DPP spending cuts could see criminals get off

Criminals could escape standing trial because of spending cuts at the Director of Public Prosecution’s office, it was warned today.

Others may walk free from court because State lawyers will be too stretched by civil service lay-offs to build a strong case.

DPP James Hamilton insisted his office has made all the savings it can and is now being forced to consider redundancies.

The senior State lawyer, charged with prosecuting criminal offences on behalf of the public, said any more cutbacks could result in cases not coming before the courts.

“It’s hard to see how you could avoid that if you lose a significant number of staff,” he said.

The Office of the DPP has three basic outgoings: staff salaries; fees to barristers; and costs awarded against it by the State during prosecutions.

Along with other civil service departments, it has been ordered to budget for 3.5% pay rises after cutting spending by 3%.

It has already shaved €400,000 off barristers’ fees by abolishing extra payments for court cases that run after 5pm and has no control over costs ordered by judges.

“On an annual basis the number of files coming before us from the gardai is increasing by 5 to 6% every year. That seems to be a fairly strong trend,” said Mr Hamilton.

“We have to make a decision on the merit of each case. We can’t just decide to reduce the number by 10% to save money. That’s not an option.

“The only way we can afford this is to let some people go.”

The DPP said with the rising number of cases and a reduction of staff it will not be able to prosecute all the cases it should, while some of the cases it does take on will suffer.

“If you cut back on support services then lawyers will have to spend time doing things that others do better. That means legal work doesn’t get done,” he said.

“And if you don’t have access to information then you don’t win your case.”

Mr Hamilton does not believe the decision to explain reasons for not bringing criminal actions against suspected killers would be impacted.

Although the new scheme will mean extra work, it is expected to save time on writing letters explaining to victims’ families why they cannot take on a case.

The DPP said he also intends to roll out the policy to cover rape and serious assault cases by the end of the pilot phase, at the end of next year.

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