The relevant email, dated 19 January 2013, was leaked on 19 February to the Chair of the Bar and the Criminal Bar Association, who published it in redacted form on 25 February, having first informed the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General. It urged CPS colleagues to adapt a system devised earlier at Isleworth whereby Crown advocates would put a tick on the right hand corner of their brief backsheet after completion of the PCMH to indicate that they did not want to do the case, for example, because it was “messy, troublesome cases with lots of implications” or a “low earner”. They should, however, put a star if they wanted to keep the case in-house, if it were a “higher earner” or one anticipated to “end up cracking”. The email encouraged “everyone to be proactive in seeking out trials that they want to do in order to develop themselves”.

A Bar Council statement on 25 February stated that this was “incontrovertible evidence that the CPS is deliberately acting against the public interest and the best people are not being used to prosecute serious crimes”. Without this email “we would never have known for certain that this practice was going on”.

In a letter to Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar, dated 24 April, Keir Starmer QC confirmed that this was the action of a local manager without approval of the senior management team in CPS London or CPS Headquarters. He pointed out that currently 80% of Crown Court work in value terms in London is done by the self-employed Bar, a greater proportion than in 2011/12.As a result “any targeting of work by value appears to have had no material impact,” he said. In fact, London was the area with the highest proportion of work undertaken by the self-employed Bar.

He was not attracted to the proposal, put forward recently by the Policy Exchange think tank, to bring all prosecution advocacy in-house. “I place a high value on the contribution that the self-employed criminal Bar makes to a successful prosecution service and the flexibility that a mixed economy in advocacy brings,” Starmer clarified.

The allocation of instructions to advocates would not be driven by centrally dictated targets, he said: “They can hinder quality improvement if applied too rigidly.” However, he added that local managers “will of course need to consider how to achieve best value alongside other factors when making local decisions within the wider national framework”.

The Policy Exchange paper, In the Public Interest: Reforming the CPS, reported in December last year that the one-in-10 criminal cases charged, but later dropped, by the CPS in 2011/12 cost the taxpayer over £25m. It identified “strong strategic advantage for the CPS ending its ‘dependence’ on the independent Bar”.  A shift to 100% in-house advocacy, it said, would help to attract a higher calibre of recruit, but should not “happen overnight”.