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The Solicitor-General was asked—

Parental Bindovers

21. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Pursuant to the answer of 4 July, Official Report, columns 13–14W, on parental responsibility, how many parental bindovers have been imposed on the parents of young people who have been convicted of an offence in each of the last 10 years. [11937]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The figures for the year 2004–05 are not yet available. However, in the 10 years up to 2003, 29,526 parental bindovers were issued against 26,568 persons.

Mr. Hollobone: I thank the Solicitor-General for that answer, but is he aware that the vast majority of residents in the Kettering constituency believe that parents should be held far more readily to account for the behaviour of their children? Given that he admitted in a written answer that he had not had any "formal discussions" with the Director of Public Prosecutions about parental responsibility, will he now undertake to meet both the Home Secretary and the DPP to develop proposals to establish effective mechanisms as soon as possible?

The Solicitor General: We have put in place what we believe are effective mechanisms to deal with the issue of parental responsibility. We also believe that parents need to take responsibility for antisocial behaviour committed by their children. That is why we have introduced parenting contracts, parental responsibility orders, parenting orders, acceptable behaviour contracts and why we have recently strengthened legislation in that respect. Indeed, the necessary
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legislation is already in place: the hon. Gentleman's concern about parental bindovers, which he raised in the    question, relates to legislation passed by the Conservative Government in 1991.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Can the Solicitor-General help the House about the guidelines in respect of when such bindovers are appropriate? He will be aware that one of the problems confronting a court is deciding whether blame can be attached to the parents or whether the child is completely out of control, making the imposition of a bindover unfair. Sometimes it is felt that much greater parental involvement might help alleviate the problem. I would suggest to the Solicitor-General that the general public are rather unaware of what the criteria are, so will he help us on that and, if there are guidelines, make them available to the House?

The Solicitor General: I certainly undertake to look further into that matter and to make any guidelines available. In the end, it has to be a matter for the courts and it is for them to decide whether they believe in a set of particular circumstances that parents have failed to exercise the degree of control that we in the House and members of the public quite properly expect them to exercise over their children. Sometimes children get out of hand, but the parents are doing their best and the courts acknowledge it. In those circumstances, it would be inappropriate to oblige them to undertake a course through a parenting order. However, it is clear that other parents allow their children to be out very late, in inappropriate circumstances. In such cases, the courts have discretion to implement a parenting order, or whatever other order that may be deemed appropriate.

To some extent, courts should have a certain amount of discretion when it comes to these matters. We must ensure that they are aware that they must make a judgement based on the facts before them.

Lenient Sentences (Appeal Rights)

22. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What steps he has taken to publicise the rights of victims of crime to appeal against lenient sentences. [11938]

The Solicitor General: The Crown Prosecution Service requires advocates who know of a complaint about a sentence to inform victims of their right to refer sentences to the Attorney-General. If the CPS decides not to refer a case, it is required by guidance to notify victims without delay, so that they have the opportunity to complain direct to the Law Officers.

Mr. Turner: I thank the Solicitor-General for that answer. It bears a striking similarity to the one that I was given on 1 May 2002, which can be found at column 822 in the relevant edition of the Official Report. However, his predecessor told me:

she meant hon. Members—

That right was the right to complain, and I quoted the right hon. and learned Lady's reply again on 9 January 2003, at column 315 of the Official Report for that date.
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I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will look at that extract. Most ordinary people do not read the Home Office's publications or look at its website. What steps is he taking to ensure that people know that they have the right to complain as soon as a sentence is passed?

The Solicitor General: The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that needs to be brought to the attention of the CPS, and I shall ensure that its staff are aware of the importance that this House attaches to this matter. The CPS must carry out its obligations to inform victims, their families and, where appropriate, witnesses about the various rights that they have. It is not the Law Officers' role to publicise those rights. That is best done by the CPS, which ought to be close to the court proceeding and able to inform witnesses, and victims in particular, of their rights to refer matters. Subsequently, the CPS is under an obligation to inform victims, in writing, that they have the right to refer a matter direct to the Attorney-General. These are important issues, and I welcome the interest that the hon. Gentleman takes in them.

Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): The CPS has the primary responsibility for referring unduly lenient sentences, but I am a little concerned that it does so only patchily. A constituent of mine, Mr. Taylor, was knocked over and kicked in the head. He was saved from worse injury being inflicted by two young men who had received very nominal sentences for previous convictions for violence. I have much respect for my local senior Crown prosecutor, but it did not appear that that case would be taken on until I had written about it. Are systematic procedures in place to ensure that each sentence is reviewed as soon as it is given out, and that the possibility of review is always at the forefront of the mind of those who work for the CPS?

The Solicitor General: I hesitate slightly before I answer, as the last time that I responded to Solicitor-General's questions—the first time that I had done so, in fact—I had to apologise to the House for the CPS' failure to refer what had happened in a homicide case to a victim's family. The CPS does not always carry out its duty as efficiently as we would prefer, but the procedures exist and are implemented in the vast majority of cases. The CPS' obligations are much more at the forefront of its staff's minds than they ever have been in the past. There has been a remarkable transformation in the CPS, which now acknowledges its responsibility to do justice and to ensure, along with the police, that victims and their families, and witnesses, are informed of what is happening in court cases. Things are changing, and I hope that the local CPS of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) will be at the forefront of that change.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Considerable publicity was given to the fact that part 10 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows retrials in serious cases where compelling new evidence emerges following acquittal. On how many occasions has the Director of Public Prosecutions given consent for an application for retrial on that basis and how many cases are under consideration?

The Solicitor General: As the hon. Gentleman did not give me any advance notice that he sought such very
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direct statistics, I will have to write to him with those precise figures. I am sure that they will change from time to time. However, these are important matters, and I will ensure that he gets the precise statistics that he wants.

Police Records

24. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Under what circumstances the Crown Prosecution Service may examine police records of a witness called by the defence. [11940]

The Solicitor General: The Crown Prosecution Service can examine the previous convictions and cautions of any witness, including defence witnesses. At court, the CPS can provide evidence of the bad character of a witness if certain conditions are satisfied.

Tony Lloyd: I concede that it is obviously in the public interest that, on occasion, the past record of the witness should become a matter of record for the court, but
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what controls are in place to prevent that option from being abused? In particular, when the charge levelled directly involves the police, possibly as victims, where both the defence and prosecution have a motive to look at a witness more cautiously, is there any proper and adequate control to ensure that such checks of criminal records are not abused?

The Solicitor General: I hope that there are sufficient protections. The Criminal Justice Act 2003, which applies after 15 December last year, imposes enhanced relevancy tests for submitting evidence that relates to the character of certain individuals. There are three grounds on which evidence of bad character can be admitted: first, if important explanatory material is involved and the court consents to its being admitted; secondly, if its use helps to prove important material issues and, again, the court consents; and, thirdly if the defence and prosecution agree that such material should be put before the court. Significant safeguards therefore exist, but if my hon. Friend is concerned about a certain case, I will happily discuss it with him.

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