Criminal justice system not value for money, say auditors

1 Mar 16

The criminal justice system in England and Wales does not provide value for money as delays and aborted court hearings create extra work and waste scarce resources, according to the National Audit Office.

In an examination published today, auditors found the management of court cases had improved since 2010, with the proportion of trials going ahead as planned in magistrate’s court increasing from 34% in the year ending September 2011 to 39% in the year ending September 2015. Only 33% of crown court trials went ahead as planned in 2014/15.

However, this means around two-thirds of cases still do not progress as planned, the NAO found, and there remains significant regional variation in the performance of the system. A victim of crime in North Wales has a 7 in 10 chance that the trial will go ahead at crown court on the day it is scheduled, whereas in Greater Manchester the figure is only 2 in 10.

This increases costs, the Efficiency in the criminal justice system report found.

For example, in 2014/15, the Crown Prosecution Service spent £21.5m on preparing cases that were not heard in court. Of this, £5.5m was related to cases that collapsed due to ‘prosecution reasons’, including non-attendance of prosecution witnesses and incomplete case files.

Today’s review also found examples where inefficiencies are created through mistakes occurring early in the life of a case were not corrected. For example, a 2015 inspection found that 18.2% of police charging decisions were incorrect, which should be picked up by the CPS before court. However, this was not done in 38.4% of cases.

Auditor general Amyas Morse said some challenges were complex, but others are the results of basic avoidable mistakes.

“The ambitious reform programme led by the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, Crown Prosecution Service and Judiciary has the potential to improve value for money by providing tools to help get things right first time, but will not in itself address all of the causes of inefficiency.

“It is essential that the criminal justice system pulls together and takes collective responsibility for sorting out the longstanding issues.”

Proposed reforms include more efficient digital working in courts and creation of a single digital case management system accessible by all parties. According to the NAO, this will provide the tools for a more efficient, less paper-based system, but would not be sufficient on its own to tackle systemic problems.

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