THE CROWN Prosecution Service's ability to review cases before trial could be “significantly” compromised because of plans to halve the numbers of assistant chief crown prosecutors, warns the Association of First Division Civil Servants (FDA).
And the Law Society fears that problems, including delays and extra paperwork caused by poorer reviews, will be exacerbated after new transfer for trial procedures replace existing committal procedures in July.
However, the CPS brands the FDA's allegations as “pure speculation”.
The FDA says the CPS has written to Grade 5 lawyers seeking voluntary redundancies and has already met with management to air its concerns over the intended halving of Grade 5 numbers, which would result in around 30 job losses.
FDA negotiations officer Jacqui Nicholl says the cuts would merge the job responsibilities of the assistant chief crown prosecutors, of whom there are between two and four in each of the 13 CPS regions.
She says that, viewing the cuts in the context of yearly reductions in the agency lawyer budget and consequent increased pressure on CPS lawyers to be in court, the potential for poor standards and errors in case reviews increase.
“We are particularly concerned that standards will slip because of the Grade 5 job cuts,” says Nicholl.
Stress suffered by CPS staff is already thought to be contributing to abnormally high stress-related illness, with 20-25 per cent of staff believed to be off work through stress, says the FDA.
On the new trial procedures, Roger Ede, secretary of the Law Society's criminal law committee, says: “Review of cases will become more important for the CPS in order to have the right charges in place at an early stage. If they don't, the court will have to have special hearings in order to proceed in relation to the new or amended charge.”
Ede says the controversial new transfer rules lack a procedure for amending charges. As a result first appearances for indictable only cases and mode of trial hearings for either way hearings would have to be repeated if the CPS got it wrong the first time.
“This will lead to case delays, and increased bureaucracy and the court has to go through the procedure twice,” says Ede.
The CPS says the letters to Grade 5s were to elicit possible interest in “early retirement”. It says staffing issues will be dealt with in the national review.