28 July 2009 | Jake Kanter
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has been accused of "Alice in Wonderland accounting" after claiming to have saved millions of pounds using in-house lawyers rather than external resources.
A study commissioned by the Bar Council, the professional body for barristers in England and Wales, said the CPS's declaration that it saved £17.1 million in 2007 and 2008 by using in-house prosecutors instead of contracting self-employed lawyers "does not stand up to proper scrutiny".
The CPS said its figures were independently verified by the independent prosecution inspectorate, which concluded the calculations were "robust". A spokeswoman said the £17.1 million figure was the gross savings on lawyer services, excluding VAT. She added that the organisation would publish a response to the Bar Council's study in the near future.
The Bar Council report, carried out by consultancy Europe Economics, said the prosecution service underestimated the cost of overheads and failed to demonstrate savings in a way normally required by the government.
The CPS's 2007-2008 annual report showed staff costs increased by £15.57 million to £333.57 million, while fees paid to external lawyers only dropped by £5.55 million to £139.67 million. The study said the CPS's approach was so "profoundly flawed it should not be relied on".
Desmond Browne, chairman of the Bar Council, said: "To claim that taking advocacy in-house will save money without taking account of the full cost smacks of Alice in Wonderland accounting.
"We have been given a variety of figures regarding the savings that the CPS claims to be making from the increased use of in-house counsel. The one thing that they have in common is the failure to account for all the costs. Simply focusing on short-term marginal cost is not enough."
Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions at the CPS, said: "I stand by our figures and our analysis. Most of the Bar Council's conclusions are unfortunately based on an incorrect assumption - namely that CPS accommodation and other costs would increase as a consequence of employing more CPS advocates. This has not and will not be the case. So their conclusions are simply wrong."