Ministry of Justice
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Falconer outlines plans to end high cost trial delay

Falconer outlines plans to end high cost trial delay

MINISTRY OF JUSTICE News Release (062/07) issued by The Government News Network on 31 May 2007

Lawyers who cause costly delays to court cases in England and Wales could be replaced in plans for speedier and more efficient trials, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Lord Falconer said today.

The new measures will enable lawyers to be replaced where they are causing considerable delay, or where representing more than one client in a trial might lead to a conflict of interest.

Very high cost cases - trials expected to last 41 days or more - often include cases of alleged terrorism or fraud where several people are charged. Delay can lead to collapse of a trial and incur huge costs.

Lord Falconer said:

"Trials that take too long not only reduce public confidence in the criminal justice system, but also cost the taxpayer money. These new measures will strip away problem areas and deliver a more efficient service.

"We all want a justice system that is efficient and fair. A small number of cases are being unnecessarily delayed due to a number of specialist lawyers lacking the resources and capacity to provide timely advice to their clients and prepare cases for court."

The full response is outlined in the paper Response to Consultation on Proposals to Manage Conflict of Interest and Capacity Issues in Very High Cost Cases.

The policy will enable a trial judge to refer cases to the Legal Services Commission (LSC), who oversee the legal aid contracts paying lawyers in such cases, because of concerns over capacity.

The LSC could then ask the defendant to find a different lawyer. The LSC will also be able to insist legal firms sign legal aid contracts on one defendant per firm basis in cases with multiple defendants and where charges of conspiracy have been brought.

This will remove the potential for a conflict of interest to unfairly affect either defendant's case or cause the case to collapse, at great expense to the Criminal Justice System.

Following consultation with the judiciary, the legal professions and the LSC, original proposals have been modified so the responsibility for terminating any contract lies with the LSC.

This recognises the legal independence of the trial judge, but still meets the intended aim to assist the judge in efficiently managing the trial process. It is anticipated any potential issues would be identified and addressed during pre-trial hearings.

The Ministry of Justice will also be working with senior judges to provide guidance on managing court cases to avoid delays due to lack of capacity by lawyers working on these lengthy cases.

Notes to Editors

1. Today, the Ministry of Justice has published the Response to Consultation on Proposals to Manage Conflict of Interest and Capacity Issues in Very High Cost Cases. The full paper can be found at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications.htm

2. The DCA published the consultation paper, "Proposals to create judicial powers to manage conflict of interest and capacity issues in very high cost cases" on 4 August 2006. The consultation closed on 27 October 2006. It can be found at: http://www.justice.gov.uk

3. Half of all crown court legal aid money is spent on just one per cent of the cases.

http://www.justice.gov.uk

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