Experts fear pilot scheme will lead to bad verdicts

CRIMINAL law experts fear miscarriages of justice, extra cost and further delays are likely to stem from a government pilot scheme allowing the police to prepare abbreviated case files.

The society says the pilots will allow police to produce their own summaries of witness statements and evidence, rather than full statements, in cases which the police consider will end up as guilty pleas in the magistrates court.

The Government's Pre Trial Issues Working Group project, contracted out to Price Waterhouse to oversee, is being carried out in parts of the Metropolitan, Lancashire and Hampshire police force areas, and in the whole of the Cumbria, Dyfed and Essex areas.

Roger Ede, secretary of the society's criminal law committee, says: “There is a danger that a defendant pleads guilty to a charge that the prosecution can't prove. This seems to me to be going back to the bad old days of the game of bluff between police and the defence as to whether there is enough evidence to obtain a conviction.”

Mark Haslam, secretary of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, says reliance on police summaries is worrying. “There are cases where summaries were found to be inaccurate and biased.”

“It means more people held in custody. The CPS will be in a very difficult position.”

Ede is writing to solicitors in the criminal justice area liaison committees of relevant local law societies for feedback.

“The greatest concern is that less information will be available on which important decisions will need to be made by defence, defendants and the Crown Prosecution Service. The result is that decisions that are made will be not so well-informed, and that there will be greater expense and delays in proceedings,” says Ede.

A CPS spokesman says the service is co-operating with the pilots. “The pilot is set up to look at the way an abbreviated file scheme will work and will examine all those issues.”