A GOVERNMENT plan to save £30 million by slashing police paper work is a cost-saving exercise which could lead to miscarriages of justice, warns Mark Haslam, secretary of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA).
He says plans announced by the Home Office allowing police to produce "new-style abbreviated files of evidence" in cases "where defendants are likely to plead guilty in the magistrates' courts" are causing concern.
"This cutting of corners in case preparation is very worrying. Abbreviated files seem to be encouraging police to take short cuts and not carry out a proper investigation which might otherwise unearth evidence of assistance to the defence," says Haslam.
"Clearly there is a danger we will have more miscarriages of justice where cases proceed on the basis of one or two statements on an abbreviated file."
The Home Office has already piloted abbreviated files in six forces - Cumbria, Dyfed-Powys, Essex, Hampshire, Lancashire and the Metropolitan police - where police produce their own summaries of witness statements and evidence. The Law Society has expressed fears that miscarriages of justice, extra costs and further delays could result.
Haslam also questions the apparent discretion given to the police to decide which defendants will plead guilty when seeking to use an abbreviated file. "It's not a matter for the police to decide how a defendant will plead," he says.
The Home Office recommendations include that abbreviated files should contain "sufficient evidence" to prove offences alleged. It also proposes greater use of civilian staff in file preparation and to prepare the records of taped interviews, giving police more time in front-line duties.
Other plans for saving the £30 million include improving case management in the courts, more IT for police, and sharing of management practices between police and the CPS. The latter will be piloted to "improve joint co-operation at a local level". Greater use of fixed penalties could save £13 million of the target £30 million, says the Home Office.
Association of Chief Police Officers member Chief Inspector David Haverly says abbreviated files will now retain key witness statements after resistance from defence lawyers and police officers. "The message is one of reassurance, that economies cannot be made at the cost of quality. We are not making reductions in the quality of evidence."