The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): I know that my hon. Friend has long taken an interest in this matter, and I am pleased to report that the first step of the programme to equip the CPS with modern computer systems began its national roll-out to the 42 areas in November, and will be completed within the next 12 months. The Connect 42 project provides basic IT tools and enables staff to be connected to each other and the police. The project also successfully gained accreditation to the Government secure intranet, which will enable the CPS to join up electronically with its criminal justice partners.
Mr. Kidney: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his answer, and congratulate him on responding positively to my prompting. Will he confirm that a common ambition of the CPS, the police and the courts is to achieve modern and compatible computer systems so that
The Solicitor-General: Certainly, the three agencies are working together, and I confirm that things are moving forward quickly. It is not simply a matter of greater efficiency in the operation of the agencies, but a question of individual prosecutors in the CPS being able to access databases, Archbold and similar sources so that they can do their job better. The police are moving forward as well and, as I said, the programme will be in operation by next November. In my hon. Friend's own area, it will be in operation by next June, I believe.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): But will the new computer system that the Solicitor-General is rolling out help in cases such as that in the Royal Courts of Justice last week? There was an attempt to get bail for Stephen Downing, only for the CPS barrister to get up and say that he had not heard about the case until 4.30 pm the day before and was leaving the country to go on holiday that day. Bail was therefore refused. Will the new system help to stop that kind of thing?
The Solicitor-General: I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in this matter, and has had a meeting with my right hon. and noble Friend the Attorney-General. The point was made that the CPS had behaved in a proper way and that the problem seemed to be with the court. Certainly, modern IT systems can help the CPS and the courts to operate more efficiently. There is no doubt that that was an unfortunate case, but things ought to get better.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend will understand the extreme anger of my constituents Mr. and Mrs. Willis who were not informed by the CPS of the date of an appeal hearing here in London against the sentence of a driver who caused the death of their son Gareth by dangerous driving. Will my hon. and learned Friend express the feeling that everyone who is waiting for appeal hearing dates will be informed in future and not left in the dark?
The Solicitor-General: I am not aware of the particular case raised by my hon. Friend. However, as a general principle, victims and their relatives ought to be informed of these matters. It is most unfortunate that in this case that did not happen. We have said that victims ought to be brought more centre stage in the criminal justice process and that their views ought to be taken into account. In the case of death by dangerous driving, it is especially important that their interests are taken into account.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): Earlier this year, a survey on the Crown Prosecution Service was published. It disclosed that morale was at rock bottom. Since then, additional funding has been made available to the CPS. Will the Solicitor-General conduct or cause to be conducted another independent survey into the CPS? If he does so, when will the results be published?
The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): As expected, challenges based on the convention are being heard by the courts in criminal cases. Prosecutors are well trained and have been well prepared for those challenges. We have also established a system to identify appeal cases that have such wide implications for criminal justice that they should be recommended for fast tracking to an earlier ruling from the higher courts. Our experience in the first three months is that we have not seen an explosion of cases or chaos in the courts.
Miss McIntosh: Is it not a source of embarrassment to the Solicitor-General and the Government that defendants in criminal cases are now pleading a right to silence under the European convention on human rights, especially in road traffic cases? Is not their embarrassment compounded by the civil courts' recent decision to rule that the Deputy Prime Minister cannot be judge and jury in planning policy decisions and that that right will be withdrawn? Will the Government accept that the implications of introducing the European convention on human rights into UK law are far beyond the realms of anything that they imagined in terms of possible interference with this country's justice system?
The Solicitor-General: I am not embarrassed at all. The hon. Lady will know that recently, in the Privy Council, the court said that the right not to incriminate oneself was not absolute. The so-called speed camera case--it was called that even though it had nothing to do with speed cameras--clearly established that the devices were effective. The court said that the matter is one of balancing rights. In the leading judgment, Lord Steyn said that one has to take into account the rights of victims and others, in addition to the rights of defendants.
The hon. Lady also spoke about the planning cases. Yes, the divisional court held that the provisions were incompatible. We are appealing the case and the matter is sub judice. [Interruption.] Opposition Members are not
Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Can the Solicitor-General reassure the House that the courts will have the resources and powers to deal with appeals more speedily than they are often dealt with in alternative environments?
The Solicitor-General: It is the case that the fast-tracking procedure has worked effectively with a number of important challenges on human rights grounds to particular criminal provisions. The criminal division of the Court of Appeal has already heard appeals and we are expecting a judgment either today or tomorrow on a number of important challenges, one of which concerns the bail provisions.
I return to the point that this is not simply a matter of examining the decisions of the courts. The Human Rights Act 1998 will be judged a success not in terms of cases in the courts, but in terms of changing the culture of public authorities ranging from the largest Departments to public bodies operating in my hon. Friend's constituency.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Is not the greatest attack on human rights the Government's proposal to introduce, for a third time, a discredited measure to restrict the right to jury trial? We all know that the Solicitor-General is a man of huge influence in the Government. Why does he not use that influence to persuade them to drop the Bill?
The Solicitor-General: Well, we have been around that particular track a number of times. The point is that the royal commission appointed by the previous Government--and the Narey inquiry--recommended that particular change and it is sensible that judicial resources be matched to the nature of the case. Trivial or small cases ought not to have the full weight of the Crown court, for example, directed to them.
However, we have introduced a number of protections. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we introduced a right of appeal so that defendants unhappy with the decision of the magistrates court that a matter should remain in that court can appeal to a Crown court judge. The hon. and learned Gentleman has, of course, conducted a campaign against the legislation, but we say that it is an element of modernising the criminal justice system, which, unfortunately, was left in bad shape by the previous Government.