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The BBC's Mark Turner
"The pressure on the CPS has increased after it lost three racial descrimination cases"
 real 28k

Bob Purkiss from the Commission for Racial Equality
"We're frustrated with the attempts to move things forward"
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Friday, 10 December, 1999, 10:01 GMT
Racism probe into CPS

Court The CRE wants results fast

The Commission for Racial Equality is to launch a formal inquiry into alleged racism within the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The investigation, which will start in January, follows increasing frustration at the commission over the perceived lack of urgency with which the CPS has addressed institutional racism within its structure.

The problem is not so much a lack of will as a lack of urgency
Bob Purkiss CRE
It is only the fourth formal probe the CRE has launched in the past five years.

After the probe begins on 26 January, commissioners will have legal power under the Race Relations Act to view CPS documents and subpoena staff for interview.

But CRE senior commissioner Bob Purkiss said he hoped the service would co-operate fully with the investigation.

He said: "The problem is not so much a lack of will as a lack of urgency. We have finally lost patience."

The inquiry is a major embarrassment for the CPS, which has been plagued by accusations of incompetence since it took over prosecutions from the police in 1986.

Bob Purkiss Bob Purkiss of the CRE: Change is taking too long
Many of the accusations of race bias have come as direct complaints from CPS staff, who have alleged ethnic minority employees are regularly passed over for promotion and victimised if they complain.

Two high-profile employment tribunals, particularly one in October in which the panel found senior prosecuting barrister Maria Bamieh missed a number of promotions because of her race, also caused concern.

Mr Purkiss said CRE staff had met Director of Public Prosecutions David Calvert-Smith a year ago to express their "concerns" over the complaints.

In March a 15-point "action plan" was presented to the CPS, but four months later the CRE, dissatisfied with progress, gave formal notification that it intended to launch an inquiry.

'No other option'

Mr Purkiss said a second plan was presented in October, but after further protracted negotiations, a formal investigation was felt to be the only route forwards.

The CRE inquiry will start in January
He said: "We did not feel too excited by the CPS's apparent understanding of and enthusiasm for the points we were making.

"They kept on presenting us with plans for the future but did not show enough action now.

Mr Purkiss said there were concerns about few senior CPS staff coming from ethnic minorities, including only one out of 42 area business managers and not one of 42 chief prosecutors.

We have not been dragging our heels at all, but these processes take time to be put in place
CPS spokeswoman
But the CPS said it was "surprised" at the sudden announcement and said it had understood it had until mid-January to formulate its own action plan.

A spokeswoman said a number of initiatives had already begun, such as the establishment of an equality committee, and plans to recruit a "diversity manager" at a senior-ranking post.

"We have not been dragging our heels at all, but these processes take time to be put in place," she said.

Under fire

Peter Herbert, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers said the CPS had "significantly failed to address the racist culture among its senior managers".

CPS The probe is a major embarrassment for the CPS
"We are deeply concerned for the implications for criminal justice that if the CPS fails to deal fairly with its black and minority staff, it is hardly likely to deal fairly with black and minority defendants, witnesses or the wider public," he added.

The inquiry follows a difficult few months for CPS bosses.

In November it was announced that a new independent inspectorate is to be set up to scrutinise the CPS's work, following a series of allegations of incompetence.

Three months earlier the service was censured as "inefficient" by Judge Gerald Butler's report into the way it handled certain deaths in police custody.

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