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24 Apr 2006 : Column 816W—continued

Traveller-related Crime

Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with the Home Office on Traveller-related crime in rural areas. [64728]

Jim Knight: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) is the lead Department for issues relating to Gypsies and Travellers, and DEFRA welcomes its work on a range of initiatives, including provision of sites and law enforcement.

There are regular discussions between DEFRA and the Home Office at official and ministerial levels about all aspects of crime in the rural community. Our
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discussions cover all those living in rural areas—both the travelling and the settled communities. For example, DEFRA is working with colleagues across government on a Home Office initiative to reduce hate crime.


Crown Prosecution Service

Vera Baird: To ask the Solicitor-General whether he plans to provide Crown prosecutors with electronic equipment to enable them to update the case management system at court as recommended in the National Audit Office report, HC 798 2005–06. [64862]

The Solicitor-General: The National Audit Office recommended that prosecutors should use palmtops to update the case management system while they are presenting cases at court. The Crown Prosecution Service is exploring the practical and technical issues raised by the recommendation. The CPS is making better use of information technology through the COMPASS programme and the COMPASS case management system. Prosecutors at most magistrates courts have access to information technology and the case management system.

Vera Baird: To ask the Solicitor-General what steps he plans to take to improve the way in which the Crown Prosecution Service prepares and brings cases to court in order to achieve better value for money from magistrates court hearings. [64888]

The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service welcomed the recommendations contained in the recent National Audit Office report on the effective use of magistrates court hearings by the CPS. The CPS is already taking forward work on the recommendations, which focus on improving joint working with other criminal justice agencies, maintaining proper oversight of cases, and making more prosecutor time available for review and preparation. By their nature, each of the NAO recommendations is aimed at improving value for money.

Many of the recommendations go with the grain of performance improvement activity already in train, both internally within the CPS and externally with other criminal justice partners. Chief Crown Prosecutors continue to take the lead at a local area level in setting up arrangements with the police and courts to improve the efficiency of prosecution of magistrates court cases—for example, optimising the deployment of designated caseworkers at the magistrates court, a more focused approach to case progression, and an internal CPS structural exercise seeking to get the best match between the size of police divisions and magistrates court catchment areas in order to develop a more efficient model of CPS administration for standard application across all operational units and provide proper oversight of cases.

Vera Baird: To ask the Solicitor-General what steps he plans to take to improve the Crown Prosecution Service's performance in ensuring that trials and hearings in magistrates courts go ahead at the time allocated. [64889]

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The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service is involved at a local and national level in a number of projects and programmes to improve the effectiveness of trials and other court hearings. The CPS has contributed to the successful roll-out of the Effective Trial Management Programme" across all 42 areas and to a continuing reduction in the number and proportion of ineffective trials.

More recently, the CPS has been contributing to a review of the magistrates court led by Lord Justice Thomas, the Senior Presiding Judge, which is focused on streamlining cases through magistrates courts. TheCPS is playing an active part in this project, part of the Criminal Justice, Simple, Speedy, Summary Initiative", recently announced by the Lord Chancellor.

Due to performance improvement flowing from the joint police/CPS charging initiative, and changes to the process applied by the court at the start of proceeding, it is intended that many more cases will be ready to proceed at the first hearing. This will rely on the right charge having been preferred; victim and witness needs assessments having been undertaken; witnesses' dates to avoid having been obtained should they be required to give evidence; any special measures having been identified; and advance information having been served on the defence and the court.

The revised process is about to be trialled at four magistrates court centres, prior to wider roll-out, following evaluation. The process should incentivise the guilty defendant to enter a plea at the earliest possible stage. In those cases where the defendant intends to contest the allegations, the process should also enable the court to isolate the triable issues with the parties and adjourn the case for trial, with the shared expectation that it will proceed to trial on the date fixed without further adjournment.

Vera Baird: To ask the Solicitor-General if he will make a statement on the report by the National Audit Office (HC 798 2005–06) that £24 million of losses occasioned in the magistrates courts in 2005 were caused by the Crown Prosecution Service. [64890]

The Solicitor-General: The National Audit Office report estimated that ineffective trials and hearings cost the criminal justice system £173 million. Of that sum it is suggested that the CPS was responsible for £24 million, the defence for £96 million, the police for £24 million, the courts for £21 million and the police and the CPS together for a further £8 million. Criticisms about the CPS's management and handling of cases are being addressed. The NAO found examples of good practice and the recommendations will help improve performance. The CPS is working with the police and the courts to improve performance in magistrates courts. The proportion of ineffective trials has declined from 31 per cent. in 2002 to 21 per cent. in September 2005.

Public Prosecution Service (Northern Ireland)

Mr. Gregory Campbell: To ask the Solicitor-General how many people are employed by the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland; and how many are expected to be employed by the end of 2006. [65407]

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The Solicitor-General: The Public Prosecution Service currently has some 450 staff. By August 2006 it is expected that the number of staff will increase to 500 as new accommodation in Belfast becomes available. In 2007, when the service is fully operational throughout Northern Ireland, it is expected that the number of staff will be in the region of 600.

Mr. Gregory Campbell: To ask the Solicitor-General what steps are being taken to ensure that there will be a reasonable cross-section of the community at large in each of the regional offices of the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland. [65408]

The Solicitor-General: All staff for the Public Prosecution Service are recruited by the Northern Ireland Civil Service. Recruitment is on merit and carried out through open competition in accordance with fair employment and equal opportunities best practice and guidance as issued by the Northern Ireland Civil Service Commissioners.


Climate Change

Peter Law: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how the proposals to deliver Government strategies to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change as set out in the United Kingdom Climate Change programme, Cm 6764, will be implemented in Wales. [64302]

Mr. Hain: The Government and the devolved administrations published an updated UK climate change programme on 28 March. It proposes a range of measures to take forward our national response to climate change. These include supporting increased generation from renewable sources, encouraging the installation of energy efficiency measures in households, providing more reliable consumer product information, supporting more sustainable transport choices, introducing higher standards for efficiency in buildings and financing energy efficiency measures for public sector organisations.

The Welsh Assembly Government's environment strategy for Wales and its accompanying action plan, to be published shortly, will provide further details of steps to be taken to address climate change in Wales.

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