Previous SectionIndexHome Page


31. Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): On how many occasions he has sought leave to appeal against over-lenient sentences since 1 May 1997; and if he will make a statement. [67828]

The Attorney-General (Mr. John Morris): Since 1 May 1997, leave has been sought in respect of 148

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1074

offenders. Of those, 97 applications have been heard, leave was granted in 93 cases and the sentence was increased in 80, which is 82.5 per cent. of the references that have been heard.

Mr. Mackinlay: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that information. I realise that the Labour manifesto cannot be implemented in its entirety at a stroke, but when will he be able to fulfil Labour's commitment to extend the powers of the Attorney-General to refer unduly lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal? Will he confirm that it can be done by order, without primary legislation, particularly against the backdrop of increasing numbers of victims of crime demanding greater justice in relation to dangerous driving, which I understand cannot yet be referred under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988?

The Attorney-General: I am well aware of the manifesto commitment to extend unduly lenient sentences. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are actively considering how best to take that forward. I also confirm that a sentence can be extended by order. It is only when one seeks to restructure the original scheme that one requires primary legislation. I share my hon. Friend's concern, which is manifest in all parts of the House, about sentences for causing death by dangerous driving. My hon. Friend is not right, however, as sentences can be extended.

Mr. Mackinlay: However, sentences relating to dangerous driving cannot be referred, so I was right.

The Attorney-General: Yes. Causing death by dangerous driving is within the scheduled list. The matter undoubtedly causes concern and over the years a large number of cases involving dangerous driving causing death have been referred.

Crown Prosecution Service

32. Mr. Kerry Pollard (St. Albans): What initiatives are being taken forward in order to improve co-operation between the CPS and the police. [67829]

The Attorney-General: I welcome my hon. Friend's recent visit to the Hertfordshire branch of the CPS. At a local level, police and the CPS are using joint performance management techniques to improve the timeliness and the quality of police files and CPS review decisions. At pilot sites, the police and the CPS are working closely together testing the recommendations in the Narey report on reducing delay in the criminal justice system. At a national level, a working group jointly chaired by the CPS and the Association of Chief Police Officers is considering the Glidewell recommendations on the establishment of joint police-CPS criminal justice units.

Mr. Pollard: I am pleased that the Attorney-General mentioned the Glidewell proposals for joint police-CPS criminal justice units. Does he agree that they will make an important contribution to co-operation between the police and the CPS? Better co-operation means that less

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1075

goes wrong and that, should there be a problem, the police and the CPS do not blame each other. What progress has been made on those matters?

The Attorney-General: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that one side blaming the other without foundation is wrong and impedes progress. However, I am sure that the House will agree that my hon. Friend is entirely right to emphasise the importance of co-operation between the police and the CPS. The need for such co-operation has underpinned the Government's approach from the outset, and in particular the decision to restructure the CPS into 42 areas. As for criminal justice units, the issue is being pursued by a working group jointly chaired by the CPS and ACPO. It has yet to report, but I am pleased to tell the House that the work has been taken forward in a positive and constructive manner and I am optimistic that we shall be able to build on the Glidewell proposals in a manner that is practical and consistent with the different contributions that the police and the CPS make to the overall process.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): The question by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Pollard) highlights the link between the CPS and the police, but I believe that it misses the crucial point. The Access to Justice Bill greatly extends the rights of audience of CPS lawyers. As a result, they will take some of the most important cases and come under immense pressure. What measures are the Government taking, other than those in the Bill--particularly in clause 36--to ensure the independence of the CPS not just from the police but from many other Executive agencies?

The Attorney-General: I am glad to assure the hon. Gentleman about the independence of the CPS, which I value as much as he does. That independence exists by statute, and there was nothing in the Glidewell proposals to undermine that. I do not believe that our proposals in the Access to Justice Bill will undermine them in any way. Indeed, there has never been any suggestion in the summary courts that prosecutors are tainted by any lack of independence.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the Narey pilot in Croydon? All cases go to court within three days, and on 75 per cent. of occasions people who plead guilty are dealt with in one day. Across the board, the average case takes only two months, where previously it took many, and indictable cases go straight to Crown court. Now that the police and the CPS work together instead of blaming each other, the system is much better and people know that.

The Attorney-General: I am glad to hear my hon. Friend's detailed report of his investigations into what happens in Croydon. Five similar pilot schemes are under way--in Tyneside, Blackburn and Burnley, Northamptonshire, north Staffordshire and north Wales. The independent consultancy firm Ernst and Young is well known to the House and it has been commissioned to evaluate the results, and will make its final report in July. That report will cover all the initiatives that have been taken, with the exception of indictable-only provisions. Conclusions will be reached only when that report is received, but early indications confirm what my

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1076

hon. Friend has discovered--that the initiatives have improved co-operation between the CPS and the police. We shall carry on the good work.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): I agree that, if the work is good, it should be carried on. However, there are some signs that police co-operation--even at ACPO level--with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the CPS, is not as constructive and forward-looking as the Attorney-General's answer implied.

The problem is very important, given that the number of civilians employed by the police is greater than the total staff of the CPS. At present, only 50 per cent. of the cases that come forward from the police are either timely or accurate. Will the Attorney-General assure the House that the civilians in the crime support units and the CPS, with the assistance of chief constables, are really preparing to get together, so that there will be an improvement in the coming months?

The Attorney-General: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right to say that there is a need for further improvement. That is what the initiative is all about. Although different constituencies are involved--the CPS and the police--we hope that they will unite as part of the criminal justice system. Hence, to ensure joint ownership of further initiatives to that end, the pilot schemes have been chaired jointly by the police and the CPS. I assure the House that the early indications suggest that we can make progress towards a unified approach.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is also right to say that some files are not up to standard and are not being delivered on a timely basis. I know that, when he was Attorney-General, he sought to make an improvement in that. We intend to continue that very important work to ensure that criminals are brought to justice more speedily, because the public want to be satisfied that public money is spent properly.

Prosecutions (Juveniles)

33. Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): If he will make a statement on progress on the Government's fast-track prosecution of juveniles. [67831]

The Solicitor-General: The Government are committed to reduce by half--from 142 days to 71--the average time taken to deal with persistent young offenders. More than 150 youth court areas have fast-tracking schemes in operation, covering almost half the courts in England and Wales. Before May 1997, only eight youth court areas were covered. Tough performance targets have been set for all stages of criminal proceedings, apart from trial. Measures in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, including statutory time limits, should help to ensure that the targets are met.

Mr. Bruce: I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for that reply, but he has not answered my question. We want a progress report on whether the time taken for juveniles to be prosecuted is being reduced. The Home Secretary, when in opposition, touched a nerve, and received an enthusiastic welcome, when he said that he would reduce the time it took for young offenders to be prosecuted. It is important to do so, because we all know that they go out committing other offences during the delays in their

4 Feb 1999 : Column 1077

prosecutions. The hon. and learned Gentleman would win our support if he got on with doing something. When will we see some real results?

The Solicitor-General: I am pleased to have the hon. Gentleman's support. When we came into office, we inherited an appalling mess. It took four and a half months before persistent young offenders were dealt with. In some areas, good progress has been made. In north Hampshire, for example, the time taken is down to 61 days from four and half months, but I do not pretend that the targets will all be achieved overnight.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest, and I hope that he will visit the CPS and other parts of the court system in his area, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies) has in his. North Dorset has adopted performance targets; the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) should encourage those who work in the system.

Mr. David Lock (Wyre Forest): Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that we will make progress only by setting tough performance targets? The House would wish to know precisely what targets are being set for youth courts so that hon. Members can judge precisely what those who operate the system on the ground are expected to do, and so that the public may have confidence that persistent young offenders will be brought quickly before the courts, and disposed of rather than having their cases endlessly adjourned.

The Solicitor-General: I thank my hon. Friend for his interest. Late last year, non-statutory performance targets were adopted. For youth courts those targets are: from arrest to charge--two days; charge to first appearance--seven days; first appearance to start of trial--28 days; verdict to sentence--14 days. As I said earlier, we are trying to reduce the overall average to 71 days from the four and a half month one that we inherited. We are making good progress.

Next Section

IndexHome Page