Courts need performance measures

2 Dec 99
League tables could be introduced across the criminal justice system after a critical National Audit Office study found up to £84m could be saved by eliminating waste and spreading good practice.

03 December 1999

The report found that nearly three-quarters of a million cases in magistrates' courts have to be adjourned each year because of mistakes or sloppy practice. This results in 'wasted expenditure' of £40m each year.

A further £29m is wasted in the crown courts by trials curtailed by a last-minute guilty plea. An additional £15m is lost through trials not going ahead.

The Parliamentary watchdog said that half of the trials that do not proceed are abandoned because of 'failures within, or in liaison between, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts or other public bodies'.

Among the report's 63 wide-ranging recommendations are performance measures. 'The Lord Chancellor's Department and Court Service should group similar courts together for performance monitoring to allow local managers to make comparisons in performance data,' says the report.

Almost half the recommendations concerned the use of IT. But the report notes there have already been a series of 'false starts'. A new system for magistrates' courts will come into place in 2004 – 15 years after the need for it was first identified.

The time taken to process cases by courts varied widely. In Birmingham, Northamptonshire, Leeds and Walsall, serious cases took more than 100 days to complete. In the London boroughs of Barnet and Bromley it was fewer than 60. The average across England and Wales was 81 days.

David Davis, chairman of the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee, said the criminal justice system 'must work better to prevent waste of taxpayers' money'.

The Home Office said it had already initiated reforms to find savings from the annual £9bn criminal justice system budget. Last month, ministers introduced measures to speed up the process and cut costs.

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