Foot-Dragging Lawyers Costing Britons Millions

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

London ( - Inefficiencies in the British justice system are wasting taxpayer funds and failing to catch and punish criminals, according to a government report released Monday.

Officials with the Audit Commission, an agency that keeps track of how tax money is used, noted that while more than five million crimes were reported to English police in the 2000-01 fiscal year, only 326,000 people were captured and sentenced.

The commission said the criminal justice system wastes nearly $120 million through trial delays and adjournments.

"This is just one area of unnecessary expenditure," the commission said. "Inefficiencies in the procedures for dealing with offenders not only waste money, but have a serious impact on the capacity ... to deliver justice and reduce crime."

The commission puts much of the blame on lawyers and infighting amongst government agencies and recommended linking attorney fees to the swift conclusion of cases.

The government minister in charge of criminal justice, Lord Charles Falconer, admitted that a "culture change" was needed.

"(People) have a deep and profound sense that the criminal justice system is failing them," Falconer told The Guardian newspaper. "Deprived communities watch offenders go into the criminal justice system, be granted bail and go straight back out and re-offend."

Falconer said that lawyers and judges should make greater use of plea-bargaining arrangements and that rules restricting the type of evidence allowed during trials should be relaxed.

Lawyers' groups disagreed with the committee's report, however. Janet Paraskeva, chief executive of the Law Society, said that there was scant evidence that lawyers were deliberately prolonging cases.

A spokesman for the Bar Council said current rules were enough to prevent undue courtroom delays.

"Judges have full powers to penalize lawyers who unnecessarily drag out cases and we would urge them to use them," the spokesman said.

Crime jump

The Audit Commission's assessment comes on the back of reports that crime in England has risen by 6 percent since last year.

The jump, which will be outlined in a report due to be released next month, would be the first annual increase in crime in England for seven years.

Justice ministers have said the rise is related to the increased use of cocaine, heroin and other drugs, which in turn leads to muggings, robberies and other street crimes.

But opposition parties said Prime Minister Tony Blair has failed to live up to his pledge to be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime."

Conservative home affairs spokesman Oliver Letwin accused the prime minister of introducing "superficial initiatives" that have failed to have any impact on Britain's crime wave.

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