The Association of First Division of Civil Servants (FDA) is to lobby politicians over the future of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) following new fears that core services such as advocacy could be thrown open to market testing as a cost-cutting move.
The Government is considering either privatising the CPS or turning it into a Next Steps agency.
Privatising advocacy, which takes up around half of all CPS lawyers' time, could lead to a 50 per cent cut in the qualified legal staff, says the FDA.
Although core functions are exempt from market testing, it is believed this may be relaxed for the CPS. Rod Chapman, FDA's CPS section head, says that because it consists almost entirely of core functions, the CPS has failed to meet its 15 per cent market testing target.
This could flood the private practice lawyer job market with CPS solicitors and barristers looking for work or, alternatively, seeking to tender for privatised prosecution work, says Chapman.
"Quite clearly the FDA is concerned, given the politics of the present Government and ministers' public statements, that it is more interested in privatisation than in retaining a public prosecution service," says Chapman.
The FDA is sending around 1,300 letters and information packs to MPs and peers, to draw attention to its concerns and stimulate a public debate.
The FDA objects not only to a return to the old system where the police instructed local solicitors, but also to the replacement of the CPS nationally or regionally by larger privatised bodies.
It is also concerned that non-qualified lay presenters will replace CPS advocates in the lower courts at around half the salary cost, leaving the decision to prosecute to the police.
There would be little difficulty fitting this in with the long-term CPS goal of its lawyers having advocacy rights in the higher courts. "This would allow the Government to cut the cost of prosecuting," says Chapman.
Criminal Bar Association chair Stephen Kay says: "Any schemes to put prosecution into the market should be looked at critically because we are concerned with the stability of the criminal justice system."