Challenging times

Sue Gethin speaks to Counsel about the challenges the FDA membership faces in common with the Bar.

The vast majority of CPS prosecutors are members of the FDA, formerly known as the First Division Association, which negotiates on their behalf on a national level over pay and general terms and conditions. On a local level, the FDA assists members facing disciplinary action, bullying or harassment. The FDA will provide representation at internal disciplinary hearings or arrange for legal representation at employment tribunals as appropriate. The union also responds to national consultation on issues affecting members.


A representative from the FDA CPS Section sits on the Bar Council and General Management Committee of the Bar. As Sue says, “this gives the union a powerful voice at the very heart of the professional body and allows us to have influence in respect of the future direction which it takes”. FDA involvement “helps to emphasise the commitment of both the Bar and its employed members, particularly within the CPS, to the ideal of One Bar”.

Although, at times there will be areas in which “our interests collide”, such as the expanding role of the Crown Advocates, Sue is saguine about this. “The Union is committed to ensuring members have the opportunity to develop their careers but this need not be at the expense of the self employed Bar. The DPP has stated he has focused heavily on quality within the CPS and that has resulted in the consolidation rather than the rapid expansion of the CPS team of in-house advocates. While this presents difficulties for some members who may wish to progress their careers as advocates we are realistic as to the position”.

Increasing pressures on prosecutors

“However, this presents a useful opportunity to highlight the importance of the role performed by the majority of our members who are not Crown  Advocates”. For some years now, the FDA has had concerns that the role of the Senior Crown Prosecutor has been overlooked. “Most prosecutors are facing a very difficult situation” says Sue, “ - there is an increasing workload and limited time and resources to complete it.  It is clear that there will be a significant reduction in the number of staff as a result of the Spending Review. While we are pleased with the CPS’s commitment to ensuring  that such reductions are achieved through normal staff turnover and voluntary schemes, we remain concerned at the effect on  our members who remain in the Service”.

Shared concerns

“We believe in the concept of One Bar and equality with our colleagues in private practice and I anticipate that we have shared causes for concern. A prosecutor in a CPS office may deal with a wide range of cases from minor assaults to rapes and GBHs and murders. Lawyers are required to ensure cases are reviewed fully and all issues, including court directions, are addressed. Obviously, this takes a significant amount of time but in addition to this is the fact that many prosecutors are now regularly spending up to four days a week in court. It is a tribute to the commitment and professionalism of our prosecutors that they continue to meet the obligations of their professional codes in the review and preparation of the cases in which they are involved.

Prosecutors are acutely aware of their responsibilities and there is frustration amongst members at the lack of time and resources available to meet them. A prosecutor in the Magistrates Court may prosecute a remand list containing 20 or 30 different defendants or a multiple trial list and also deal with work transferred in from other courts which will require time to prepare. This is in contrast to a defence barrister or solicitor who may have only small number to represent in a given day. As numbers in the Service are reduced and recruitment is frozen there is increasing concern about the impact on the lawyers.

“Our self employed colleagues point to the benefits of being employed by the Civil Service. The point is that employed or self employed we all suffer different but very real pressures. That is why the One Bar concept is so important and the delivery of Justice is dependent on the professionalism of those involved regardless of the status of their employment.”

The effects of the Core Quality Standards

“The DPP has emphasised that prosecutors’ performance will now be judged against what are called Core Quality Standards (CQS) both within the service and by the public. The aims and targets set by CQS are laudable and in many respects the FDA agrees with the ambitions contained within them such as proper review and preparation – but the sad fact is that in the current environment the ability for prosecutors  realistically to comply with CQS will be severely hindered.

“The CQS has been publicly announced as the benchmark by which the public and the judiciary should measure the performance of prosecutors – our fear is that CQS will further increase pressure on prosecutors in a climate of reducing resources and increased workload.”

Expansion of the powers of legal executives

The FDA also shares the concerns of the Bar at the proposed expansion of the powers of legal executives: “For some time now within the CPS we have seen the steady extension of the powers of Associate Prosecutors, the former Designated Caseworkers or DCWs.” Many are without legal qualification and they are not subject to the professional codes of conduct of the Bar Standards Board or the full code of ILEX Professional Standards. Associate Prosecutors are playing an increasing role which erodes that of the Crown Prosecutor. “They are now conducting bail applications and some are undertaking trials for non-imprisonable, summary offences. Both are seen as worrying developments in the expansion of their role”. The ILEX counterparts of the Associate Prosecutors, on the defence side, are watching with intense interest and are currently consulting on expanding their own role in similar terms looking to acquire the status of independent advocates in cases up to appeal in the Crown Court: “We fear that we are moving towards a future in which a case may be tried in the Magistrates’ Court and neither the prosecutor nor the defence are legally qualified – the impact on victims, witnesses, the defendant and justice cannot be overlooked.”

Uniting to preserve justice

Sue recognises that these are difficult times for barristers be they employed or self employed: “We have always sought to work in a spirit of co-operation, in the coming days I suspect that we will have more that unites than divides us; and hope that we can work with our self employed colleagues to ensure that standards are maintained and justice preserved”.

Sue Gethin, Vice President of the National FDA and former National Convenor for the FDA Crown Prosecution Service Section.

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