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In October 2004, 21 pilot LAAs were announced for implementation from April 2005. There were a further 66 LAAs signed in March 2006 and a further 62 were signed this month. This achieves the Government's target of having LAAs in every area in England (apart from the Isles of Scilly) from April 2007.
A Local Area Agreement (LAA) is a three-year agreement that sets out the priorities for a local area as agreed between central Government and the local authority and local strategic partnership (LSP).
The primary objective of an LAA is to deliver genuinely sustainable communities through better outcomes for local people. As set out in the Local Government White Paper, Strong and Prosperous Communities, the Government are strengthening the role of LAAs and placing them at the heart of the new performance framework for local authorities. LAAs will now apply to all outcomes delivered by local government working alone or in partnership with other organisations. The White Paper puts in place a new framework for strategic leadership in local areas, bringing together partners to focus on the needs of citizens and communities. It offers a deal where the local authority and local partners co-operate with each other on agreeing and delivering the improvement priorities for places.
In 2008 all areas will have moved to a new LAA enabling them to work with even greater flexibility over resources to respond to local priorities. The new LAAs are all about practical solutions for issues which really matter for local people. We are working across Government, with the LGA and with authorities to implement the new arrangements over the course of the next year.
The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor has made the following written ministerial statement:
The following list of Key Performance Indicators have been set for Her Majesty's Courts Service for 2007-08.
1. Improve the percentage of defendants' cases that commence within a specific time in the Crown Court, so that:
a) 78 per cent. committed for trial commence within 16 weeks of committal
b) 78 per cent. sent for trial commence within 26 weeks of sending
2. Simplify and speed up criminal cases in the magistrates' courts so by the end of 2008: most guilty plea cases are dealt with at the first hearing; most contested cases have no more
than two hearings; the majority of simple charged cases take from a day to six weeks (on average) from charge to disposal.
3. To ensure that 95 per cent. of court registers in the magistrates' court are produced and despatched within three days and all cases cleared within six days.
4. To reduce the proportion of disputed civil claims in the courts that are ultimately resolved by a hearing to 38.5 per cent.
5. To ensure that 81.5 per cent. of small claims cases are heard within 15 weeks.
6. To ensure that 48 per cent. of Public Law Care Cases in the county court and 56 per cent. in the magistrates' court are completed within 40 weeks.
Copies of the HM Courts Service Business Plan for 2007-08 have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
* More information on these and other key supporting targets are published in the Strategic and Business Plans, which includes how HMCS helps deliver PSA1 and 2 (joint Criminal Justice System targets).
The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I wish to make the following statement to the House about the inquests of servicemen and women who have died overseas which fall within the jurisdiction of the Oxfordshire coroner, Nicholas Gardiner.
All casualties suffered by the UK armed forces are a source of profound regret. UK service personnel have put their lives on the line to help build strong, stable and democratic nations and protect the interests of the United Kingdom and we cannot pay high enough tribute to the job they are doing, or the sacrifice some of them have made. We are committed to assisting the families of UK Service personnel who have died on operations overseas when their loved ones are returned to the UK.
We made statements to the House on 5 June, 12 October and 18 December with information about the conduct of inquests by the Oxfordshire coroner and today we are announcing progress which has been made since the written ministerial statement in December.
Each death of a serviceman or woman killed in an operation overseas whose body is repatriated to England and Wales is subject to an inquest. The inquest both the investigation into the death and the holding of the public hearing into the death is conducted by the coroner with jurisdiction which derives from where the body lies. In the case of deaths of servicemen and women whose bodies are flown into Brize Norton military airbase, the Oxfordshire coroner has jurisdiction.
In the 12 months preceding the June written ministerial statement, in addition to the non-armed forces inquests which the coroner has in his jurisdiction, Mr Gardiner and his deputy coroners had conducted 31 inquests into the deaths of servicemen
who died in Iraq. One inquest was dealt with by the Powys coroner and one by the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner.
At the time of the 5 June written ministerial statement, there remained 59 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel killed in Iraq and 11 inquests of civilians whose bodies were flown into Brize Norton.
When I made the written ministerial statement in June, we had only asked the coroner to provide details of inquests into those deaths in his jurisdiction relating to Iraq. By the time of the October statement the coroner had provided us with details of outstanding inquests into six deaths from previous conflicts or other military exercises abroad and three further civilian casualties, the earliest of which occurred in 1998. The position in relation to the inquests in these additional deaths was reported to the House in the 12 October statement. Including these deaths, there remained 59 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel and 11 inquests into the deaths of civilians at the time of the October statement.
By the time of the December written ministerial statement, the coroner had provided us with details of outstanding inquests into six deaths from a military exercise in the Czech Republic in 2004. Including these deaths, there remained 48 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel and nine inquests into the deaths of civilians who lost their lives in Iraq and whose bodies were repatriated to RAF Brize Norton.
As of today, there remain 25 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel in military conflicts and exercises overseas whose bodies were repatriated to RAF Brize Norton and 4 inquests into the deaths of civilians who lost their lives in Iraq and whose bodies were repatriated to RAF Brize Norton.
Three additional coroners officers, Mr. Geoff Webb, Mr. George Gatt and Mr. Derrick Bines have been appointed by Thames Valley Police to support the existing complement of five officers and one officers
team leader in the Oxfordshire coroners office. They are supporting the coroners in various ways, including by contacting witnesses, listing inquests and providing support at inquests.
An additional administrative assistant, Ms. Stella Hartley-Morris has been appointed to the existing administrative assistant in the Oxfordshire coroners office who provide administrative support for the investigations and inquests.
At the time of the December written ministerial statement, all inquests of deaths had been allocated to the assistant deputy coroners. 19 inquests had been held (the WMS mistakenly stated 18 inquests) the inquest into the death of Sergeant Roberts was currently being held and a further 50 inquests had been listed for hearing (the WMS mistakenly reported 51 inquests).
The position now is that 56 inquests have been held, 46 into the deaths of servicemen and 10 into the deaths of civilians. All of the remaining 25 inquests into servicemens deaths have been listed for hearing and pre-inquest hearings have been set in the remaining four civilian inquests. We hope that all the inquests will have been heard by the end of June. We are very grateful for the efforts of all those involved.
We shall continue to keep the House informed on a quarterly basis about progress through the remaining inquests. Below is a table, which outlines the status of all cases and the date of death of each case.
We have not included in this statement inquests into a further 66 service personnel deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan which occurred after 15 May 2006 and which were repatriated into Brize Norton, as the additional support for the coroner outlined above only intended to clear the backlog of cases he had in June. 16 of these cases have been dispersed to other coroners but there remain 50 inquests where the Oxfordshire coroner has retained jurisdiction which have been opened and adjourned.
Resources have now been made available to the Oxfordshire Coroner to enable Andrew Walker to remain as assistant deputy coroner with Geoff Webb as coroners officer to complete those inquests where the Oxfordshire coroner assumed responsibility.
In order to further improve the service to families I invited to meet me on 4 December 2006 the families of service personnel who died in Iraq whose inquests had been held. We are grateful to the 17 relatives of the 12 deceased servicemen and women who gave us the benefit of their views and experiences so as to improve the inquest system for the benefit of future families of members of the armed service who die abroad.
Following that meeting we are working on providing families with better information about the inquest system, how we can help families to have access to all material relevant to the inquest; and holding inquests closer to where the relatives live.
|Oxfordshire coroner: inquests of servicemen and related civilian deaths 1998 to May 2006|
|Date of death||Name of deceased||Allocated to||In process of being listed for hearing||Date listed||Date inquest heard|
|(1) Non-Iraq related military death.|
(2) Civilian Iraq related death.
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