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Alison Saunders to Leave Role as DPP

Alison Saunders to Leave Role as DPP

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Alison Saunders has announced that she is stepping down from the role as head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) when her five-year term comes to an end in October.

Saunders has refuted suggestions that she is retiring from overseeing the UK’s criminal justice system because the government refused to renew her contract.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Saunders clarified: “DPPs serve a term of five years. I was clear that five years was a good term to serve and I have already decided what I will be doing when I leave in October,” referring to a reported new partner position at a ‘magic circle’ law firm.

The news comes amidst criticism of both Saunders and the CPS, following the collapse of a series of rape trials based on failings of police evidential handling procedures in recent months.

Saunders described allegations of slipping standards as being “hugely insulting” to prosecutors, whose government funding has been significantly cut over the past few years.

Critics blame CPS “fashionable” priorities for rising crime levels

Alison Saunders has led the CPS from 2013 with a focus on historical sex offences, entering the position of DPP at a time of high profile investigations.

These investigation included Operation Yewtree, probing allegations of child sexual abuse against Jimmy Saville and other public figures, and Operation Elveden, which examined the conduct of 12 journalists following the 2011 phone hacking scandal.

Operation Yewtree saw Jim Davidson, Freddie Starr and Jimmy Tarbuck cleared of any offences after lengthy investigations, whilst Operation Elveden led to no journalist convictions after costing the public purse £30m.

Such cases have encouraged commentators to criticise the CPS for a focus on “fashionable” crimes under Saunders’ watch, to the neglect of the wider criminal justice system and in particular the areas of burglary and violent crime.

Bob Neill, chair of the justice select committee, has cited concerns over the “priorities” of the CPS under Ms Saunders’ leadership in the light of an increase in reported crimes since her tenure began in 2013.

Violent crime reports have increased by 84.5% since 2013, while reported sexual offences have increased by 89%, from 16,800 in 2014 to 37,200 in 2017.

Mr. Neill acknowledged:

“One can’t say that she [Saunders] is entirely responsible for that, because obviously there are underlying issues about the way the police investigate crime,” but he added that there was nonetheless cause for “serious concerns as to where the CPS’s priorities have been.”

New DPP likely to tackle CPS’ ‘in-built bias’ in rape cases

Saunders has headed the CPS through a series of failed sexual offence prosecutions, which were found to have been wrongly pursued owing to the mishandling of crucial evidence that in some cases definitively cleared the defendants of any possible involvement in the alleged crimes.

The failings led to a complete review of all UK rape cases, with one prosecutor involved in a collapsed case citing a consensus “among the bar” of “an in-built bias against the accused in sex offence cases.”

One of the several QCs tipped to take over from Saunders as head of the CPS in October has already stated that she would like to see reforms to the CPS’ handling of rape and other sexual offence crimes.

Alison Levitt has said the criminal justice system is underserved by a “rigid mindset” in the case of rape, where police are too ready to believe rape victims.

Levitt identifies this tendency as the reason for mishandling of evidence and the collapse of several recent rape trials where crucial evidence was seemingly overlooked.

The cases have led Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to acknowledge that the police must be more “open-mind[ed]” and strive to abandon the ‘accuser must always be believed’ mindset which critics say has not best served legal justice.

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