Pressing Ministry of Justice to keep Crown Prosecution Staff at Athena House in York
I asked Justice Minister, Jonathan Djanogly in the House of Commons to meet the Law Officers urgently to put a stop to plans by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to withdraw its staff from a purpose-built joint office that they share with North Yorkshire Police at Athena House in Clifton Moor, York.
Athena House was established in 2005 as a joint office for the CPS and police to get prosecutors and police staff working side by side preparing cases, with the declared objective to speed up the administration of justice by reducing court delays and cutting court costs. The office was opened by the then Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police, Della Cannings, and the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken MacDonald QC.
However, following Government cuts to the CPS, the new Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, is considering a proposal to move the Athena House staff to Leeds. I believe that withdrawing CPS staff from Athena House would once again create delays, which would incur additional costs on the courts, and result in a worse service for the victims of crime.
My exchange with the Minister during today’s topical justice questions can be read here.
I have followed up Mr Djanogly’s reply by writing to the Minister to ask him:
(1) What are the views of York Crown Court and the Magistrates Courts on the value of closer cooperation between the CPS and police over the preparation of cases?
(2) What have been the savings in terms of fewer delays and lower administrative costs at York and Selby courts since 2005 compared with the 7 years before?
(3) What representations, if any, the Ministry of Justice has made to the Law Officers Department on the CPS proposals to withdraw its staff from Athena House?
Yesterday, I also received a written answer to my question from the Solicitor General, which confirms that the proposal to transfer the CPS staff to Leeds “is still under consideration and no final decision has been made”.
Athena House was set up seven years ago to save money. By getting prosecutors and police working side by side they avoided administrative slip ups – like listing a case to be heard on a day when the arresting police officer cannot give evidence. In those cases, hearings were delayed, which added huge costs – for the judge, witnesses, prisons holding a defendant in custody, lawyers and other court staff. If the CPS staff are moved it will cost far more than it saves, and could even lead to some criminals getting away with their crimes.