Headlines: July 2nd, 2003

The Government’s quest for modernized public services has reached the courts. The usual mix of targets, league tables and direct accountability is to be applied with rigour. Announcing the new programme to make the Criminal Justice System more efficient, Lord Falconer, Secretary of State at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, said he was appalled that some 30% of trials do not go ahead on the day they are planned and witnesses have a 50% chance of not giving evidence on the day they should. He was also concerned that the taxpayer pays 350 pounds every time a police constable sits in court all day waiting for a hearing that does not take place.The target is to reduce the proportion of ineffective trials across all courts by 27 per cent by 2005/06. League tables will be produced in October to show how each of the 42 criminal justice areas are performing in terms of ineffective trials and timeliness. There are no proposals to grade performance from excellent to poor as in local government and the health service. Accountability will be sharpened and a named individual will be responsible for the progress of every case.

It is planned that improved performance will come from involving all parties in setting a trial date, getting the charge correct before the case starts, rewarding lawyers for timely and proper case preparation and by the use of technology.

A major lever for improvement will be to identify the best performers and promote their success stories. Beacon courts can be expected soon.