisers". The claims have been strongly rejected by current CPS chief Alison Saunders, who on Tuesday evening paid tribute to the organisation's "dedicated and highly professional staff".
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Lord Macdonald told File on 4: “It’s inevitable when you’re going through a process of serious cuts in an organisation which is expected to retain the highest quality front-line service that some of the headquarters functions — the policy functions, the legal advice functions - are going to suffer. And I think that’s a dangerous situation,” he told the programme.
Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England, told File on 4 that the organisation had reached a "tipping point" and was now asking "less experienced" officials “to do more with substantially less".
The FDA union's national officer for the CPS Jawad Raza said staff were "working longer hours, dealing with greater numbers of cases and having less time per case".
But the programme's claims were rejected by current DPP Alison Saunders, who said that while there were "pressures" on the CPS, its "record of delivering justice for the public speaks for itself".
"The overall conviction rate has been maintained at more than 80% and last year we secured more convictions for sexual offences – some of the most difficult and resource intensive cases to prosecute – than any year on record," Saunders said in a statement issued on Tuesday evening.
"More defendants are also pleading guilty which shows we are making the right decisions and building strong cases. That is not to say there are not pressures, but our dedicated and highly professional staff work extremely hard to maintain this performance – particularly in the past year when the nature of our cases has changed dramatically, with unprecedented rises in counter terrorism and sexual offences. This does present a challenge and that is why we are recruiting additional prosecutors to maintain our high performance under this changing landscape.”
Update: This article was updated on September 15 to include a more detailed response from the CPS