Better procedures and improved communication between prosecution and defence could reduce delays and waste in the criminal justice system, according to a Law Society report.
The paper, published today, proposes various measures to improve efficiency in the criminal justice system, in particular through the use of information and communications technology, that would cut costs and minimise the need for legal aid cuts.
The overarching theme of the report is the need for improved communication between the prosecution and defence, to enable the prompt service of prosecution papers and defendants’ instructions to be taken at an early stage.
It stresses the need for the prosecution to provide information to the defence in a timely manner, so that first hearings are effective and the defence can make informed decisions about the conduct of the case.
Other suggestions include simplifying the magistrates’ court trial preparation form; allowing legal aid applications to be made electronically; using shared computer servers to view evidence; and improving prison-visiting arrangements.
The report also argues that there should be a standardisation of the period between charge and first appearance, noting a wide variation in times around the country ranging from three days to six weeks.
If the report’s recommendations are implemented, the Society said the changes could generate ‘significant’ savings. Chancery Lane did not quantify the amount, but in its earlier response to the Ministry of Justice green paper on legal aid reform, it estimated that £9m could be slashed from the legal aid budget by reducing waste in the criminal justice system.
The report’s proposals are informed by Law Society seminars with local criminal justice practitioners, which took place during February and March 2011 in London, Bristol, Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff and Plymouth.
The former chair of the Society’s criminal law committee Ian Kelcey, said: ‘Savings can be made through having a system that works for everyone. Why have a system that tries to get pleas from people before legal aid has been sorted, or requires pre-trial reviews before the defence know about the case?’
He added: ‘Everyone in the criminal justice system needs to sit down to set the rules, rather than allowing civil servants to make them.’
Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson urged the government to consider the alternative savings proposals.