Only urgent action can save England's "shambolic court system", lawyers' leaders warned the Government yesterday.

Stephen Hockman QC, the chairman of the Bar Council, and Kevin Martin, the president of the Law Society, whose professional bodies represent all barristers and solicitors in England and Wales, backed the Sunday Telegraph's campaign for effective justice as it emerged that thousands of criminals walk free because of failings by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Mr Martin, who represents more than 126,000 solicitors, said: "The Sunday Telegraph campaign has highlighted the system's failing, which is a total lack of efficiency, waste and delays, such as missing files and incomplete papers.

Accusing the Government of ignoring the problems because they were not "suitable manifesto issues", he added: "The courts are just as important as having a properly functioning parliament, properly functioning health service, properly functioning education service, because we can't talk about being tough on crime if the courts aren't functioning properly."

Mr Hockman said the creation of more than 700 new laws since Labour came to power in 1997 had exposed a lack of legal expertise within the justice system.

"What we need is a system where expert knowledge is applied to cases right from the beginning. So where papers are incomplete, an expert will be able to say so before the case reaches court.

"The problem also lies with a lack of resources. There is no doubt at all in my mind that there should be a reallocation of funds in favour of the legal system. The NHS, for instance, spends in a week what is spent on legal aid in an entire year. "

The criticisms come just days after CPS performance reports revealed that 3,444 defendants, including people accused of burglary, violence and dangerous driving, walked free without standing trial last year because of delays by the organisation.

Ken MacDonald QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said steps were being taken to address the problem.

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