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Prosecution Times

36. Mr. Geraint Davies: To ask the Solicitor-General what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the co-operation between the Crown Prosecution Service, the police and the courts in reducing the average time taken between arrest and sentencing of criminals. [131300]

The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service is continuing to improve working practices with the police and courts to improve performance, building on recommendations made by both the Narey report and Glidewell. Measures taken include: advance information in every early hearing case; a reduction in the number of first hearings; more lawyer time spent on preparing for trials though the deployment of designated caseworkers; and reducing duplication and delay by moving towards co-locating CPS staff with police staff in joint criminal justice units.

Crown Prosecution Service

Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Solicitor-General if he will make a statement on morale in the Crown Prosecution Service. [131292]

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The Solicitor-General: The SR 2000 settlement for the CPS, which was announced last week, was a good settlement and was well received by staff in the CPS. It will provide a much needed boost to hard pressed prosecutors and caseworkers. As a result, the CPS's budget in 2001-02 will be 12 per cent. higher in real terms than now. This is on top of the additional funding of £15.8 million for 2000-01 which I announced on 26 June 2000. These increases will address the concerns about resource constraints which were identified in the recent staff survey and stress audit.

Helen Jones: To ask the Solicitor-General what plans he has to introduce guidance for the Crown Prosecution Service on decisions to drop cases on grounds of lack of credibility of a witness where the witness suffers from mental health problems. [132903]

The Solicitor-General: None. The Code for Crown Prosecutors issued by the DPP under section 10 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 gives guidance to prosecutors for use when deciding whether or not a case should be prosecuted. The code states that Crown Prosecutors must be satisfied there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction before a case may be prosecuted. When considering this, prosecutors will consider the admissibility and reliability of the evidence. This will include considering the credibility of each witness and any factors which impact on a witness's credibility. The code is presently under review and a revised edition will be published later this year.

The CPS is working with other criminal justice agencies to take forward initiatives recommended in the report "Speaking Up for Justice". The recommendations of the report aim to improve access to justice for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses. These initiatives include measures designed to assist vulnerable witnesses, including those with a disability, to give evidence in court proceedings. The availability of such measures will be a relevant consideration for prosecutors when making prosecution decisions.

Ministerial Duty Rota (Summer)

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Solicitor-General if he will publish (a) the Ministerial Duty Rota for his Department during the summer adjournment and (b) the dates between which (i) the Attorney-General and (ii) the Solicitor- General will be on annual leave during the adjournment and not available for official duties. [133159]

The Solicitor-General: It is not normal practice of Government to publish a daily Ministerial Duty Roster. This Department will ensure that it has sufficient cover through the summer recess in line with the requirements of the Ministerial Code. Likewise, it is not normal practice to disclose Ministers' holiday plans, as this is personal information.

Overseas Visits

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Solicitor-General what official overseas visits the Law Officers plan to make during the summer adjournment. [133160]

The Solicitor-General: I am making no official visits overseas during the summer adjournment. My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General is visiting the following countries on official business: (i) South Africa, to attend

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the International Association of Prosecutors Conference in Cape Town; (ii) Germany, to see the Army Prosecuting Authority's court system in Bielefeld; (iii) Brazil, to attend the First World Congress for Attorneys-General in Sao Paulo; and (iv) China, to attend, at the personal invitation of the Deputy Procurator General, the Asia Crime Prevention Foundation in Beijing.

Merchant Navy Day

Mr. Flynn: To ask the Solicitor-General if he will ensure that the Red Ensign is flown from departmental buildings on Merchant Navy Day, 3 September. [132960]

The Solicitor-General: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given today by the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for the Home Department.

CPS (Essex)

Mr. Bob Russell: To ask the Solicitor-General if he will order an inquiry into the handling by the Essex Crown Prosecution Service of a case of alleged careless driving in respect of a fatal accident at Colchester on 6 May 1999; and if he will make a statement. [131076]

The Solicitor-General [pursuant to his reply, 19 July 2000, c. 174]: The fatal road traffic accident which happened in Colchester on 6 May 1999 was a tragedy. Understandably, the family of the deceased feels let down by the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service not to continue with the prosecution of the defendant for the offence of careless driving.

On 10 July 2000, Official Report, column 174W, I informed the hon. Member in a written answer that I would be speaking to the Chief Crown Prosecutor to discuss the circumstances of the case.

I have now met with the Chief Crown Prosecutor for Essex and the Branch Crown Prosecutor responsible for the prosecution team. I am satisfied with the explanation that I have been given as to why the criminal prosecution in this case was discontinued.

The history of the proceedings is this: the police were instructed to issue summons against the defendant for careless driving on 21 September 1999.

The case was listed at Colchester magistrates court for 9 November 1999 but was adjourned by agreement to 7 December to enable the defence to look at the prosecution statements. After the defendant entered a not guilty plea a pre-trial review was fixed for 21 December 1999. At the review the defence requested an adjournment to look into possible defects in the motor vehicle which the defendant was driving when the incident occurred. On 11 January 2000 the defence confirmed that the issue of defects to the motor vehicle would not be pursued. On the same day a medical report was faxed to the court which suggested that the defendant had a medical condition that would have affected her driving.

As the prosecution had not seen this medical evidence before it asked for the case to be adjourned for the Crown to look at the report and consider obtaining its own medical report. The case was therefore adjourned until 22 February 2000. However, on 26 January the defence made a request to the court that as the date and venue fixed was not convenient for the defence the matter be adjourned until 2 May 2000.

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Meanwhile, a first medical report obtained on behalf of the prosecution was received at the CPS Branch Office on 14 February 2000. Unfortunately, the report was sent in an envelope marked "personal" so therefore was not opened until the lawyer dealing with the case returned from annual leave two weeks later. Hearing dates which had been fixed by the court (i.e. 4 and 18 April and 16 and 30 May) had to be adjourned at the request of the prosecution, so that points raised in the medical report which had been obtained could be clarified. Further medical reports were obtained by the prosecution on 25 April and 24 May 2000.

During the week of 1 May there was a case conference with the prosecution team at which it was concluded that it would not be possible to prove the case against the defendant. This was in the light of the evidence that the defendant was suffering an epileptic fit at the relevant time and therefore was not "driving". Consideration was given to proceeding with the case on an alternative basis but alternative charges were statute barred.

As I said, I have spoken at length with both the Chief Crown Prosecutor and the Branch Crown Prosecutor. Both took this case extremely seriously. Indeed the Branch Crown Prosecutor who had immediate carriage of the case pursued it in what I would describe as an exemplary manner. But the plain fact is that the Crown Prosecution Service could not prosecute--indeed it would have been unlawful to do so--in the face of the medical evidence.

The Chief Crown Prosecutor for Essex and I, either separately or together, will be happy to meet the hon. Member if he so wishes, to discuss the case.


Strategic Defence Review

Mr. John Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made by his Department in its strategic environmental appraisal of the Strategic Defence Review; and if he will make a statement. [133603]

Dr. Moonie: The study phase of the Strategic Environmental Appraisal concluded in March of this year and my Department's review of its recommendations has now also been completed. I am able to announce to the House that I am publishing the report and will place a copy in the Library of the House.

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