Lawyers unite on problem Act

THE LAW Society is to meet with the Home Office to discuss its anxieties over “loopholes” in the new Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

The society will join representatives from the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD), Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Bar Council, Magistrates' Association and Justices' Clerks Society at the Home Office meeting.

The concerns of solicitors focus on Section 44 of the Act which relates to the ending of committals and the resulting transfer for trial proceedings.

Roger Ede, secretary to the society's Criminal Law Committee, says there are about 15 problems which will affect lawyers, justices' clerks and the magistrates' courts.

“Lawyers believe there are significant procedural problems with the way in which the Act and the draft rules of court have been prepared,” says Ede.

“There is a risk that these shortcomings could have the opposite effect to that intended. That is, the procedure will be lengthier, more cumbersome, and more expensive, and that more cases will be tried unnecessarily in the Crown Court,” he says.

“Also, more defendants will find their cases unnecessarily dismissed because of technicalities, which could lead to a further loss of credibility for the criminal justice system,” he adds.

Tony Edwards, president elect of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association says: “The transfer proceedings are wholly unsatisfactory and need substantial re-drafting.”

The Home Office says the meeting is one of a series of consultations on the Act. A spokeswoman says: “Clearly, there will be concerns. It's a new Act, with new ways of doing things. We are very keen to consult. The Home Office cannot do things in isolation from the people working in the system.”

However, there is no intention to redraft the Act, she says. The transfer provisions are due to come into force in mid-1995.