Labour has vowed to get “all hands on deck” to tackle the courts backlog, by opening the door for additional staff to take on more serious casework.
The party says it would pave the way for a two-thirds increase in the number of people serving as crown prosecutors by removing an “unnecessary and outdated” restriction on the duties of those currently working on the next rung down.
As it stands, according to Labour, there are 127 criminal law specialists employed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as associate prosecutors, handling “less contentious matters” in magistrates’ courts.
They would tend to work on things like bail applications or criminal proceedings relating to less serious, non-imprisonable offences, the party said.
But Labour said the law currently prevents these staff, many of whom have years of experience, from taking on more “serious or contentious casework” dealt with by crown prosecutors at magistrates’ level, such as initial hearings for offences that are due to be sent for trial at Crown Court.
On the whole, it said the only way for them to move up the ladder is to retrain as generalist lawyers, which can be “expensive and time-consuming”.
Labour therefore wants to change the legislation to free up these staff to take on more serious or contentious casework, so they can get to work tackling the courts backlog.
They would likely need to apply to become a crown prosecutor, but the idea is this process would be far quicker and easier than retraining, maximising the resources already available to the CPS.
Labour’s shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, said: “With the epidemic of violent crime, fraud and anti-social behaviour plaguing our communities, the Government should be exploring every practical option that would help to tackle the backlogs across our court system, and get the wheels of justice turning more rapidly again.
“In this group of associate prosecutors currently employed by the CPS, we have 127 experienced legal professionals who are not being used to the maximum extent possible in our courts because of an unnecessary and outdated legal restriction on the type of cases they are allowed to handle.
“Labour would immediately remove that restriction, and allow those staff to apply for crown prosecutor positions.
“That is the kind of can-do, common-sense action we need, getting all hands on deck to clear the backlogs gripping Britain, instead of a Tory government with its head in the sand.”