Thursday, April 15, 2004

CPS - still a hive of indolence?

The Guardian is currently running a series of reports by the excellent Nick Davies on the criminal justice system and how crap it is (I paraphrase). Today's story focused on the huge percentage of trials that simply don't happen because the bureaucracy bungles, people don't turn up, the court is double booked (really).
"A lot of CPS lawyers make a huge effort to avoid work - it is a civil service career without the same responsibility as private lawyers. There is a vacuum in management, from the middle up.

Last week I was in the office and a senior lawyer was sitting at his desk, fast asleep, while his manager sat just four or five feet away, taking not a blind bit of notice. No one even queries it. CPS lawyers spend a lot of time finding excuses to pass on files to somebody else. They will just dump files on somebody else's desk with a memo sticker saying, 'You worked on this earlier,' or some other excuse. And there is a massive sickness rate, with people just not turning up for work. If you have a bad court coming up, you phone in sick and leave it to somebody else, even if that does mean that witnesses and police and court staff all have a wasted morning. Our head of trials went off sick. We needed to check something with him; he was at the Chelsea flower show."

Indeed. Years ago I worked for the CPS, and that would have been a fair characterisation of our office. Remove the Chelsea flower show (we were in Bradford), but include the great piles of files slumbering on the floor, in doorways, on desks...and the computers installed in 1982 that did file tracking but nothing else, not even word processing...and the entire rape case I found in a wastepaper basket... I don't recall anyone being caught sleeping, but certainly about 50% of the people in the office at any one time were doing nothing. We had a pompous-git lawyer whose chief recreation was bullying women and phoning me at my desk to ask me to make phone calls. We had two women who did nothing but chat across their desks and glare at people, surrounded by sleeping files. We had a chap called Shahid who went to Pakistan without telling anyone and, once the heat was on, reported sick so as to keep drawing his pay. I suppose it amounted to a prince's ransom in Pakistani rupees. Not that his frequent absences prior to that affected the unsmooth functioning of "H Team". We had the manager who told me "Do not use your initiative!" Bwaagh. I thought things had got better - I am told that West Yorkshire is now a model of efficiency - but it seems that some traditions, at least, are being kept up.

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