CPS recruitment freeze 'causes trial collapse'

A Bristol defence lawyer has said trials are collapsing because prosecutors are swamped with work.

Steve George blamed a government-imposed recruitment freeze on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The Law Society said the problem was not specific to Bristol and that it had demanded action from the Ministry of Justice.

But the head of Avon and Somerset CPS, Barry Hughes, said he did not recognise "the crisis being described".

'Papers aren't ready'

Mr George, associate solicitor with Bobbetts Mackan, said: "Within the last month I would say eight or nine trials I've personally dealt with have collapsed due to papers not being served properly by the CPS.

"This morning alone, at Bristol Magistrates' Court, I've seen two trials vacated.

"Before the past 18 months, more often than not trials would proceed."

He said: "They (the CPS) have a duty to constantly review the cases that they prosecute.

"When they don't have sufficient people to carry out those reviews, you get to the day before the trial, papers aren't ready or, indeed if a case hasn't been reviewed, they're unaware of the strength of their case and very often realise it's not going to go anywhere.

"They then discontinue it on the morning of the trial and this is after all the witnesses have been called to court.

"Over the past 18 months or so, those of us that practise in the area have noticed that papers that are required before a trial are being served later and later.

"What's happening is we are now quite commonly receiving them either the day before or even on the morning of the trial itself which makes it very, very difficult to take instructions, to consider those papers and then be able to conduct the trial."

'Red herring'

Ian Kelcey, chairman of Bristol Law Society, said: "This is not a dig at the CPS, it's a dig at government providing the appropriate resources for an appropriate criminal justice system."

He said the CPS was understaffed and under-resourced: "It's not just common to Bristol, it's happening around the country.

"If we don't have a proper criminal justice system we will be moving very quickly towards anarchy," he said.

Mr Hughes said he was surprised by the comments.

He said that while he realised the CPS could do better, he had not noticed any change in the service since this time last year.

"I don't recognise morale collapsing and I meet regularly with staff," he said.

Mr Hughes said linking the issues raised to spending cuts was "a red herring".

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