Failings at the Crown Prosecution Service and police are costing the taxpayer £600,000 a year in abandoned trials and preventing cases from being brought before the courts, a CPS inspection report found this week.
One eminent solicitor warned that the report showed a criminal justice system ‘on the verge of collapse’, with CPS budget cuts likely to make the situation worse.
The report by the CPS Inspectorate examined cases that had been dropped by the CPS at the committal stage, when the CPS was due to present evidence to the defence in advance of a committal hearing to assess whether a case should be moved from the magistrates’ court to the Crown court.
An audit of 119 discharged cases found that 35% were dropped by the CPS because no file had been received by police, or the file was received late with essential evidence missing, while 28% were dropped because the CPS had failed to review the case before the committal hearing.
In some instances, the CPS’s early advice to the police was insufficient or incorrect, causing the police to request more work from the CPS just before the committal hearing, the report said. It found that victims of crime were often confused about why a case had been dropped, and in some cases the CPS did not tell victims of its decision to discharge a case for ‘many months’.
The report concluded that better case management could save the criminal justice system a significant amount of money. Chief inspector Michael Fuller said: ‘Failure to serve timely evidence is leading to cases being discharged, and ultimately these cases not being brought to justice. The cost to the CPS of these abandoned prosecutions amounts to potentially more than £600,000 per year.’
A CPS spokesman said that the proportion of discharged committals had fallen from 1.8% to 1.5% of cases, but the police and CPS were dealing with ‘significant backlogs’ of cases.
Ian Kelcey, chairman of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, said: ‘I have a very real fear that the whole criminal justice system is on the verge of collapse, and this [report] is indicative of that.’
Kelcey said the problems stemmed from the lack of government investment, and warned that the 25% cut to the CPS’s £689m budget, announced after last week’s spending review, would make matters worse.
Law Society president Linda Lee said that failure by the CPS and police to present evidence to court in time would damage public confidence in criminal justice.
Source and acknowledgement: Law Society Gazette 28th October