The Solicitor-General: I am pleased to report that the programme to equip the CPS with modern computer systems began national roll-out to the 42 areas in November of last year, with completion planned for November 2001. The "connect 42" project provides basic information technology tools and enables staff to be connected to each other and the police. The project was successful in gaining accreditation to the Government secure intranet, which will enable the CPS to join up electronically with its criminal justice system partners and the wider government community.
Implementation in the first 13 areas has taken place and more than 1,500 staff have been trained in new IT techniques. CPS London will start to receive "connect 42" this month and, as I said, the roll-out will be complete by the end of the year.
Mr. Beard: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his reply. I am pleased that the CPS will soon be online in my area of south-east London. Can he give an assurance that the system will be compatible with systems for the police and the magistracy, given the importance of the three elements operating together? Can he say how such compatibility will be assured?
The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend raises an important point. I know that he has taken a great interest in the matter and has visited the CPS on various occasions. He wrote a detailed report for me as a result of those visits. The project was designed not to go wrong. We have started giving Crown prosecutors basic IT skills and they have access to databases, file information and so on. After this year, the next step will be to make sure that there is a link-up with other criminal justice system agencies, such as the police and the courts. That is already possible in some areas, but not in all. We are working with the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department to ensure that we have an interconnected criminal justice system.
The Solicitor-General: As I said, the current contract for "connect 42" will be completed by the end of this year. Tenders are being considered for the next stage of the project. So far, we have received indications from some half a dozen of the leading commercial suppliers of IT equipment. There is great interest in the project. It will succeed.
The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service holds no central records on proceedings against police officers, or other particular categories of defendants. The information is held on individual case files, and could be retrieved only at disproportionate cost. In general terms, the CPS did not proceed in approximately 12 per cent. of cases last year. Where cases proceeded to a hearing, convictions were recorded in 98.3 per cent. of hearings in magistrates courts and 88.3 per cent. in the Crown court, involving about 1 million defendants.
Mr. Mackinlay: Following the jailing last Tuesday of police informer Geoffrey Brennan, who had accused my constituent, Detective Inspector John Redgrave--suspended since February 1997--of corruption, and given that those accusations were subsequently withdrawn and no evidence was produced against my constituent by Chief Superintendent John Coles of the Complaints Investigation Bureau, is it not time that my hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary revisited the matter, which I raised in Westminster Hall on 31 October, in connection with the abysmal treatment of my constituent? The court case against Brennan reinforced what I said then about the scam by MI5 and the anti-terrorist squad's involvement in illicit or illegal gun running with Roger Crooks, who also supplied the helicopter to Sandline and is holed up in Mama Yoko hotel, Freetown? Will my hon. and learned Friend revisit the case, as there is a significant smell about
The Solicitor-General: I know that my hon. Friend raised the matter on another occasion. His constituent made complaints about the conduct of the police in the investigation, and I know that the police have conducted further investigations and that the papers are now with the CPS. They are being dealt with in a different CPS area, to remove any suggestion of a conflict of interest. As the investigation is continuing, I cannot say anything further about the specifics. I will keep my hon. Friend informed about the details.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): One recognises that Caesar's wife must be above reproach, but is it not fair to police officers that they be treated in the same way as others? An investigation going on for such a long time does nothing for morale in any police service, and the media constantly denigrate police officers, who do an outstanding job under tremendous pressures.
The Solicitor-General: I certainly agree that the police do an outstanding job. However, when allegations are made about serious wrongdoing by the police, such as attempts to pervert the course of justice, they must be investigated. That is done under the auspices of the Police Complaints Authority.
Of course, the Crown Prosecution Service has a role in considering these matters. As I intimated to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), the mechanics are such that matters are taken outside an area or dealt with by more senior prosecutors, so that there can be no allegations that they have been got at in any way.
European Standing Committee B--Relevant European Union document: 13119/00, Towards a common asylum procedure and a uniform status for persons granted asylum. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 28-viii (2000-01).]