Monday, April 07, 2008

Seen To Be Done?

Today's Times carries this story about proposals to lift the bar on CPS lawyers sitting as judges, initially as Recorders and (presumably) Deputy District Judges, then moving up if they make the grade to the salaried Bench. This is a part of the CPS strategy of raising its profile; I have previously commented on the emergence of would-be celebrity Crown Prosecutors, inspired by the visibility of District Attorneys in the States. It worries me a bit, because a full-time employee of the CPS, even if he is a solicitor or barrister, will inevitably have the prosecutor's mindset, and target of getting the conviction rate up. The test for any member of the judiciary, from yours truly down at the magisterial coalface to the Lord Chief Justice is to avoid any appearance of bias; the question isn't 'are you biased?' but 'could a reasonable observer think that you might be?'. If the bank in which I hold a few shares is the subject of a fraud I will announce my interest in open court and offer to withdraw or transfer the case to another bench. Council employees may not sit on cases involving the Council, and HM Revenue and Customs staff do not hear cases from that Department. So how should we feel if the judge hearing our case is a full-time CPS prosecutor? Might we just suspect that he will be a little less sympathetic to the defence than someone not so employed?
By chance, today's Times also carries this Law Report of an appeal judgement dealing with potentially biased jurors.
I think that we need to be cautious here. The impartiality of the Bench is more important than improving the career structure of the CPS.

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