It was a horrific tragedy that 23 year old Eleanor De Freitas should kill herself rather than present herself for examination in court. In early 2013, she had made a rape complaint to the Metropolitan Police but was told there would not be a prosecution because of difficulties with her evidence. The accused then launched his own private prosecution against her.
Rather than stopping the prosecution as requested by Ms De Freitas’ solicitors, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided to continue it themselves. This implied that her prosecution was in the public interest in spite of her mental health issues and the police themselves not believing there was a case to answer.
Tragedy, controversy, and complexity plus the suspicion that the CPS may have made some terrible errors combine to provide a nightmare for Alison Saunders, current Director of Public Prosecutions. Appropriately, she has taken personal charge of an investigation into the case and has offered to meet the De Freitas family.
As a leader, there are times when it is important to take personal responsibility for things and to put yourself in the limelight. This is a symbolic act that conveys the significance of the issue. Conversely, involving yourself in too many activities and issues will symbolise something else. This can range from an exaggerated sense of self-importance to a lack of trust in other members of staff. In addition, when the time comes for symbolic emphasis, there may be less room for manoeuvre.
Important issue will always arise unexpectedly. If fact, you could say that one should always expect the unexpected in organisational life. Those leaders that get too involved in the day-to-day will find it difficult to address the important and unexpected properly.
Getting the balance right can be hard, but the news coverage would suggest that Alison Saunders, at least on this occasion, got it right.