The director of public prosecutions has apologised to the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster for not having ‘justice and accountability’. However Max Hill QC in a session before the Commons’ Justice Committee also ruled out an appeal after the collapse last month of the action against two retired police officers and a solicitor accused of perverting the course of justice following the 1989 disaster after the judge ruled there was no case to answer.
The DPP also warned CPS staff are at risk of ‘burnout’ if the government pushes on with plans to clear the backlog of court cases. Hill told MPs that ‘the task of bearing down on the overall case backlogs’ would lead to ‘undue fatigue’ and that it was ‘right to sound that warning’. Hill reckoned that, compared with February 2020, prosecutors are dealing with as much as an 80% increase on their case loads.
Writing for the Law Society Gazette, Monidipa Fouzder highlighted that current plans mean that Crown Courts have been ‘authorised to work at full throttle’. The DPP told the Committee that ‘we are determined to play our part’ but noted his ‘worry about the fatigue’ CPS staff bear. The measures to deal with the backlog received mixed responses. Chair of the Bar Council, Derek Sweeting QC welcomed the changes but stated the measures will only work ‘if its matched by sufficient court staff and resources to support the anticipated rise in cases” and that it “must be accompanied by a long-term strategy’.
On Hillsborough, the DPP insisted that his legal team had done ‘everything we could’ and ‘applied all of the vigour that we could. ‘I have to start by paying tribute to the 96,’ Hill told MPs. ‘I think we have to accept now, in 2021, that criminal proceedings have not provided that justice and accountability.’
According to the Press Association, Hill said a dedicated team had been set up within the CPS who gave ‘their all to try to generate criminal justice outcomes’. ‘They – and I speak for them – are first in saying how sorry we all are that this process has not led to the closure which the 96 have sought.’ ’I maintain that we did everything we could, and we applied all of the vigour that we could.’ he added.
Labour MP Maria Eagle said ‘old slurs’ had been reintroduced during the trial by police lawyers claiming ‘there was no cover up – something for which the prime minister of this country has apologised from the despatch box – and also saying that the Liverpool fans rioted’. ‘It’s not for me to regulate what defence representatives say either before, during or after trial,’ Hill responded. ‘That is simply not within the CPS’s power.’
Two former police officers and a solicitor were last month acquitted of perverting the course of justice in a result that been described as ‘ludicrous’ by the families of the victims. Donald Denton, Alan Foster, and Peter Melcalf were alleged to have changed 68 statements to hide police failings . The statements had been prepared for ‘an administrative exercise’ and ‘not a course of public justice’, Mr Justice William Davis ruled.
Hill insisted that ‘of course we considered very carefully’ whether there should be an appeal. However, he added ‘that was not the first, but the second ruling by a very experienced High Court judge’ and that meant ‘that to try to dislodge it, we would have had to have demonstrated to the Court of Appeal, that Mr Justice Davis was wrong, that the decision he made was unreasonable’. He said that was ‘such a high test that we had no prospect of meeting it’.