By Peter Wozniak
Defendants should be stripped of the right to trial by jury for minor offences in order to save millions of pounds, the victims commissioner has argued.
'Either-or' offenders, who may be tried in either a crown court or a magistrates court, should be shifted entirely to the latter said Louise Casey, the former Labour anti-social behaviour tsar.
Claiming that giving jury trials for small-scale crimes clogs up the crown courts with costly prosecutions, Ms Casey said: "In a time of spending cuts, we need to abandon some of the genteel traditions and niceties of the legal system.
"How can it be right that a jury can be made to convene to hear arguments about the theft of £20 worth of tea bags as is the case now, when a magistrate could do the job justly but costing far less?"
She claimed that if half of the so-called either-or cases were shifted to magistrates courts, £30 million would be saved in the costs of setting up a jury for crown court cases which often end in guilty pleas anyway.
The Ministry of Justice is set to be cut by a quarter under the spending review announced last month.
In a sign that Whitehall cost-cutting may impact on the legal process, Ms Casey added that the right to trial should not be viewed as "sacrosanct" in cases such as "the theft of a bicycle or stealing from a parking meter".
The commissioner insisted the proposals weren't simply about saving money though. She claimed removing thousands of minor cases from crown courts could free up resources to care for the victims of serious crime.