Cut length of criminal trials, say barristers

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The Independent Online

High-earning lawyers are to have their fees cut under plans to limit the length of all criminal trials to six months.

High-earning lawyers are to have their fees cut under plans to limit the length of all criminal trials to six months.

The move follows a parliamentary report that found a mere six cases cost the taxpayer a quarter of the Crown Court legal aid budget. There are also concerns that long trials are a strain on the jury.

Proposals to combat the soaring costs of criminal trials have been drawn up by the Criminal Barristers Association (CBA) at the request of Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor. They conclude that only in exceptional circumstances should a trial last longer than six months.

Earlier this year, MPs from the Department for Constitutional Affairs select committee warned ministers that unless the Government took action against costly cases, the legal aid budget, now standing at £1bn, would spiral out of control. It is thought that up to 24 trials each year run over nine months.

In one ongoing trial, which has already lasted a year, a barrister has been paid tens of thousands of pounds representing his client but has yet to utter a word in open court.

David Spens QC, chairman of the CBA, and his deputy, Nicholas Hilliard, who drew up the report, say: "If it [the six-month cap] is adopted it will result in a 'cultural' shift which should inform the thinking of prosecutors and judges in other less long cases."

The CBA says that only in exceptional circumstances, and with the permission of a judge, should criminal trials exceed six months.