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Coroners' Services

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will add coroners services to the list of public authorities covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and if she will make a statement. [62440]

Ms Harman: Coroners inquests are not covered by the FOI Act. This is consistent with the position of other courts. There are, at present, no plans to make coroners inquests subject to the FOI Act.

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many of the (a) special and (b) routine post mortems carried out by the Haringey Coroners' Service have later been subject to a public inquest in each of the last five years. [62441]

Ms Harman: The information requested is not recorded. The North London coroner assesses that (a) about 70 routine post-mortem examinations and (b) about 25 to 30 special post-mortem examinations performed at Hornsey led to inquests being opened in each of the past 5 years.

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many pathologists were employed by Haringey Coroner Services to carry out post-mortems in 2005. [61873]

Ms Harman: Six pathologists provided a service for the North London coroner at Hornsey Public Mortuary in 2005.

Court Hearings (Transport)

Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs who determines the location of a hearing in court for a criminal hearing; what assessment is made of transportation needs for such a hearing; what criteria are used to determine the location of a hearing; and what account is taken of the costs incurred. [62783]

Ms Harman: Magistrates courts hearings are heard either at a court within the local justice area in which the offence is alleged to have been committed or where the person charged with the offence resides. Magistrates courts may change the location of a hearing if it is more convenient for witnesses to attend elsewhere. To this extent courts consider transportation needs.

The following criteria is applied by magistrates to determine the location for Crown court hearings when committing a person for a trial (a) the convenience of the defence, prosecution and witnesses (b) the expediting of the trial, and (c) any direction given by or on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor. The location of a Crown court hearing can be altered at judicial discretion. Reasons for altering locations include ensuring that individual cases progress at a faster rate and to enable cases to be heard where there is the appropriate judicial expertise.
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No specific account is taken of the costs incurred when determining the location of criminal hearings in criminal courts but locality and convenience are normal criteria courts take into consideration.

Criminal Justice System

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what progress has been made towards her Department's targets for the modernisation of the criminal justice system. [45204]

Ms Harman: The Department for Constitutional Affairs has no PSA targets related to the modernisation of the Criminal Justice System.

However, specialised courts have been set up to deal with these cases. For example, two pilot Drug Courts were launched in December 2005 at West London and Leeds magistrates courts.

The Community Justice Centre in Liverpool showcases another approach, bringing the criminal justice agencies (including the police) and voluntary service providers together in one building to work with local people to tackle the problems that blight their community. At Salford magistrates court we are looking at how the lessons we are learning in Liverpool can be extended into the mainstream magistrates court system.

DCA is committed to making the best use of available technology to support the work of the criminal justice system. We are nearing completion of a programme to install a modern IT infrastructure in the Crown court which will provide the platform to deliver new IT systems as part of the HMCS modernisation programme. The first IT system to run on the new infrastructure is XHIBIT (exchanging hearing information by internet technology), which sends hearing information from the courtroom to victims, witnesses, and other criminal justice organisations within minutes. This system is on target to be rolled out to all Crown court centres by March this year. A new audio-visual system is now under trial in Liverpool. This is able to present audio and visual evidence in court from any source, analogue or digital. The system can also handle several tasks at once, allowing it to videoconference between courtroom and a witness while simultaneously displaying evidence to both.

Custody Deaths

Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the averagetime between a death in custody and the (a) commencement and (b) conclusion of the coroner's inquest was in each county in each year since 1997. [62774]

Ms Harman: The information required is not collated centrally and could be obtained only at a disproportionate cost.

Departmental Policies (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Emily Thornberry: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will set out, with statistical information relating as directly as possible to Islington, South and Finsbury constituency,
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the effects on Islington, South and Finsbury of her Department's policies and actions since 2 May 1997. [60728]

Ms Harman: The Department for Constitutional Affairs is the Government Department responsible for upholding justice, rights and democracy. The Department's aim is to provide for effective and accessible justice for all, to ensure the rights and responsibilities of the citizen, and to modernise the law and constitution.

Currently, the Department has four strategic objectives, which cover the delivery of justice, civil and administrative law, protecting the vulnerable, modernising the constitution, increasing consumer choice and working in partnership with the independent judiciary. The Department also has five public service agreement targets to help deliver its strategic objectives, three of which are shared with the other criminal justice departments and agencies.

It will be clear that the range of the Department's policies and actions is wide and the statistical information relating to it is not normally collected on a constituency basis. Consequently, the information requested in the question cannot be provided in the form requested except at a disproportionate cost. However, general statistical information about the Department's activities can be found at:

An example of the information available on this site is statistical data on the speed with which persistent young offenders are brought to justice. The average number of days from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders sentenced during the period from October to December 2005 was 86 days in the Metropolitan police force area, and 72 days in the Islington Basic Command Unit (BCD) area. These figures compare with 160 days in the Metropolitan police force area in the 1997 calendar year.

Electoral Administration Bill

Mr. Benyon: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the viability of amending the Electoral Administration Bill so that voters who currently opt to appear on the edited version of the register could block third parties using personal details which appear on historic registers which were published only as full versions without the choice to appear on an edited version. [63664]

Bridget Prentice: The Representation of the People Regulations 2002 provide that electors may opt out of the edited version of the register of electors if they do not want their details to be sold to anyone for any purpose. Any attempt to use legislation to impose a retrospective ban on the use of information derived from pre-2002 electoral registers, though, is likely to be impracticable and unenforceable since this may be provided by commercial organisations based outside of the UK against whom the sanctions of UK law cannot be applied. Electors who do not want their details to be used by commercial organisations may wish to approach the mailing or telephone preference services requesting deletion from company records or publicly
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available websites or otherwise make a request directly to an individual organisation. If an organisation fails to comply with such a request an elector may pursue the issue with the Information Commissioner's Office.

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