THE Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has publicly admitted it may send lesser- qualified prosecuting barristers into battle against more experienced defence counsel.
In a statement issued last week, the CPS acknowledges concern that suitably experienced prosecuting counsel are rejecting briefs because of low fees 'leaving the CPS little option but to instruct less experienced counsel'.
But the statement goes on to defend its methods of controlling fees adding that they were endorsed by a recent National Audit Office report which recommended that other government bodies follow the service's lead.
'Claims that the CPS is losing cases as a result of instructing inexperienced counsel are rejected,' the statement added. 'The CPS has achieved a higher conviction rate in the last three years.'
Grave concern at the Bar over the alleged underfunding of prosecuting counsel in serious cases was first reported in The Lawyer in October 1996 and pressure has been mounting ever since for the CPS to address the problem.
In September last year, James Hunt QC, the leader of the Midland and Oxford circuit, sent the director of public prosecutions, Dame Barbara Mills QC, figures which showed that defence counsel were being paid an average of 80 per cent more than their prosecuting counterparts.
Despite the CPS's defence of its record, The Lawyer understands that the independent inquiry being conducted into the CPS by Sir Iain Glidewell is specifically investigating the Bar's concerns about the effects of the disparity in fees.
Hunt said: 'We can only hope that the Glidewell Inquiry, which is looking into the issue, will provide an independent view on the evidence they have received from the Circuits and many at the Bar.'