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European Convention on Human Rights

28. Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): When (a) he and (b) the Attorney-General last met the Secretary of State for the Home Department to discuss the implementation of the European convention on human rights. [103803]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): The Attorney-General and I regularly meet the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers to discuss matters of common interest, including human rights. In addition, I am a member of the human rights task force, which is chaired by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), and which includes representatives from a range of human rights groups.

Mr. Mackinlay: Will my hon. and learned Friend counsel my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that there is a serious deficiency in our statute law in relation to our obligations under the European convention on human rights? European judges will note that the Crown has been reminded of this by the British legislature. We have no public interest defence under the Official Secrets Act 1989. No doubt the Ponting jury took account of that.

The French courts, recently and embarrassingly for the United Kingdom, declined to meet our extradition requests in relation to David Shayler. The Foreign Office

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is embarrassed when trying to argue on behalf of, for example, people in the Russian Federation who have leaked information about the deterioration of nuclear weapons and nuclear plants. It is time that we remedied the omission by ensuring that there are adequate defence opportunities when charges are made under the Official Secrets Act.

The Solicitor-General: The Human Rights Act 1998 does not amend the Official Secrets Act 1989. My hon. Friend will know that all legislation, including the Official Secrets Act, must be interpreted in conformity with the Human Rights Act. In addition, all public authorities, including the security services, must act in conformity with that Act. In any prosecution, including one under the Official Secrets Act, the defendant can raise a human rights point. That three-pronged attack does not exactly address my hon. Friend's concern, but it may give him some comfort.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): In the interests of open government, will the Solicitor-General explain to the House the process adopted by the Government before a statement of compatibility with the convention is added to a Bill?

The Solicitor-General: Every Minister must sign a certificate and every Minister receives detailed advice from his or her lawyers. In some cases, my Department will be involved. There will be a detailed statement, which will go to the Cabinet Committee on Legislation. The section 19 statement is backed by a detailed analysis undertaken by Government officials.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does not the European convention on human rights give the right to parents to ensure that their children can be educated in accordance with the philosophical convictions of those parents? Might not the convention prove an invaluable tool and defence mechanism in the event that the malicious and stupid regulations of the Government were to lead to the abolition of a single grammar school?

The Solicitor-General: Some of the hon. Gentleman's comments are tendentious--[Interruption.] In fact, all of them are. He is right to say that parents have a right to educate their children as they wish. However, there is a range of other rights as well, all of which are important.


29. Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): What measures are being taken to ensure that the views of the Crown Prosecution Service at all levels are taken into account as the reforms of the CPS are implemented. [103804]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): Proper consultation with all staff is essential for the reform programme. The CPS is approaching that in an open and inclusive way. The trade unions have been consulted throughout and the membership of the working groups steering the reforms in the CPS has been drawn widely from across the service. The CPS has also set up a

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sounding-board network, which is designed to provide an additional regular forum for staff at all levels to inform and monitor the reforms.

Dr. Ladyman: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. When I visited the CPS office in Canterbury before the reforms were announced, I found the staff there very much looking forward to the reforms and wanting to be closely involved in making them work. Will my hon. and learned Friend assure me that senior CPS staff will be visiting local area offices and talking to staff at all levels to receive their feedback? Will he also assure me that trade unionists in local branches will be involved? Will there be anything more formal and objective than the sounding board appears to be, which will ensure that the views of all staff are taken into account?

The Solicitor-General: I thank my hon. Friend for visiting his local office. I received a detailed report of that visit, which was obviously useful. More detailed work than I specified in the initial answer is being done. A survey and stress audit among all members of staff is to be carried out. The trade unions are closely involved--for example, trade union representatives sit on the equality committee and the working group on race. There is a regular programme of visits by managers, and the Attorney-General and I also have a regular system of visiting all offices around the country.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): One of the matters that the Solicitor-General will no doubt want to take into account is the current and future budget of the Crown Prosecution Service. How much will the CPS have spent on its own behalf and on behalf of Spain in the Pinochet case, and what proportion of the CPS's annual budget does that sum represent?

The Solicitor-General: I cannot give the detailed figures, but I shall write to the hon. and learned Gentleman. Questions have been answered on the matter. As a result of a decision of the divisional court, the arrangement in this country is that the CPS acts as the agent of a foreign state--in the case that the hon. and learned Gentleman raised, Spain--and accepts instructions, as does any lawyer from a client. That arrangement was laid down by the divisional court. Some may question that policy, but that is the law. I will come back to the hon. and learned Gentleman with the detailed response to his inquiries.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): My own visit to the local Crown Prosecution Service left me less than overwhelmed by the support provided by information

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technology. Will my hon. and learned Friend ensure that efficient IT, which any modernised prosecution service needs, will be available to the CPS?

The Solicitor-General: Again, I commend my hon. Friend for visiting his local CPS. IT is important. The CPS does not have sufficient IT. At a previous Question Time, I said that under the modernisation programme from the Treasury, the CPS has £12 million to introduce IT. That will be done in the near future. There is also a more detailed programme to ensure that the criminal justice system is joined-up, IT-wise, so that the police can communicate with the prosecutors, the courts and so on.

30. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): What measures his Department uses to monitor the performance of the Crown Prosecution Service in terms of cases taken forward for prosecution. [103805]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): The performance of the Crown Prosecution Service is monitored against a range of measures. Those include the proportion of dismissals--no case to answer--in magistrates courts and non-jury acquittals in the Crown court, where the outcome is attributable to failure in the review process. Information on the number and proportion of cases resulting in an adverse outcome, and on the reason for that result, is collected by the CPS and is used to identify areas requiring improvement.

Mr. O'Brien: I listened carefully to the Solicitor-General's answer and to the answers he has given previously, which have been of a general nature. What practical steps are being taken specifically to liaise with the victims of crime and to keep them informed of the progress of cases? How about a weekly or fortnightly telephone call, e-mail or letter? That contact should be measured, so that victims of crime can monitor how matters are progressing from their point of view.

The Solicitor-General: I can tell the House that we are piloting recommendations made in the Macpherson and the Glidewell reports that the CPS should be the contact with the victim. At present, the police are the contact. That means that sometimes messages may be garbled. We are working towards a system where the prosecutors will be the point of contact with victims, which should greatly improve the arrangements to which the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) referred earlier.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Can the Solicitor-General examine the processes that resulted in the possibly malicious prosecution of two people in Cambridge--known as the Cambridge Two--

Madam Speaker: Order. The case is subject to appeal and is therefore sub judice.

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