LAG rejects Home Office proposals as “unworkable”

HOME office proposals to ensure that guilty pleas are prosecuted within 24 hours are “wrong in principle” and “unworkable in practice”, according to the Legal Action Group.

The attack is contained in the highly critical LAG response to the Narey Report, which was commissioned by the former Home Secretary, Michael Howard, before the General Election to come up with suggestions to speed up justice.

The report, which was presented to Parliament in February, contains 33 recommend- ations, including a permanent Crown Prosecution Service presence in police stations to deal with fast-tracked guilty pleas, an end to the CPS power to discontinue cases on public interest grounds and guilty plea cases to be prosecuted within 24 hours.

In its response, the LAG argues that the CPS could be “drawn into a police culture”, defendants will be encouraged to plead guilty to “get it over as quickly as possible” and the burden of proof will be weakened. It also argues the proposed withdrawal of the CPS discretion to discontinue cases is inconsistent with an independent prosecution service and would be likely to waste court time as the CPS would be forced to proceed with insignificant cases.

LAG director Roger Smith called the report a “ragbag of ideas” thought up by a “civil servant with an administrative agenda” which “tramples over the justice system”.

Policy officer Vicki Chapman warned Jack Straw not to be tempted to adopt the review's recommendations and stressed the need for consultation with agencies involved in the criminal justice system.