Concerns that the criminal justice system has been ‘stretched to breaking point’ will be discussed by MPs this afternoon, with a particular focus on Crown Prosecution Service funding.
Former shadow attorney general Karl Turner, Labour MP for East Hull, who has tabled the Westminster Hall debate, told the Gazette that CPS staff are 'highly committed, talented individuals who are being asked to do more for less and working hard to keep a sinking ship afloat'.
He added: ‘CPS funding has been cut to dangerous levels and this has led to inevitable strains on the criminal justice system as well as on the CPS itself.’
The CPS’s latest annual report states that its net funding for the year to 31 March 2016 was £499.8m. The department spent a total of £557m. After taking into account £68.8m income, the total net resource requirement was £488.2m.
Although the overall number of prosecuted cases has fallen, the number of 'evidentially complex' cases, relying heavily on often vulnerable victims and witnesses, has increased. These include terrorism cases associated with Iraq and Syria, child sexual abuse cases, other sexual and domestic violence offences, and increased fraud.
In December 2015, director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders told the justice committee that the CPS’s budget had reduced by 23% since 2010.
Measures to cut spend included cutting office space by 50% on the ‘non-operational’ side. The CPS’s staff budget has fallen from £738m in 2010-11 to £291m in 2015-16. The department spent nearly £8m on agency staff in the last financial year.
In 2014 HM CPS Inspectorate reported that ‘continuing’ resource reductions were damaging the CPS’s ability to deliver effectively ‘across the whole range of its activity’, resulting in prosecutors and paralegal officers carrying higher individual caseloads.
A year later the department began a recruitment drive to deal with an ‘exceptional’ growth in complex cases.
Turner said: ‘Cuts of nearly £200m to the CPS budget have encouraged a race to the bottom for the prosecution service. Ideological political pressure from the Tories for the CPS to do more with less has led to an inefficient criminal justice system and to claims of the CPS aiming to achieve targets by going after “low-hanging fruit”.
‘I am calling this debate today to highlight the concerns that many people will have in a criminal justice system that has been stretched to breaking point.’
A spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office told the Gazette that the CPS played a vital role in bringing criminals to justice and that the solicitor-general 'is satisfied that it has sufficient resources to carry out this important work'.