‘Being gay in South Wales in the early seventies, attending a rugby-playing comprehensive when you didn’t much like rugby, meant it was inevitable you faced challenges. It taught me a lot about how challenges have to be met, and the different ways of dealing with them that has stayed with me throughout my working life. And it didn’t stop me from becoming head boy in my last year.’

Kevin McGinty – Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate – is talking to me about his early years. Three years into his four-year contract as Chief Inspector he is well into his stride. At the time of our interview, disclosure of evidence was a hot topic following the collapse of several rape prosecutions. Kevin’s 2017 report Making it Fair, carried out jointly with HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (and so covering the role of the police as well as the CPS), was highly critical of the way in which disclosure is carried out. He spoke of a ‘corrosive effect on the criminal justice system’, ‘a culture of defeated acceptance’, ‘chaotic scenes outside the courtroom’ and the need for ‘a determined cultural change’ to avoid miscarriages of justice.

‘We knew before the inspection that the situation was bad. Did we really need a report to tell us what we knew? Yes, because until then the evidence was mostly anecdotal. The inspection found out what was really happening. It was even worse than we had thought. Problems start with the police not carrying out their role properly; then the CPS doesn’t challenge appropriately. Too much is left to be sorted out on the day of the trial. Last minute disclosure by counsel often means that the CPS doesn’t know what’s actually been handed over.’

The CPS had recently announced an urgent review of all rape and serious sexual assault cases. ‘I welcome anything the CPS does to improve.’ But he won’t run a daily commentary on the CPS’s review. ‘I don’t like headlines that suggest I am “gunning” for the CPS. That might be a fair comment based on a bad report but it is not an indication of general attitude. What I have to say about the operation of the CPS I say in evidence-based reports which, I hope, inform the debate and allow others the data they need to hold the CPS to account. I am an inspector, not a regulator – there’s a difference. The CPS will need time to allow changes to impact but we will go back and inspect again.’

From fruit and veg to crime and evidence

Kevin won’t say it but he is an outstanding example of someone whose abilities greatly exceeded his academic CV, abilities spotted by others at crucial points during his career. ‘I wanted to be a doctor but didn’t get the grades at A level. So I thought about theology but then applied for a BA in law at the then Polytechnic of North London.’ Why law? ‘It seemed more likely to be lucrative than theology.’

All through his studies he was supporting himself in various jobs ‘selling fruit and veg in a market, in the bar of a rugby club and digging coal in an opencast mine during the long hot summer of ’76, desperate for something to turn up.’ The highlights? ‘I once sold a pair of underpants to a Law Lord while working at Simpsons Piccadilly.’ And, between graduation and Call, ‘lecturing in law on virtually anything to anybody’– but even then with a preference for crime and evidence.

Why a barrister? ‘I left it too late to be a solicitor. I chose Gray’s, enjoyed it, made lots of friends, and to my delight have now become a Bencher. I did not enjoy the bar course, avoided attending where I could, and got a III.’

He then took stock. ‘Comprehensive education, poor A levels, poly, III in the Bar Finals, hardly an attractive prospect for chambers, but I got a pupillage. During the summer around my Call I was chauffeuring a restaurateur around in his sports cars. He introduced me to a chambers he used. They turned me down but one thing led to another and I got a first six in Gray’s and a second in Gilbert Gray’s London chambers in Paper Buildings. After a month or two of squatting I managed to get a tenancy in a mixed set in 3 New Square. Things were rather easier then! My practice was criminal and family. In 1988 the CPS Fraud Division was desperate, having lost people to the newly established Serious Fraud Office. They were offering three-year contracts. I thought: only three years, make contacts, back to chambers and attract fraud work. But after a year I found I was much better at dealing strategically with 30 cases rather than concentrating on handling one at a time for trial. I was also briefing some really good counsel and although they all varied in style, they had one thing in common – they worked unbelievably hard. I don’t mind hard work and have also worked long hours but I discovered I liked having evenings and weekends and being able to keep appointments.’

Working with seven Attorney Generals

He applied successfully to be made permanent. The chair of the interview board was Stephen Wooler, later to be the first ever Chief Inspector. Four years later Kevin was applying, and failing, to win an internal promotion in the CPS but impressing the board enough to get a sideways move on loan to join Stephen Wooler at the prestigious Attorney General’s Office. Kevin’s role there was to assist the Attorney in his prosecutorial and public interest roles. ‘After four enjoyable years I was due to return to the CPS. But rather than return, at the end of my loan I resigned from the Civil Service and joined the Bank of England legal team. The Bank was still a regulator then and I enjoyed 
advising various Committees on such things as the creation of the Sainsbury Bank and the aborted purchase of the Co-op Bank.’

"He won’t run a daily commentary on the CPS’s review. ‘I don’t like headlines that suggest I am “gunning” for the CPS. That might be a fair comment based on a bad report but it is not an indication of general attitude'"

At the end of that year Stephen Wooler (again) ‘pulled me out of the Bank’ and back to the Attorney’s Office for the liaison job with Northern Ireland. ‘For over 13 years I was effectively the presence of the Attorney in Northern Ireland. Sir Alasdair Fraser QC, the DPP there, became a good friend to me. Throughout his long years in that post he displayed great integrity, impartiality and personal courage in very difficult circumstances. When he passed away after bravely battling illness, I was proud to give the eulogy at his funeral at the request of his family.’

Kevin mentions other role models who became personal friends: ‘Dame Juliet Wheldon QC and Stephen Wooler, both at the Attorney’s Office while I was there, taught me much – the importance of having an excellent grasp of issues, calmness under pressure, humanity and approachability. Integrity is everything.’

During his time Kevin worked for seven Attorneys. Could I tempt him to say who stood out? ‘They were all different, all had strengths. A good Attorney has to have integrity but also needs the personal courage the job calls for surprisingly often. It’s not necessarily about being a brilliant lawyer: even a good lawyer cannot know everything that the Attorney may have to advise on. A good Attorney knows when, and how, to rely on others.’

Why the move to HMCPSI?

In 2015 another wise piece of career advice sent Kevin to the CPS Inspectorate. ‘The Chief Inspector’s job was vacant and the first round of interviews had failed to identify anyone. My boss at the Attorney’s Office said, “Why not apply?” I did, and here I am.’

What was his interview pitch? ‘I see my purpose as providing independently assessed, accurate information on how the CPS and SFO are operating. This assists both organisations in improving and it provides others, such as the Attorney, Ministers, Parliament and the public with the information it needs to hold those organisations to account. What aspect of operation we choose to inspect is also important. Like all bodies funded from public funds, our existence is only justified if we are providing value for money. Inspections need to be relevant, reports accurate and published promptly so that the findings are still topical. I have also seen it as my role to engage with others to inform our own inspections. On the Disclosure Inspection we were assisted by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the Bar Council and the Law Society. I have an excellent team of trained and skilled inspectors. If my office succeeds, it’s through their work. The more informed our inspections, the more informed our reports and their readers, and the greater our impact.’

Contributor Anthony Inglese CB, a Bencher of Gray’s Inn, was Head of Legal in five Government Legal Departments over a 38-year career