The recent collapse of the Operation Eleveden trials involving journalists and the refusal to prefer child abuse charges against Lord Janner has led to considerable criticism of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders.
She has defended herself by saying ‘I’m not here to make popular decisions, I always feel under pressure to make the right decision’.
Ms Saunders has a difficult and challenging role and is recognised as having brought a more positive approach to preferring charges in serious cases such as rape offences, than her predecessors. She has published detailed statements about both the Eleveden and Lord Janner decisions on the CPS website and they provide far more clarity than any media article covering the same subjects. Some of the people criticising her do not appear to have read them!
In relation to the Operation Eleveden prosecutions, these emanated from considerable public concern about journalists making payments to public officials. There has been little doubt greedy corrupt public officials should have been prosecuted, but the position of the journalists was less clear.
The lack of a specific offence for this questionable journalistic activity meant the CPS attempted to push the boundaries of the law of misconduct in public office. Journalists claimed they were acting in the public interest and the CPS argued it was in the public interest to stop journalists making corrupt payments to public officials.
Court of Appeal rulings mean the prosecutions of journalists in these cases may not always be in the public interest, leading to most outstanding cases being dropped.
The original decision to instigate prosecutions was not necessarily a poor one. It is a question of whether ‘a sledgehammer has been used to crack a nut’, when considering the tens of millions of pounds spent on the police investigations and prosecutions. A more efficient way must be found of taking forward test cases in the future and a key consideration must be proportionality.
In relation to Lord Janner, two defence and two prosecution medical experts have declared him unfit to stand trial. It is unsatisfactory for victims, but our criminal justice system should not become a populist ‘Kangeroo Court’. These decisions have not been popular but that doesn’t mean they were wrong. Ms Saunders is simply doing her job and probably doing it quite well.