DPP to meet judge following prosecution ‘farce’ in murder trial
Keir Starmer to discuss judge’s court condemnation on how CPS prosecuted grisly case
These problems are real, and are jeopardising the trials of individuals accused of extremely serious offences
Emily Thornberry, shadow attorney general
Britain’s top prosecutor is to meet a judge to hear directly how prosecution failures led to the halting of a murder trial.
Exaro can reveal that Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions (DPP), is to meet Richard Griffith-Jones, the judge who launched a scathing attack after the trial descended into farce.
The judge made a formal complaint about the case to the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which launched an investigation. CPS chiefs in the West Midlands have already had a meeting with the judge at Warwick Crown Court.
A CPS spokesman confirmed that Starmer would this week also meet Griffith-Jones to discuss the prosecution failures in the first trial, although he refused to say which day. It is understood to be later this week.
The judge also released to Exaro a full transcript of his damning comments, which were made at the end of a retrial at Warwick Crown Court. He also asked for the transcript to be supplied to the DPP and the chief crown prosecutor for the West Midlands, Harry Ireland.
In an excoriating attack, the judge said that the CPS had employed one barrister in the first trial when two were really needed, and that the single prosecutor was “not competent to do the job”.
Aaron Mann, 33, of Hartshill near Nuneaton in Warwickshire, was accused of strangling his girlfriend, Claire O’Connor, a mother of four, and of driving around for two days with her body in the boot of his car. At the retrial, he was convicted of murder, and jailed for life.
Meanwhile, the CPS is reviewing how it decides whether to appoint a single barrister in murder cases and those with multiple defendants.
Oliver Heald, solicitor general, disclosed details of the review in answer to a parliamentary question from Emily Thornberry, shadow attorney general.
Thornberry wrote to Starmer about the Mann case, along with other sharp criticisms made by judges of the CPS.
She told the DPP that judges’ complaints “resonate” with what barristers, solicitors and magistrates had told her “over the past year”.
She wrote: “They have told me that the CPS sends into court officials not competent or qualified to make key decisions regarding the management of a case.”
“These problems are real, and are jeopardising the trials of individuals accused of extremely serious offences. The underlying causes – whether it is cost-cutting or the botched introduction of new ways of working – need to be identified and addressed.”
She called on Starmer to investigate the issue, in particular, “whether the CPS is sending into court prosecutors competent and qualified to keep cases moving through the system, and whether cost-cutting has played a role in any weaknesses identified.”
If he failed to do so, she wrote, she would request an investigation by the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.
Starmer is understood to have telephoned Thornberry in response. He said that the prosecutor in the Mann case was ill rather than incompetent.
But he accepted that the problem was made worse by the fact there was only one prosecutor in the original trial.
A CPS spokesman declined to comment on Starmer’s telephone call.
He said: “From time to time, comments are made by judges about individual cases, and we respond.
“The best way of resolving these issues is for judges to raise their concerns with the chief crown prosecutor or the DPP, and ask for a considered response, rather than making public comments, particularly where there appears to have been a health issue at the heart of the matter rather than a wider performance issue.”
Starmer is planning to make a formal response to Thornberry after his meeting with the judge.
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