A spending review undertaken in 2010 in respect of the Crown Prosecution Service has led to a budget reduction of 27% in real terms by 2014/2015. This has resulted in significant staff cuts at the CPS.
In the last three years, the CPS has lost 23% of its barristers (202), 22% of its solicitors (518) and 27% of its higher court advocates (296), according to replies to Freedom of Information requests made by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
A spokesperson from the CPS said:
“We have had to make savings of 27% to our budget and naturally staff numbers have reduced, but we are protecting front-line teams and improving performance. Overall conviction rates have remained consistent at 85% or above for the past eight years and we have clearly demonstrated that we are able to successfully prosecute the most serious and complex offences; the conviction rate for violence against women and girls, including rape, hit a record high in 2012/13.”
In addition to losses of solicitors and barristers, numbers of witness care officers, and care mangers who liaise with key witnesses for trials and provide assistance in bringing witnesses to court, have dropped by 43% since 2010. Legal experts are concerned by these statistics and believe that this is resulting in failures by the Crown to adequately prepare matters for trial.
Michael Turner QC Chair of the Criminal Bar Association said:
“The supposed budget cuts have resulted in no savings at all for the criminal justice system. At the end of the day if weaknesses are leading to breakdowns and re-trials then the tax payer ends up spending more money in the long run.”
In 2012, 45 murder trials failed as the CPS provided insufficient evidence following a not guilty plea. This represented 1 in 20 of all homicide cases in 2012 and equaled a rise by 50% from 2010. Numbers of cases where the Crown offer ‘no evidence’ has also risen for offences of burglary, criminal damage, fraud, forgery and robbery trials.
A spokesperson from the CPS said:
“The most common reasons for the need to offer no evidence is that new evidence becomes available which undermines our case, or because victims or witnesses withdraw their support for the case. We can and do take steps to overcome these problems but it would be misleading to portray such issues as CPS inefficiency.”
The situation has obvious effects for victims of crime and the families of those involved. Earlier this month the CPS met with Judge Griffiths Jones, who sits at Warwick Crown Court, in order to explain mistakes leading to the collapse of a murder trial. The judge had previously announced to the court that the CPS advocate was ‘patently out his depth’, made fundamental legal errors, did not understand the forensic pathologist’s evidence and was ‘not competent to do the job’.
“It is not just about the money, but the terrible cost to the family. This has been a terrible attempt to make an economy, an economy that proves to be a false economy. It is a disgrace. I appreciate that in these days, where public money is short, there is an understandable imperative to save money. But instead of two advocates being instructed where one at least has senior standing and experience, the prosecution deployed a single advocate who was patently out of his depth.”
It remains to be seen whether the consequences of such cuts will continue to result in such inefficiencies.