What is the Crown Prosecution Service?
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is a government department responsible for the prosecution of all but about 20% of criminal cases in magistrates and crown courts. The CPS reviews the criminal cases brought by the police to ensure that there is sufficient evidence to proceed and that it is in the public interest to do so. At the head of the CPS is the director of public prosecutions (DPP) who is politically independent, but accountable through the attorney general to Parliament. The post of DPP was created in 1880 after years of pressure from prominent figures dissatisfied with the existing system under which criminal cases were brought to court only by private citizens employing their own lawyers. The first DPP, Sir John Maule, had a limited role in conducting cases and was primarily concerned with advising the newly formed police forces on only the more difficult or serious cases. Then the police set up their own teams of in-house prosecuting lawyers. This combined power of investigation, collation and prosecution increasingly became seen as unfair and inappropriate, and three Royal Commissions eventually led to the establishment of the CPS in 1986. The CPS now employs nearly 6,000 staff, including around 2,800 lawyers, spread throughout 14 geographic areas nationwide. There is also a virtual 15th area called CPS Direct, which operates 24/7 to provide charging decisions on priority cases.
What is the role of the CPS lawyer?
All prosecution work undertaken by the CPS is performed by solicitors or barristers known as 'crown prosecutors'. Teams of lawyers, with the help of administrative staff, ensure that all relevant facts and evidence to support cases are available for presentation by CPS lawyers in the magistrates' courts. More serious cases are prosecuted in the crown court by barristers instructed by CPS staff. Even though every case is unique, there are general principles that apply in all cases, and crown prosecutors must make their decisions without any prejudice. It is their duty to ensure that the right person is prosecuted for the right offence and that all relevant facts are given to the court.
Crown prosecutors advise the police on matters relating to criminal cases. CPS caseworkers assist prosecutors in case management as well as attending court, dealing with post-court administration, assessing professional fees and liaising with witnesses and other organisations within the criminal justice system.
Why join the CPS?
The CPS offers an interesting and rewarding career option to those who wish to work within the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom. With a considerable emphasis on advocacy, the workload is quite different to that of private practice. With branch offices all over the United Kingdom, the CPS offers the usual benefits of employment within a large organisation. The CPS offers good training, a commitment to equal opportunities, options for part-time work, job sharing and career breaks. CPS posts are permanent and pensionable.
Martin McKay-Smith, training principal at the CPS, says: "The CPS offers a varied, challenging and interesting career for those with an interest in criminal litigation. The role of the modern prosecutor provides a true public service, encompassing charging decisions, advocacy, and victim and witness care. Our mission is to deliver justice transparently, through the independent and effective prosecution of crime, fostering a culture of excellence in the way we analyse, advocate and progress our cases, reflecting always on what we do to learn and improve.”
The CPS has a legal trainee scheme that recruits on same-year basis. The scheme is open to candidates who have completed (or are due to complete) a Legal Practice Course or Bar course. Qualified solicitors and barristers can also apply for roles.