UK Liberty

Cutting the cost of ‘justice’

Posted in law and order by ukliberty on February 21, 2008

The Times:

Plans are due to go ahead for thousands of trials a year to be prosecuted by non-lawyers, even though the paralegals themselves say that they are insufficiently trained, The Times has learnt.

An internal survey for the Crown Prosecution Service has found that only half the 400 paralegals who will take on the contested — or “not guilty” — trials felt that they had had enough training. A third said that they were under pressure to do court work that fell beyond their abilities.

The draft findings come amid growing concerns about the impact of government cost-cutting on the standards of criminal justice, including the use of junior barristers to defend some of the country’s most high-profile criminal trials.

Both the Bar and the Law Society of England and Wales say that standards in the courts will be undermined by the funding squeeze, which ministers claim is essential for better use of taxpayers’ money.

Of course!  Why on earth should criminals have access to qualified lawyers?  Indeed, why have a trial at all?  Surely the police, CPS and politicians can be trusted to tell us who is and who is not a criminal.

At present the paralegals — “designated case workers” in the Crown Prosecution Service — have power to conduct a limited range of simple cases where defendants plead guilty, chiefly road traffic offences.

But Clause 58 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill now going through Parliament [track it’s progress here] widens their powers to conduct “not guilty” cases, subject to approval by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

This will allow some 400 CPS staff without legal qualifications to conduct a wide range of “not guilty” trials in magistrates’ courts, including those involving theft, assault, applications for bail and antisocial behaviour orders.

The draft report on paralegals, prepared for the CPS, says: “It is of serious concern that varying levels of pressure are being placed on individual DWCs [designated case workers] by courts and other parties to act outside their remit, although in the overwhelming majority of instances this has been successfully resisted.”

The report emphasises that the return rate was low, at 29 per cent, and that the findings should therefore be treated with care.

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