BY JAMIE FOSTER
Alison Saunders has announced she is stepping down as head of the Crown Prosecution Service after five years in post. Hers has been a controversial tenure, leaving behind a mixed legacy. Her main ambition, to secure more convictions in sex cases, has led to a string of failures and near miscarriages of justice. High profile men have had their names dragged through the mud and evidence has been withheld from defendants in weak cases that should never have come to court. Saunders’ reign will be remembered for her policy that alleged victims of sex crimes should be believed whatever and that impartiality should have no place in an investigation. This has lead, inevitably, to fantasists and liars being given credence in cases where they simply shouldn’t have been believed.
In an attempt to raise the conviction levels in sex cases, too many times evidence that eventually shows that a defendant is not guilty was not disclosed to the defence. When it finally shows up cases that should never have come to court collapse. A series of innocent young men had to go through this ordeal in the past five years under Saunders’ watch. At the same time the CPS has begun a practice of early press conferences pretrial to throw up the appearance of a guilty defendant. Who can forget Cliff Richard’s house being raided with BBC helicopter in tow? Ultimately there proved to be no case against him but this didn’t prevent the attempt at making a case in the press when there was no case to be made in court.
Perhaps the most blatant example of mismanagement on Saunders’ watch was the case of Lord Janner. Initially announcing there would be no case against him and then dragging the peer who was suffering from dementia before the court in a hopeless case based on the word of a fantasist showed the desperation behind the actions of the CPS at the time. The overarching approach of the CPS encouraged police forces like the Met to investigate weak cases against people from Edward Heath to Lord Bramall. Clearly real cases, like those against Stuart Hall or Rolf Harris, need to be made, but under Saunders the line at which weak cases are dispensed with became blurred and too much time and resources was spent on cases that were clearly hopeless.
Saunders refused to take the opportunity when interviewed to apologise to the men whose lives had been affected by her attempts to raise the conviction rates in sex cases. She instead blamed cuts in resources for failures. It would seem self-evident that the way resources were used were the problem rather than an overall lack of resources in these cases. It is good to see Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Chief Constable, has issued a memorandum to her forces telling them that they should investigate sex cases impartially and be led by the evidence rather than by an attempt to believe complainants whatever the evidence points to.
It would be good to see a new head of the CPS whose main aim was justice rather than having one eye on a political career with the Labour Party. For too long there has been a left wing political agenda being followed at the CPS, and in this Saunders was no different. From an overemphasis on appeasing the feminist lobby in the approach to rape cases to an overemphasis on hate crime and other PC fixations Saunders was driven by a political approach to her job.
In the end Saunders will not be remembered as a shining light for the CPS but rather a person whose own judgment was a bit flawed and who could be swept along by the tide. A lot of people have paid the price for her tenure at the CPS. Men have been dragged through trials that should never have happened and others had their reputations destroyed as part of Saunders mission. Ultimately it will not be remembered as successful. The level of convictions in rape cases hasn’t been turned around. There isn’t a string of successful convictions for Saunders to parade. Even if there had been, it wouldn’t have made up for the slapdash way people have been treated under her watch. Let’s hope her replacement does better.