Worry over police red tape cuts

CRIMINAL lawyers' ability to advise their clients could be adversely affected by proposals to cut red tape for police officers.

The proposals, which are due to be sent to the Government and senior law officers soon, come from a Government-appointed scrutiny committee.

They are expected to be wide-ranging and to recommend the use of abbreviated case files – an idea already attacked by some solicitors' groups as likely to lead to further miscarriages of justice.

Roger Ede, secretary to the Law Society's criminal justice committee, hopes the report will avoid slashing paperwork procedures for the sake of short-term cost savings.

“That could affect the quality of work the defence solicitor can do for the client. Anything which reduces the solicitor's ability to get information is going to limit what the solicitor can do. That could have consequences for justice,” says Ede.

The scrutiny team is headed by Home Office civil servant Robin Masefield and is staffed with two police officers, two representatives of the Crown Prosecution Service and one representative from the Lord Chancellor's Department.

The team has examined the police's work to see where improvements in efficiency can be made. It has consulted the Law Society on numerous matters including abbreviated files, witness care, disclosure, adjournments and video interviews for children.

“One would want to be confident that they know what the solicitors' perspective is,” says Ede. He adds that if this does not happen there is a danger of ending up with a team of people involved in prosecution and running the courts.

Abbreviated files, where police officers provide their own summaries of witness statements and evidence rather than full statements, are being piloted by several forces in cases which the police consider will end up as guilty pleas in the magistrates court.

This experiment is already cause for concern for the society and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, and both groups say it will lead to more people in custody.