Saturday 25 April 2015

The DPP under the microscope over Janner

Criminal Law Blog 24th April - Lord Janner prosecution - comment

Law and Lawyers 18th April - Lord Greville Janner - the decision not to prosecute

The decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions (Alison Saunders) not to institute criminal proceedings against Lord Greville Janner (see previous post where the decision is explained) has resulted in outrage in certain quarters.

Questions have been raised about Janner's dementia despite the point that four medical practitioners (two from each "side") had advised that he was not fit to stand trial - see, for example, The Guardian 20th April - Further questions raised about whether or not Lord Janner is fit to stand trial.

A considerable number of politicians have lined up to criticise the decision.

A letter to The Times by various politicians urged reversal of the DPP's decision - see The Independent 22nd April

attempted to address the criticism and has stood by her decision - The Independent  25th April  .  Saunders asserts that she is not afraid of having her decision tested either by the courts (judicial review) or by a victim initiating the Right to Review process.  If the latter, then the review would be undertaken by a lawyer from outside the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).  She also stated that it is not for her to act in a populist way.

The office of Director of Public Prosecutions can be traced back to 1879 and the office has been independent of government since 1908 - (for some of the history see this wikipedia entry). The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 created the Crown Prosecution Service and made the DPP its Head.

On many occasions, the independence of the CPS with regard to prosecutorial decisions has been asserted - for example, see the 1998 Glidewell Report and the House of Commons Justice Committee's 9th report (Session 2008-9).

The Glidewell report stated - "The CPS is now established as a national and independent organisation operating in accordance with a Code for Crown Prosecutors and contributing to the formulation of Government policy on criminal justice."

The Justice Committee report said - "The CPS needs to take a bold and robust approach as the independent prosecutor."  The Committee's report went further with regard to the relationship between the prosecutor and complainants (often now referred to as 'victims').  The report said - "Telling a victim that their views are central to the criminal justice system, or that the prosecutor is their champion, is a damaging misrepresentation of reality.  Expectations have been raised that will inevitably be disappointed. Furthermore, the criminal justice system is set up to represent the public rather than individuals, and there are good reasons for this. The CPS’s role as independent arbiter of decisions about prosecution is critical.  Explaining this role clearly to victims such that their expectations are managed realistically, rather than raised then disappointed, is vital."

The Independent has chosen to tell us how the DPP should have handled the Janner case - The Independent 25th April.  They comment that - "... it is not enough for Britain’s top prosecutor to be a good lawyer. She must also possess sound political judgement, which means understanding the impact of her decisions in wider society. She should not be so independent that she is completely detached from the court of public is not enough for Britain’s top prosecutor to be a good lawyer. She must also possess sound political judgement, which means understanding the impact of her decisions in wider society. She should not be so independent that she is completely detached from the court of public opinion."

The same article also asserts - "Saunders’ lack of political nous means she has done little to cultivate friends in the media or Parliament, while her handling of the fallout of the prosecutions of journalists for payments to officials has antagonised Fleet Street."

I doubt that I am alone in feeling some concern at this.  The DPP made a decision having taken advice from a number of lawyers but the decision was hers and hers alone. The DPP has to act on the basis of the law and the Code for Prosecutors and she should not have to worry about any political repercussions.  It is not for her to "cultivate friends" in either the media or Parliament.  Decisions to prosecute must not become based on political considerations and a prosecutor must never abandon legal principle and, like Pontius Pilate*, wash her hands of the accused.

In this matter, the DPP seems to have acted properly - (see the view of Lord Pannick QC published in The Times) - and has acted with considerable moral courage.  For that we should at least be grateful.  

The CPS Victims Right to Review scheme is described on the CPS website.  It may be that such as review will be triggered and, if so, the DPP has indicated that the review would be handled by a lawyer external to the CPS.

* Pilate is said to have washed his hands to show that he was not responsible for the execution of Jesus and reluctantly sends him to his death.

Addendum - 29th April:

It is reported that some of the complainants are seeking a review of the DPP's decision - The Guardian 28th  April


  1. I am definitely unlearned in "The Law" , but where does decency enter into this?

    1. The present DPP is stuck with the decisions of those who came before her and also the failures by the Police (who some see as rather hypocritical in all this). The DPP has instigated a review of process - please see her announcement on the Janner case. At the end of the day, she is bound by the law and proper prosecutorial practice. Complainants could still use the right to review route.