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13 July 2012
Responding today to the Government's white paper 'Swift and Sure Justice' the Law Society has said that any initiative which leads to greater efficiency within the criminal justice system is to be welcomed, but speed should not be achieved at the price of justice and it is essential that all players in the criminal justice system need to be involved in these proposals.
The white paper seeks to address issues of efficiency in the criminal justice system. Among the initiatives set out are arrangements for flexible court hours, including extended court hours and weekend court sessions.
Richard Atkinson, Chair of the Law Society Criminal Law Committee, said:
“The Society has been at the forefront of urging improvements to the Criminal Justice system and we published our own proposals for this last year. We would support changes where they are appropriate. For example there is potential for there to be efficiency improvements arising from the increased use of prison to court video links.
“However, we are concerned by the Government's obsession with speed and its apparent belief that speed and efficiency is one and the same thing.
“In particular, we question whether there is any need for weekend courts at a time when the numbers of criminal cases are declining and when these proposals will cause problems for prisons and the availability of other professionals in the system. There will be significant costs at a time the Government says there is no more money, including for defence practitioners who are mostly small businesses and do not have the same flexibility as large employers, such as the CPS and the Court Service. The fact that there has been no adequate consultation and discussion with defence practitioners about the proposals suggests that, yet again, Government is ignoring the only people in the system who see cases through from start to finish.
“We are keen to discuss these with Government, but it is mistaken if it believes that these changes can be achieved in a way which is cost-neutral and it is disappointing that it has not taken the opportunity to look at other improvements which are likely to have a much greater effect on efficiency than a headline-grabbing initiative on court sittings.”