Jury trials cut 'could save £30m'
Scrapping the right to a jury trial for lesser offences that "clog up the courts" could save £30 million a year in prosecutors' costs alone, the Government's victims' commissioner has said.
Louise Casey said almost 70,000 cases which could be heard by magistrates made up more than 40% of the crown court's business every year, causing greater expense and leading to long delays for victims and witnesses of more serious offences.
And nearly two-thirds of defendants who opt to be tried in the crown court go on to plead guilty, leaving the taxpayer to pick up around £15 million each year in costs, she said.
Ms Casey said: "If just half of the 'either way' cases which currently end up in the crown court could be kept in the magistrates' courts, we could be saving £30 million a year in CPS case preparation costs alone."
She said serious crimes were being "stacked up waiting for court time" while defendants charged with such offences as the theft of tea bags and biscuits worth £24 were opting for crown court trials.
Victims currently have an average waiting time of 28 weeks for a crown court trial, with this often reaching a year in London, she said.
Ms Casey also backed calls for magistrates' sentencing powers to be increased to one year so they can avoid referring more cases to the crown court, adding that the average daily cost of running a trial in the magistrates' courts is £800, compared with £1,700 in crown courts.
Last month, Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said a shake-up of the criminal justice system was needed as it emerged that almost half of cases do not proceed to trial. He said the current system "cannot afford to run any more".
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We are considering how best to encourage guilty pleas at an earlier stage, while preserving a person's long-standing right to have their case heard before a jury."
Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said: "Victims and witnesses want justice to be done and be done swiftly so that they can move on with their lives."