City lawyers support CPS chief Alison Saunders
Lindsay Fortado and Jane Croft
City lawyers have defended Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, after she dropped corruption cases against nine journalists and decided not to prosecute Lord Janner for alleged child sex crimes.
Several lawyers said the criticism was unfair as the original decision to prosecute under Operation Elveden — a police investigation into journalists paying public officials for information, set up after the phone-hacking scandal in 2011 — was not taken by her.
“In terms of Elveden, I think it should be recognised that she’s inherited the disastrous decisions of her predecessors,” said Stephen Parkinson, head of criminal and regulatory litigation at Kingsley Napley.
The £12m Metropolitan Police probe and prosecutions of more than 20 Sun and Mirror journalists resulted in acquittals and hung juries and only two convictions. One of the two convictions has been overturned and the other journalist has been given permission to appeal.
At the time the charges were filed, “the public were obviously behind the [Crown Prosecution Service], they thought it was a good thing people were being charged,” said Robert Brown, a lawyer at Corker Binning who defended several suspects in the Elveden probe.
Ms Saunders, who became DPP at the end of 2013, was also criticised in The Daily Telegraph for spending £13,000 on expenses over a 12-month period, including taxis and international business-class flights.
She announced last week that Lord Janner, an 86-year-old Labour peer, would be spared charges for alleged child sex crimes 25 years ago because he was too unwell to face trial. While there was enough evidence to charge the peer with 22 sexual offences, she said, his condition rendered him incapable of instructing lawyers or entering a plea. Lord Janner’s family have issued a statement denying the allegations against him.
Liz Dux, a lawyer at Slater and Gordon who specialises in abuse claims, said of Ms Saunders: “I appreciate she is in a difficult place as she would doubtless say there is the public purse to consider and there is no point prosecuting him if a judge would rule he is unfit to plead. But the issue is that the public have to have confidence in the system and the transparency of the system. It may have been better for a judge to make that decision— or for there to be some limited hearing of the facts even if there was not a finding of guilt.”
Lord Macdonald, the former DPP, also attacked the CPS decision in a Radio 4 interview, saying a court hearing should take place to establish whether Lord Janner was fit to stand trial. He criticised Ms Saunders’ decision not to proceed with charges saying the case could have been tested in the “full public glare of a courtroom.” Leicestershire Police, the investigating force, condemned Ms Saunders’ decision on Lord Janner as “perverse,” and took the unusual step of saying they would look into legal avenues to overturn it.
During Ms Saunders’ tenure, the CPS has had some success with prosecuting historic sex cases — including the convictions of publicist Max Clifford and former television presenter Rolf Harris last year. Before she took on the DPP role, Ms Saunders had been praised as chief crown prosecutor for London for her decision to proceed with the case against the killers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, who were convicted.
“I’m concerned over the pressure the media puts on public officials that could lead to them being timid in doing their job,” said Mr Parkinson at Kingsley Napley, which represented the former Sun and News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie in their phone-hacking trial.
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