The ?173 million of waste and inefficiency in the magistrates? courts ? revealed by a parliamentary report ? is just the ?tip of the iceberg,? the Law Society and criminal law practitioners have warned.

The public accounts committee report on the Crown Prosecution Service?s (CPS) use of magistrates? courts hearings revealed that nearly two-thirds of trials and more than a quarter of pre-trial hearings in 2004-05 were ineffective.

It showed the CPS was to blame for ?24 million of the cost of delays, with much caused by avoidable problems such as mislaid files, poor case tracking, and inadequate prioritisation of cases. In slightly more than half of the cases where trials did not go ahead, the defence was responsible, frequently because the defendant pleaded guilty on the day of trial.

A statement signed by Law Society President Fiona Woolf, Criminal Law Solicitors Association chairman Ian Kelcey and others called on the government to take urgent action to address failings across the whole criminal justice system.

?The government has been in denial about failings in other parts of the criminal justice system for too long,? they said. ?Urgent action is now needed to improve the effectiveness of the police, prosecution and court service and to avoid the cost of their inefficiencies being passed on to defence solicitors on fixed fees.?

Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald QC said the CPS admitted that there were too many ineffective hearings, but said changes had already led to improvements.

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