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CPS Advocate Panels

Volume 528: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2011

3. What plans he has to reduce the administrative burden on those completing references for candidates for appointment to Crown Prosecution Service advocate panels. (56991)

On 17 May 2011, the Crown Prosecution Service announced three changes to improve the reference process: allowing additional time by extending the deadline for applications by two months; removing the requirement for a minimum number of judicial references; and allowing references to be submitted directly to the CPS, rather than via the candidate.

I am most grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer, but he will probably know that the completion of such references—indeed, the entire process—places a considerable burden on the judiciary and others. Will he undertake to ensure that a rather more simplified procedure is applied the next time such an exercise is undertaken?

As my hon. and learned Friend will be aware, the issue is ensuring that the panels prepared by the CPS are of a high quality, and are able to provide both sustained support to the CPS and regular work to the barristers who are on them. I have to say that I do not agree that the forms are particularly onerous to fill in. A form requiring somebody to provide between 100 and 300 words of reference does not seem to me to be onerous. Many judges are very happy to fill it in, but there are always lessons to be learned from any process of change, and I will bear in mind his comments.

Does the Attorney-General agree that there is widespread concern among the criminal Bar about the new procedure, notably the fact that someone who is unsuccessful in applying for one grade is not allowed to apply for another? There seems to be no parity with CPS in-house advocates.

The process of evaluation of CPS in-house advocates is at present extremely complicated, and rather thorough. I do not think that it could be satisfactorily extended to the independent Bar. Discussions on the panels’ structure are continuing between the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Bar Council the Criminal Bar Association and the circuits, and I am rather confident that they will find a satisfactory solution. I would like to emphasise, however, that the provision of those services by the independent Bar in future is dependent on having an effective panel system in which there is widespread confidence.