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What we want (and what we don’t) from the next DPP


As any human resources manager will confirm, these days the central document in any hiring decision, whether we are looking for a salesgirl, a bishop or a senior public servant, is called the ‘person specification’. This is a paper prepared, ideally without knowledge of who might be applying, supposedly saying in the abstract what sort of person it is desired to appoint. In fact it is aimed at offending as few interest groups as possible, and as often as not at pre-empting complaints and lawsuits from those who for whatever reason are not appointed; but that is by-the-by.

In a few weeks, we will see this exercise gone through with a view to appointing a new Director of Public Prosecutions to take over the Crown Prosecution Service from Alison Saunders CB this October. For once, however, recent experience may make the drawing up of the person specification easier than it usually is. As might be expected, we at TCW have a few ideas for elements of the document; these we are happy to put at the disposal of the selection board. Here goes:

(1) All candidates are required to be, and to appear to be, even-handed and fair. A considerable preference will be given to applicants who do not give the impression of partisan support to particular points of view. Candidates are advised that they will be at a severe disadvantage if they intend on their appointment as a matter of policy to write privately to, and arrange meetings with, selective pressure groups, including but not limited to Refuge, Women’s Aid and the South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre. We should add that those who suggest that defendants in rape trials need to be put under greater pressure in order to increase conviction rates will be viewed by the selection board with great scepticism.

(2) Candidates will be expected to be discreet, and to refrain from making foolish remarks in public. To take an example entirely at random, we should be somewhat unwilling to appoint someone who expressed an intention to say this: ‘In our campaign we have used a clever animation that compares sexual consent to having a cup of tea. You wouldn’t force or pressure someone into having a cup of tea, and you can tell when someone wants a cup of tea or not. If someone says they want a cup of tea one minute, they can change their mind the next and should not be pressured to drink the tea. If this sounds simple, then so is the issue to consent to sex.’ To take another, the board would be equally concerned about anyone who suggested that, despite wholesale failures to disclose relevant material to defendants, there was probably no one in prison who should not be.

(3) Equally unwelcome to the members of the selection board would be a desire to write bossy op-eds in Left-wing newspapers such as the Guardian. An example would be an article stating that social media will be carefully monitored for hate crime, meaning anything perceived by the ‘victim’ or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice, and that the CPS would be only too happy to prosecute the scandalised victims of online backyard gossip and to press for the severest penalties.

(4) Demonstrable hands-on competence will be expected from all candidates, who will also be expected to instil it in those under them. Where files are sent to the CPS, candidates will be expected to demonstrate an intention and ability to ensure that proper disclosure is made to defendants, to prevent cracked trials, and not to tell police that they need not bother scrupulously to disclose the contents of suspects’ seized phones to their legal advisers. This is only fair to defendants. In addition those who approve, or allow their subordinates to approve, the charging of commuters with indecent assaults on actresses in Waterloo Station on the basis of a second or so of slowed-down CCTV are unlikely to be shortlisted.

(5) Candidates will be expected to resist pressure to prosecute for the sake of prosecuting, and to take a realistic view of chances of success. For instance, those who state their intention to prosecute legions of journalists for receiving scoops from the police, and to continue doing so despite repeated acquittals, will be at a disadvantage. Conversely, candidates will be expected to ensure that they and those under them prosecute where necessary without worrying about possible reactions from particular groups about, for example, FGM.

(6) Candidates will be expected to take care that they and those under them do not take steps against celebrities such as radio and TV personalities, bully them and ruin their careers for a year or two, and then decide not to proceed.

(7) In short, the successful candidate will be a person of common sense, even-handedness, discretion and good judgment.

We wish the selectors good luck, and good hunting.

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Andrew Tettenborn
Andrew Tettenborn
Andrew Tettenborn is a professor of commercial law at a well-known UK university, who also teaches in Europe and elsewhere. In the 2001 General Election he stood as Ukip’s candidate in Bath.

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