05 Oct, 2011

Law Society says inefficient criminal justice system is wasting public money amid savage legal aid cuts


The government could save £9 million a year in legal aid alone by improving efficiency in the wasteful criminal justice system according to a Law Society report.


Basic failures in the system are costing the tax-payer unnecessary millions every year, but by making some simple changes, these wasteful practices could be greatly reduced.


As well as legal aid, additional savings could also be found in court and CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) costs if these efficiencies were made.


The Law Society is now calling on the Ministry of Justice and David Cameron to acknowledge the Society’s proposed savings and to think costs, not cuts.


The Law Society report launched on Wednesday; “Improving Efficiency in the Criminal Justice System” recommends the following changes:


  • Improved communication between defence solicitors and CPS staff, so that cases can be prepared prior to court hearings.


  • Simplified trial preparation forms.


  • Electronic legal aid applications.


  • Use of shared computer servers to view evidence.


  • Defence solicitor access to technology such as mobile phones and computers.


  • Improved prison visiting arrangements for defence solicitors – such as longer professional visiting time.


The Law Society is confident that, if implemented, these changes will, in addition to the savings to the legal aid fund, generate significant savings for all the agencies who participate in the criminal justice system.


While it is difficult to estimate the quantity of the savings the changes could generate, in its response the Ministry of Justice Green Paper on proposals for the reform of legal aid in England and Wales the Law Society conservatively estimated that £9 million per annum could be saved to the legal aid fund alone by reducing waste.


This figure is based on cutting out one unnecessary delay or adjournment caused by a non-defence failure in the system, in half of all legally aided cases (based on approximately 450,000 cases per year, with each wasted hearing costing about £40).


There would be additional savings for other agencies, such as the CPS and the Court Service.  The Society is aware of, for example, the changes the CPS are investigating to meet their own demanding budget reductions. 


Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson urged the government to consider the Society’s alternative savings proposals.


“We have clearly and concisely outlined here how the government could save £9 million pounds and greatly improve the entire criminal justice system at the same time.


“Instead of cutting £10 million by abolishing clinical negligence claims from legal aid, as outlined in the MOJ’s recent impact assessment, why not make the savings elsewhere, by improving efficiency? Preventing claimants who have suffered injury due to the negligence of others from seeking compensation is short sighted and erodes access to justice, yet our suggestions will save the government millions and positively improves the system.”


The Law Society recognises that in the current economic climate, savings and efficiencies need to be made but we don’t agree that the way to achieve it is to cut legal aid from up to 725,000 cases a year. We have shown that alternative savings of £384m (£34m in excess of those being sought) can be achieved while still protecting access to justice.


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