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CPS (North Wales)

29. Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): What the impact on the Crown Prosecution Service in north Wales will be of the extra funding recently announced. [151417]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): The budget for the CPS in north Wales for the year 2001-02 shows an increase on the previous year's budget by £147,000. It will allow the area to recruit staff to fill posts kept vacant during the current year and to continue to push ahead with its proposals to implement the Glidewell reforms. In addition, installation of the new CPS IT system, Connect 42, into north Wales will be completed during April 2001.

These additional funds will also allow the area to make permanent arrangements to provide an enhanced service to victims. It will be the first CPS area to make this provision available to all victims within its area.

Mrs. Williams: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. I welcome the content of his reply. My local CPS seems to have long-term lawyer vacancies, which puts pressures on other staff members. Will this extra money solve the problem and help them to meet Government targets?

The Solicitor-General: Certainly, additional staff will be employed as a result of the increase in the budget. I assure my hon. Friend that north Wales is an area with few problems. It was almost a joy to visit the area recently because it is meeting the youth justice pledge and is a pilot for a number of projects, such as the Narey project. As I said in my written reply, it is also the first area to introduce the new system for informing victims. When I visited I saw that in operation and I was most impressed.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): No doubt the £147,000 increase in the CPS budget in north Wales will be welcome, but will not CPS work be hindered by the closure of courts in Wales? Is the Solicitor-General aware that the other day a defendant in Wales had to walk 50 miles to the nearest court, following the closure of his local court? Is he further aware that in Oswestry, right on the borders of north Wales, the Court Service spent £350,000 renovating a school building and converting it into a court five years ago and it is now having to spend a further £197,450 to comply with Human Rights Act 1998

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demands, which apparently prevent prisoners in handcuffs from being seen by the public? Is that good use of Government and taxpayers money? Will it not inhibit the work of the CPS which, despite the small increase in its budget in north Wales, is cash strapped?

The Solicitor-General: Unlike the previous Government, we have properly funded the CPS. In the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency in Leicestershire, the budget has increased substantially by some 25 per cent. It has increased nationwide. There will be more prosecutors and more caseworkers. As for the courts, as I have said previously, there is always a tension between efficiency and providing access locally. In many cases the smaller courts, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman alluded, are too small to work efficiently and the Lord Chancellor's Department, in consultation with local people, has decided to close a number of them.

CPS (Human Rights Act)

30. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): What impact the Human Rights Act 1998 has had on the work of the Crown Prosecution Service. [151418]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): Crown prosecutors must apply the principles of the European convention on human rights in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998. Prosecutors have been well trained and prepared for that and are applying convention principles with increasing confidence, both during the prosecution review process and when meeting convention challenges in court.

Judy Mallaber: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. I visited my local magistrates courts on the day that the Human Rights Act came into force. Lawyers and magistrates had received training, but were slightly apprehensive about the Act's impact. Will my hon. and learned Friend tell the House how extensive the impact of the Act has been and whether the dire warnings that were issued by the Opposition that there would be chaos in the courts and that the Act would be a criminals charter have, in fact, materialised?

The Solicitor-General: The sky has certainly not fallen in as the Opposition suggested it would. The Human Rights Act is now operating, points are being raised and argued. It is interesting that the number of cases going to the Court of Appeal criminal division has fallen overall. In the magistrates courts, human rights points are occasionally raised, but magistrates deal with them efficiently. My hon. Friend has taken an interest in these matters and in equal opportunities for a long time. She knows that it is a question not simply of what the courts do, but of changing the culture in organisations so that public agencies appreciate the human rights of the citizens with whom they deal.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I am grateful for this opportunity to question the hon. and learned Gentleman, who gives every impression, in the provision of his answers, that he is paid by the word. What has been the cost of the training provided to prepare prosecutors for the advent of the Human Rights Act? How many people

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have been involved in its delivery? Does he intend to conduct a continuing assessment of the number of staff who opt for early retirement?

The Solicitor-General: As I have said, the Act is bedding down well. It is not as though cases are taking longer in court. Occasionally, human rights issues are raised, but they are dealt with efficiently and speedily. The fast-track procedure that we established to get contentious cases on appeal into the Court of Appeal has worked very well.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of finance. He has asked questions about that, so he knows that money was set aside for courts. However, it has not been necessary to use it.

Victims (Information)

31. Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): What arrangements exist between the Crown Prosecution Service and the police to ensure that victims are kept informed as to the progress of criminal proceedings in which they are involved. [151419]

32. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): What role the Crown Prosecution Service has in assisting victims in providing victim impact statements; and when these will be introduced. [151420]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): Those two initiatives are part of a range of measures designed to improve the service provided to victims of crime and to enable victims, if they wish, to have a greater involvement in the criminal justice process.

On the first initiative, the Government accepted the recommendations in the Glidewell and Macpherson reports that the CPS should assume responsibility from the police for informing victims of decisions to drop or downgrade charges. The CPS has been piloting arrangements for communicating such decisions directly to victims since November 1999.

Victim personal statements enable victims, if they so wish, to inform the prosecutor, the courts and other criminal justice agencies of the effects of the crime upon them. Such statements will be taken by the police and sent to the CPS with the case papers. The CPS will take the statement into account when making decisions relating to

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the prosecution, and it will be responsible for ensuring that the victim's personal statement is drawn to the attention of the court that sentences an offender.

Mr. Gardiner: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. I am sure that he is well aware that one of the most frustrating things for victims of crime is when they feel that they have not been informed of the process of the trial and, often, of its outcome. Victims feel that there are representatives for everybody else, but that no one represents them. Will he assure the House that the responsibility to notify victims of what is happening will not fall between the stools of the police force and the CPS, and that there will be effective communication with victims about what is happening?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend raises a very good point. That concern was first mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). In the case to which she referred, the victim was not informed of what had happened. The procedure that we are introducing will enable the CPS to take on that responsibility, and I saw that happening in north Wales during my recent visit there. The victim will be informed directly by letter. If the victim then wants to see the prosecutor or, in important cases, the chief Crown prosecutor, that will happen.

Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. There is no doubt that many victims often believe that not only are they not kept informed about what is going on, but the crime's impact on them is not taken into account by the courts in passing sentence. Although I am satisfied with the way in which my local police service deals with victims of racially aggravated crime, is there not a case for statements on offences such as race hate crimes to be taken by the CPS when a more detailed statement is often required to get to all the facts?

The Solicitor-General: The victim personal statement will enable a victim of a racially aggravated crime to set out its consequences, including the distress that it has caused. On racist crime, my hon. Friend might have seen that last week the CPS published figures that show that the number of prosecutions of racist crimes has increased significantly. In addition, the police are identifying racist crimes to a much greater extent. Much work has to be done, but our approach is bearing fruit.

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