The Law Society and the Bar Council have attacked government proposals to allow non-legally qualified Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) staff to conduct trials in magistrates? courts.
Clause 58 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, to be debated next week, will extend the powers of designated caseworkers (DCWs) and permit them ? subject to the discretion of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) ? to conduct all summary-only trials. They would also be allowed to undertake committal proceedings and bindovers, and conduct applications relating to preventative civil orders such as anti-social behaviour orders and parenting orders.
In a briefing paper for MPs, the Law Society said it is not opposed to the deployment of paralegals in appropriate circumstances, but allowing them to undertake summary trials or contested bail applications was inappropriate.
Chancery Lane expressed concern that DCWs are not subject to any professional code of conduct or under a duty to the court. It also pointed out that they receive only limited training ? currently two weeks followed by continuing training.
Law Society chief executive Des Hudson said: ?We have serious concerns on the extension of powers for DCWs. Serious cases should be dealt with by properly-qualified personnel who are responsible to the court.?
Tim Dutton QC, vice-chairman of the Bar Council, said the plan was contrary to the public interest.
?Legally-qualified advocates are required because of the burden of responsibility, the advocacy skills needed for the cases, and the need to ensure independence of prosecutions in our criminal justice system,? he said. ?Qualified lawyers are under a strict duty to be independent. Unqualified workers are not.?
The DPP, Sir Ken Macdonald QC, defended the proposal and said it would enable lawyers to focus their skills on more serious cases.
He insisted that DCWs had substantial experience and knowledge of the law and court procedures, were given full training for the hearings they conducted and worked under supervision of CPS lawyers.