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Discontinued Prosecutions

21. Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): In how many cases a prosecution has been discontinued in the public interest in the last 12 months. [41082]

The Solicitor General: Provisional figures show that during 2005, 25,400 cases were discontinued in the public interest in England and Wales—just over 2 per cent. of the total number of completed cases. The only figures for Northern Ireland relate to Fermanagh and Tyrone and Greater Belfast. Between 1 April and 30 September 2005, 164 cases were discontinued in the public interest—again, just over 2 per cent. of the total.

Mr. Dodds: The Solicitor-General will know that the most high-profile case which has caused the most controversy in the House recently is the dropping of charges in the public interest against the IRA members involved in the Stormont spy ring. Is it not time for more information to be put in the public domain in the public interest, so that people have a clearer understanding of the bizarre events surrounding the dropping of those charges? In particular, can the Solicitor-General go further than the Attorney-General did in his letter to the leader of my party on 22 December, and tell us which Ministers—including the Prime Minister—were consulted before the decision was made to drop the charges?

The Solicitor General: The Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland were certainly consulted.
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The Shawcross procedure was initiated back in 1951 by Sir Hartley Shawcross, who set out the rules very clearly. In the case to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, it took place in January. The decision relating to the decision to discontinue the prosecution was made in December as a result of information received from the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. In that instance there was no Shawcross procedure and no consultation of other Ministers, apart from a discussion between the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland and the Attorney-General following information received from the Chief Constable in November. The Shawcross consultation took place earlier in the year on a different matter. A separate issue arose in November and December, as a result of which the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland took the view, after consultation with the Attorney-General, that the prosecution should be discontinued.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Like many other cases, the Northern Ireland case gives the public great cause for concern, because they do not understand why a prosecution that they expected to take place did not go ahead. Will the Solicitor-General consider the adoption of a much better procedure, allowing the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service to be regularly accountable to the public—to explain why they make such decisions, to answer questions, and to increase the credibility of their decisions as a result?

The Solicitor General: The Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland gave careful consideration to the information that he received from the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland in November 2005. I think that the DPP acted quite properly. He did consult the Attorney-General, but no other Minister was involved in the December decision to discontinue the prosecution.

Having regard to his duties as prosecutor, the DPP weighed the relevant factors—including the Human Rights Act 1998—in deciding that it was not in the public interest to continue the prosecution. It is not open to the DPP or to me to make public the reasoning behind that decision. To do so would be liable to give rise to the very damage that the decision to stop the prosecution was intended to avoid. The hon. Gentleman seems to want the information to be in the public arena, but the purpose of the decision was to stop certain information from entering the public arena.

Treasury Solicitor's Department

22. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): How many people were employed in the Treasury Solicitor's Department in the years ending 31 December 2003, 2004 and 2005; and what the cost of the Department was in each year. [41083]

The Solicitor General: The full-time equivalent number of staff employed by the Treasury Solicitor's Department for the calendar year 2003 was 797 and the Department's overall cost was £80 million. For 2004,
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there were 848 staff and an overall cost of £79.6 million. For 2005, there were 861 staff and an estimated overall cost of £80.2 million.

Mr. Bone: The House will be surprised at the number of people employed and the huge cost. Has the Solicitor-General examined whether some of that work could be carried out by the private sector, and what savings could be made?

The Solicitor General: The 8 per cent. rise in staff matches increased productivity, which is 18 per cent. in chargeable hours. On cost-effectiveness, overall costs are up only 0.25 per cent.—less than the rate of inflation. There is extra work to do, and it is being done with only a small increase in the number of staff. If the Government put the work out to, say, City firms, which do much of such work, their charging rate would be    much higher than the Treasury Solicitor's Department's. TSol charges about £134 per hour, but private City law firms would charge at least double that; frankly, if I were in a City firm, I would charge well over double that figure. In other words, we get value for money from Treasury solicitors.

Non-stranger Rape

23. Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): What further steps are being taken to improve the conviction rate in prosecutions for non-stranger rape. [41084]

The Solicitor General: Convictions in non-stranger rape cases are low because there are no independent
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witnesses and, frequently, no forensic evidence. Since July, I have been working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to develop a package of measures that will enhance the effectiveness of rape prosecutions and improve the courtroom treatment of victims. That will improve conviction rates, and I hope to make an announcement shortly.

Mr. Clarke: Does the Solicitor-General agree that because rape victims are immensely traumatised—all the more so when a non-stranger, such as a close friend or an acquaintance, is involved—there is often a delay in reporting? Such delay has often been used by the defence to discredit victims. This issue is of great concern to many people and I would welcome the Solicitor-General's observations on it.

The Solicitor General: It is undoubtedly the case that some victims delay making a complaint owing to trauma, and defence lawyers will cross-examine victims on this point, playing on society's erroneous assumption that a real victim would come forward immediately, which is not always the case. I therefore propose that experts be allowed to provide generic evidence of rape's psychological impact on victims. That will assist juries by addressing some of the myths that persist about rape, which were highlighted in a recent poll conducted by Amnesty International. I believe that that will make a substantial difference to conviction rates.

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Business of the House

11.33 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give the House the business for the following week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 16 January—Remaining stages of the Equality Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 17 January—Opposition Day [11th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate relating to the Child Support Agency, followed by a debate relating to civil nuclear power. Both arise on an Opposition motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday 18 January—Remaining stages of the Work and Families Bill.

Thursday 19 January—Remaining stages of the National Lottery Bill.

Friday 20 January—Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 23 January—Consideration in Committee of the Government of Wales Bill.

Tuesday 24 January—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the Government of Wales Bill.

Wednesday 25 January—Remaining Stages of the Childcare Bill.

Thursday 26 January—Remaining stages of the Criminal Defence Service Bill [Lords], followed by motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Friday 27 January—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 26 January will be:

Thursday 26 January—A debate on strengthening health services in developing countries.

[Following is the information: Motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee and the Government replies since last debated on 29 June 2004.]

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