Miscarriage of justice warning over CPS funding cuts

Barrister Jonathan Rees
Image caption Jonathan Elystan Rees said lawyers and barristers were "operating with one hand tied behind their back"

Funding cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service could lead to miscarriages of justice, a barrister has warned.

Jonathan Elystan Rees said a lack of resources and lawyers in court as a result of less funding was making it difficult for staff to do their jobs.

His criticism comes after the CPS was blamed for the collapse of a number of high-profile criminal cases in Wales.

The government rejected claims budget cuts have affected the CPS' performance.

The CPS said it had tried to protect prosecution lawyers from the reductions; its budget has been cut by 25% since 2010 and staff numbers have fallen by 2,400.

Figures analysed by BBC Wales show the proportion of cases in Wales that did not make it to a full trial because of reasons relating to the CPS has gradually increased.

In 2009, CPS faults accounted for about 16.5% of case failures in Wales, compared to 19.6% in 2014.

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Media captionDaniel O'Connell, who had fraud charges against him dropped three years after he was charged, described the CPS' handling of his case as 'horrific'

Mr Rees, a representative of the Criminal Bar Association in Wales, said CPS staff were "operating with one hand tied behind their back at the moment" and often found themselves covering several courts at the same time.

"If you have properly funded prosecution and properly funded defence scrutinising each other's positions and challenging the case of either side, you're going to get the right result - that's British justice, that's how it works," he said.

"When one side or, even worse, both sides, aren't firing on all cylinders because they're not properly funded, that's when you get room for errors to take place and corners to be cut, not deliberately but inadvertently, and that's when there's a risk of miscarriages of justice."

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Media captionSouth Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael said the CPS was "under great pressure"

Siobhan Blake, deputy chief crown prosecutor for Wales, denied cases were not being properly scrutinised, adding it had a conviction rate of about 80% - an increase on previous years.

"I'm very confident that we have highly-skilled, professional people who are extremely dedicated to the work that they do," she said.

The Treasury said the CPS budget settlement "protected core services", ensuring it had the resources needed to continue to tackle crime "effectively and efficiently".

It added the UK legal aid system remained "one of the most generous in the world" with £1.6bn spent last year.

CPS criticism

Charges against two nurses due to stand trial for the neglect of patients at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend were dismissed last year after the court heard a computer log of patient records was unreliable.

The judge described the prosecution's reliance on the log as "unrealistic" and "faintly desperate".

In October 2015, misconduct charges against three council bosses were dropped just weeks before they were due to stand trial.

The case collapse followed judges' criticism of prosecution lawyers for being unprepared at earlier hearings.

A recent report from the CPS Inspectorate warned victims were being "let down" by poor communication from prosecution officials.

Inspectors said the CPS was slow to contact victims in almost half of cases it examined and did not always take their views into account on key decisions.

South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael has called for a new independent body to investigate complaints against the CPS.

But a spokesman for the Attorney General's office said complaints about CPS performance could be referred to the Independent Assessor of Complaints.

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