One of Birmingham’s largest criminal law firms has criticised the Crown Prosecution Service after a case lasting nearly a year and costing £2 million was dismissed by the jury in less than two hours.
Jurors were so relieved to see the end of the gruelling trial that they took the lawyers and their clients out for a drink at the pub after the case finished.
Purcell Parker, based on Corporation Street, acted for two Albanian men accused of running a cocaine-smuggling ring.
But after a long case – and 18 months behind bars – the accused were acquitted by jurors after a short deliberation.
A spokesman for the Birmingham law firm said it was “outrageous” that so much publicly-funded time and effort had been put into a case that was dismissed so quickly.
It added the case had been the longest and most complex it had seen at the court.
Purcell Parker’s clients – Oltjon Nezha and Elmand Koshaj – were two of nine men accused of being part of an international drugs-smuggling ring.
The CPS accused the defendants of conspiring to import cocaine from Europe.
Upon its arrival into the UK it was allegedly processed in Oxford and sold throughout the country.
Thames Valley police observed the defendants for more than a year, using “hi-tech” bugging and tracking equipment.
A spokesman for Purcell Parker said: ‘‘It was so incredibly long, there was so much evidence, there were about 15-20 hard disks each containing between two or three thousand 30-second videos each. The jury had to sit through hundreds of hours of people going in and out of a house.
“The prosecution made a big deal of it but on closer inspection it was just a large number of people going into a house. It’s absolutely not usual for a case to go on this long.”
Jurors at Oxford Crown Court quickly dismissed the case after ten months of evidence came to an end.
After the verdict was announced the jury sent a note inviting the defendants and the Purcell Parker lawyers for a celebration drink at the local pub in Oxford. More than 60 people went to the Heads of the River pub, including jurors, defendants, relatives, lawyers, ushers and custodial officers.
The defendants are considering starting proceedings for malicious prosecution.
The spokesman added: “It was amazing, there became almost a strange camaraderie between the defendants and the jury. The trial originally scheduled to last for five months ended up dragging on for ten.
“These jurors’ lives had been put on hold so they developed sympathy for the defendants. This amount of time and public money just to get an acquittal is outrageous.”
* Background: Legal and budget under pressure
Recent research has claimed more than a quarter of law firms are planning to stop doing Legal Aid work in the near future.
The figures collected by the National Audit Office claimed 28 per cent of firms were planning to walk away from Legal Aid because cuts in the budget meant they could not make any money from it.
One in six firms told the NAO they made no profit from publicly funded criminal defence work, and 14 per cent made only a slim margin.
The public budget at the Legal Services Commission came in for criticism after it overspent by £25 million, leading to accusations that Legal Aid lawyers were exploiting the system.
Mr Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office, said the LSC had to make it a priority to ensure that “it is paying a fair price for Legal Aid services that both sustains a competitive supplier base and provides value for money”.
?Richard Miller, the Legal Aid manager at the Law Society, said: “We are deeply concerned at the catastrophic picture this paints of the economically precarious position of the majority of the solicitors providing Legal Aid in criminal defence work.
‘‘This report goes a long way in dispelling the belief that Legal Aid lawyers are profiteering from the system.
‘‘Many are not even earning any income from the work they do,” he added.
‘‘This is a picture of a supplier base on the point of crumbling into insolvency.”