Alison Saunders

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Alison Saunderss, 2016.

Dame Alison Margaret Saunders, DCB (née Brown; born 14 February 1961) is a British barrister and a former Director of Public Prosecutions. She was the first lawyer from within the Crown Prosecution Service and the second woman to hold the appointment. She was also the second holder of this office not to be a Queen's Counsel. She was previously the Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS London. Her term of office ended 31 October 2018. She is now a Partner at the Magic Circle law firm Linklaters.[1]

Crown Prosecution Service

On 23 July 2013, it was announced that she would become the new Director of Public Prosecutions in succession to Sir Keir Starmer, taking up the appointment on 1 November 2013. She was the first head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to be appointed from within the service and the second woman to hold the appointment.[2]

As the Director of Public Prosecutions, Saunders faced criticism and controversy around the handling of trials for rape and sexual assault. The CPS has been criticised for the case of Eleanor de Freitas, who killed herself after the CPS decided to take over a private prosecution brought against her by the man she accused of rape. Saunders said that the "evidence in this case was strong and having considered it in light of all of our knowledge and guidance on prosecuting sexual offences and allegedly false rape claims, it is clear there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction for perverting the course of justice". Saunders stated that the number of rape prosecutions being brought to court would increase by a third in the year 2015 and argued that this increase follows improvements in the treatment received by victims by police, courts and the CPS.[3]

In 2014, Saunders announced that the CPS would be seeking to fight against criminals hiding assets abroad and appointed a team of six specialist lawyers to work with legal authorities overseas to recover assets from countries including Spain and the United Arab Emirates.[4]

In April 2015, Saunders was criticized for her decision not to prosecute Greville Janner on child sexual abuse charges despite his meeting the evidential test for prosecution, citing his poor health, as well as for dropping charges against nine journalists as part of the Operation Elveden case. Saunders defended herself saying, "I'm not here to make popular decisions. I always feel under pressure to make the right decision." In June 2015, The Guardian reported that, following a review, the decision not to prosecute Lord Janner would in fact be overturned. Simon Danczuk, then MP for Rochdale, told the Guardian that "if the report is accurate, Saunders will now have to consider her position" as a result of the scrutiny that her initial decision would now be placed under. The decision marks the first time a DPP has had a major prosecuting decision reviewed and overturned. Amid calls for her resignation, she told the BBC that she would not resign. Saunders blamed failings within her department and the police for the collapse of three different police inquiries between 1991 and 2007. Theresa May (then the home secretary, later Prime Minister) said in a radio interview: “I was very concerned when I heard about this decision. It is not my decision, it is entirely a decision for the director of public prosecutions.”[5]

In 2015, a case was brought against Saunders in the High Court. The complainant, Nikki Kenward, argued that Saunders had amended prosecution policy outside of the democratic process. Saunders released the alleged amendment in October, 2014. In it she suggested that the guidelines on assisted suicide prosecution be understood such that a doctor who is not the patient's immediate care provider, should not be as likely to face prosecution as a doctor who is the patient's immediate care provider. This prompted a backlash from anti-assisted suicide groups who argued that this was a substantial change, which would allow for businesses similar to Dignitas to operate in the UK. Saunders' defence was that she had only clarified the existing guidelines. Nevertheless, Kenward was granted the judicial review against Saunders in April, 2015. It went to the High Court in November 2015; the case against Saunders was dismissed.[6]

In 2018 Saunders was paid a salary of between £210,000 and £214,999. On 2 April 2018 it was announced that Saunders was to stand down at the end of her term as head of the CPS. On 1 November 2018, she was succeeded as Director of Public Prosecutions by Max Hill QC.[7]


In June 2015, Saunders was accused by journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer of a crusade to criminalise "drunken sexual encounters". In December 2017, Daily Telegraph journalist Allison Pearson called for Saunders to resign following the scandal of several high-profile rape cases falling apart or convictions being overturned due to police withholding key information regarding the innocence of the accused.[8]

Conversely, on 23 January 2018, Saunders was criticised by victims and survivors' groups because her words could be taken to mean that silence equates to consent.[9]

After it was announced that Saunders would not be reappointed for a second term, The Daily Telegraph reported, in April 2018, that crime statistics tracking burglary, violent crime and shoplifting all rose significantly under Saunders' tenure as Director of Public Prosecutions.[10]

On 29 December 2018, The Telegraph reported that Saunders would be "the first former head of the Crown Prosecution Service not to receive a senior honour after her tenure was marked by a series of scandals". However, Saunders was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath (DCB) in the 2020 New Year Honours and later invested.[11]

A week after Saunders stepped down as head of the CPS, it was announced that the CPS had agreed to a five-figure settlement with broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who was arrested as part of Operation Yewtree and bailed repeatedly for a year over unfounded sex charges before being told he would not be charged. Samuel Armstrong, a former Conservative MP's chief of staff who was acquitted of rape, said the settlement was a "damning indictment [that] should act as the final nail in the coffin for her hopes of a damehood ... Saunders' one-woman crusade to shift the scales of justice in sex cases not only ruined the lives of dozens of young men but of Paul Gambaccini as well."[12]

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