On Wednesday the 24th April 2013 it was announced that Keir Starmer QC is to step down as Director of Public Prosecutions in October after 5 years in the role. For me personally this is a bit of a landmark, as my Legal Education only began in 2009 (a year after Starmer’s appointment) so I don’t really have any experience of any other DPP. Therefore it’s not really for me to comment on whether his tenure has been a success or not as I have nothing to compare it to.
I will say to things on this point though, firstly Starmer is credited with giving in house prosecutors at the CPS more and more cases. That is a divisive issue and depends on your point of view, private practice barristers who taken on prosecution work have obviously seen this revenue stream diminish. On the other hand by all accounts the quality of CPS advocates has improved largely due to them being given more experience. My second point is purely statistical, convictions rates for rape cases are now up to 63% an all time high. Given that the low rate of convictions for sexual offences is something the CPS have been criticised for over the years you can probably count this as a positive.
The issue I want to address with this article is what type of person should be appointed to the post. Dominic Raab MP has been quoted as saying we need a ‘grizzled prosecutor’ to take over the role, slight tangent on this point but ‘grizzled’ does make me picture someone who looks a bit like a bear, but I digress. Never has the DPP been chosen from within the CPS, a private practice barrister has always taken on the role, Starmer himself was a Human Rights Defence Barrister with little prosecutorial experience prior to taking up the role. I have been told many times that in order to prosecutor you must know how to defend, so the logic is certainly there for appointing from outside the CPS.
There is a significant amount of talent now within the CPS and it may be a good time to appoint from within, it would certainly guarantee some continuity in leadership if one of Starmer’s appointments were to take the reigns. There is in my mind one factor that makes a private practice barrister potentially more appealing. If a sticky political situation arises between the Government and DPP then a private practice barrister can always threaten to resign with little impact on their own finances as they have a lucrative practice they can always return to. Someone who has spent the large amount of their career in the CPS doesn’t really have that option, or at least they do but will suffer greatly if they do resign.
The ultimatum point is a minor one, which probably will never arise, and I’m sure that a prosecutor appointed from within will do an excellent job. It is testament to the CPS that they are now in a position that there are 2-3 candidates from their own ranks who have an excellent reputation. What the answer is I don’t know, but as someone who is currently going through the CPS application process I’m looking forward to seeing who will be appointed.
By Jack Troup