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Criminal justice system ‘is close to breaking point’ – PAC

Spending cuts have left the criminal justice system “close to breaking point”, a new report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warns.

The report found that two-thirds of trials to the Crown Court are delayed or do not go ahead at all, and there was a backlog of 51,830 cases in September 2015. This led to vital work being neglected, including 38.4% of cases not being reviewed by the CPS before they reached court.

The report also found that this varied by area. For example, in North Wales there is a 7 in 10 chance a Crown Court trial will go ahead as scheduled, whereas in Greater Manchester it is a 2 in 10 chance.

It found that shortcomings in the system mean it is failing to support victims and witnesses, some of whom had to wait four hours to give evidence.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: “An effective criminal justice system is a cornerstone of civil society but ours is at risk.

“Too little thought has been given to the consequences of cutbacks with the result that the system’s ability to deliver justice, together with its credibility in the eyes of the public, is under threat.

“Our report paints a stark picture of the human cost of critical failings in management from the top down.

“The system is overstretched and disjointed. Victims of crime are entitled to justice yet they are at the mercy of a postcode lottery for access to that justice.”

The PAC said the Criminal Justice Board should develop a plan to improve co-ordination of the system, including publishing data to allow people to compare performance in different parts of the country by the end of the year.

It also said the Ministry of Justice and the CPS needed to gain a better understanding of the impact of cuts, and publish a plan for improvements to the system in the next four years before the end of 2016.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The justice secretary has been clear that our criminal justice system needs urgent reform.

“That is why we have embarked on comprehensive measures to improve our prisons and courts, backed by over £2bn of investment, to build a swifter, more certain justice system.”

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