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The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): The Crown Prosecution Service has not conducted detailed assessments of its performance, but Law Officers and the CPS recognise that victim personal statements can have real value in providing victims of crime with a chance to tell a court about the impact that a crime has had on them. Under the CPSs victim focus scheme, prosecutors play a key role in helping bereaved families to make a victim personal statement.
It is great that a Labour Government whom I support and a Parliament in which I serve has acted decisively to put the rights of victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. How confident can my hon. and learned Friend be, however, that the component parts of the criminal justice system now
have sufficiently robust systems in place to assure victims of the exercise of their rights? In respect of the Crown Prosecution Service in particular, is she satisfied that there is adequate guidance and training for members of staff to enable them to carry out their duties to the best of their abilities?
The Solicitor-General: I echo what my hon. Friend has said. It is a very important step indeed to put the victim at the centre of the criminal justice service, as it is now called. It is no longer a system; it now recognises itself to be a service, intended to provide people with the opportunity to tell a court concrete facts such as the effect that bail might have, and to give them the chance to express the way in which a crime has impacted on them.
It is important that we learn as we go along, and that there is a lot of input from victims themselves into the way we develop the system. I am confident that the Crown Prosecution Service guidance is good and strong, and that there is a huge commitment from the individual officials at the CPS to make this scheme work. I do not doubt that there is learning still to be done, but these measures are capable of giving victims more satisfaction from the criminal justice system than they have had in the past.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Can the Solicitor-General confirm that it is now routine that, in every case, the victim is offered the opportunity to make a victim impact statement? Will she confirm that, in tragic cases of homicide, someone is able to give a statement to the court on behalf of the victims family before sentencing?
The Solicitor-General: Yes, it certainly should always be the case that there is an opportunity to make a victim personal statement. The victim care unit, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police working together have made that process more secure. There are two schemes: the victim advocate scheme and the victim focus scheme for bereaved people. The victim focus scheme is run by the CPS and it has been rolled out nationally even while the victim advocate scheme, which was the pilot for bereaved families, is being assessed. The CPS feels that it has been such a beneficial scheme that it should be rolled out without further delay. The focus scheme gets the CPS to help a bereaved family to make just such a statement, but it is usually read by the prosecutor or simply read by the judge and referred to by the prosecutor. My understanding is that judges adjourn in order to make the point to the bereaved that they are reading and digesting what is in the statement.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab):
I also share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) and, indeed, of the Solicitor-General for the victim impact statement process. There is a pilot in Manchester Crown court and I know that it is being well received there. Will my hon. and learned Friend go a little further today in saying how we can ensure that best practice is taken forward, as the court process is still intimidating, particularly when the victims themselves may be bereaved? The assistance
that she described is extremely helpful, but how can we ensure that best practice is translated and spread across the whole service?
The Solicitor-General: I think we can say that we can do that. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, whose area has seen a pilot of this advocate scheme, which has, I think, been well regarded. The assistance given by the CPS is not just to make a statement. It applies to bereaved families and to all kinds of bereavement caused through crime, including through road traffic crime. The CPS will meet the family beforehand and explain the whole process to them. One hopes that the inevitably daunting experience of attending court is alleviated a little by that exposure.
The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service has not done a discrete assessment of the effectiveness of the system for presenting objections to bail. Police concerns about granting bail to the accused are reviewed objectively by prosecutors against the Bail Act criteria. Her Majestys Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate periodically reviews CPS systems generally and has not identified any inherent weaknesses in performance.
Philip Davies: I am surprised at the Solicitor-Generals response as in recent weeks we have seen an increasing number of dangerous people released on bail and going on to commit even more horrendous crimes. The police are sick to the back teeth of arresting the same people week after week who abuse the bail system and breach bail conditions, yet nothing ever seems to happen. What is the Solicitor-General going to do to deal with this abuse of bail and end her complacent approach, which we also saw in her earlier answer?
The Solicitor-General: There is nothing complacent about the Crown Prosecution Service or my approach to the issue of bail. In all the cases that have hit the headlinesI am not going to talk about the defendant called Swellings, because he has not yet been sentencedthe CPS opposed bail robustly, repeatedly and at length. The law in the UK is that a person is not guilty on the basis of an accusation, but only when they have been proven guilty before a jury. Until that time, they are entitled to bail. When public safety or justice requires it, of course the CPS resolutely objects to bail. We also have an independent judiciary in this country and we are very proud and pleased that we do, and the judiciary takes the decision as between public protection and the right of an unconvicted defendant. It cannot predict the future and cannot read minds, but it makes good rational judgments on a sensible basis. That is what has happened in all those cases.
Let me make the following very clear to the hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justicehas said that when the dust on those cases has settled, as it were, and if any
issues are raised that require changes in the law, he will look to see whether they are necessary. I have no hesitation in saying, however, that the CPS tries very hard
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): But the points raised by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) need to be examined. Should the Solicitor-General not meet the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor to establish what further steps could be taken to analyse the results of the granting of bail? I think that is all that the House is asking. Let us look at what has happened, let us look at the impact on resources, and let us see whether any lessons can be learned from the procedure.
The Solicitor-General: As ever, my right hon. Friend has made a sensible suggestion. I meet the other two Justice Ministers frequently, as does my noble Friend the Attorney-General. As I have said, the Lord Chancellor is taking the lead on the issue, and I have no doubt that he will consult both the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary on any proposals that he concludes, having consulted us, are necessary following the changes that have taken place. However, as I have also said, the system is as it is.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I hope the Solicitor-General agrees that whatever changes are made, she should return to her original statement that the right to bail follows logically and inevitably from the presumption of innocence: the rule that we are all innocent until proven guilty. I hope she can assure us that the Government have no intention of following the route followed even in progressive countries such as Canada, where two thirds of prisoners are on remand, towards almost automatic remand for those accused of criminal offences.
The Solicitor-General: I think I have made the position very clear. Indeed, I have been criticised for making it extremely clear. The position is, as the hon. Gentleman says, that a person is presumed innocent until a jury decides that he is guilty, or he himself pleads guilty. At each stage, people are entitled to bail unless the public need to be protected from them, or there is a danger that they will interfere with witnesses or not turn up in court. Those criteria have served us well for 30 years. The cases that have been mentioned have caused us to look at the issue again, but that is all that we are doinglooking at it again.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): As the Solicitor-General will know, some of the cases that have caused public concern relate to the grant of bail by the Crown court. Others appear to relate to the grant of bail by the magistrates court. The power exists, and has existed for some time, for the Crown Prosecution Service to appeal to the Crown court against a mistaken grant of bail. Can the Solicitor-General assure us that the position will be investigated to establish whether there are cases in which, far from robustly opposing the grant of bail initially, the Crown Prosecution Service ought to consider appealing from the magistrates courts if bail has been granted?
The Solicitor-General: Yes. As the hon. Gentleman says, none of the cases that have given rise to concern are in the category of magistrates court cases on which an appeal could have been made. In all those cases, the decisions were made by senior and experienced judges in the Crown court. I am not aware of any anxiety about a failure to appeal against grant of bail in the magistrates court if the Crown Prosecution Service is apprised of the need to do so, but I take the hon. Gentlemans point, and I have no doubt that it can be addressed as part of the overall issue.
Andrew Mackinlay: I wonder whether the Solicitor-General could help a bewildered Back Bencher. Has she observed that the former Attorney-General has said that there is no case for keeping people in custody without charge for more than 28 days, and that that view has been echoed by her former ministerial friend Lord Falconerthe former Lord Chancellorand, more important, by the existing Director of Public Prosecutions? Have all three of those learned gentlemen gone completely gaga, or are they telling us the naked truth?
The Solicitor-General: I have never seen any of them either gaga or naked. It seems that all the assertions have been that we do not need that change now, but it equally seems that everyone has agreed that it is very possible that an extension beyond 28 days will be needed before very long. The proposal is to legislate to provide an opportunity to extend the period if necessary.
I want to make it very clear that there appears to be agreement across parties, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday. The issue is how this is done. In my view, the important thing is to have it under judicial control. This proposal would do that: it would put detention not into the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service or the police, but under judicial control, which is where it properly should be.
The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman): Most women now work, and women now have equal educational qualifications to men, but women are still not equal at work. We have helped women in the workplace by tackling low pay, a problem that mostly affects women, through the national minimum wage and tax credits, and we have helped to balance work and family, a requirement which also mostly affects women, through better maternity pay and leave and flexible working, but there is more to do.
Mr. Cunningham: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer, and I recognise that the Government have done a lot to combat discrimination against women, but is she aware that women sometimes still have to go to court to get equal pay? Can we do something about that?
Ms Harman: We need to do more in respect of equal pay in the public and private sectors, and in local government. In that connection, my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government has announced £500 million for capitalisation, to help local government on equal pay. We need fair pay and good local public services, and we can achieve both.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The Minister for equalities will know that in the process of reducing discrimination against women it is important that the Government Equalities Office take a leading role. Can she tell the House when she will be able to appoint a permanent secretary?
Ms Harman: What matters is that we get on with doing the job. My fellow Ministers and I are getting on with the work, and we are properly supported by our equality unitand, actually, a new appointment has just been made.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Lady shares the concern I felt when I saw that the 10 most recently appointed judges announced by the new Judicial Appointments Commission were all men, and white men at that. Will she make urgent representations to the Secretary of State for Justice to look into why the new rules did not deliver the intended outcome?
Ms Harman: This issue has been raised previously by Members not only in respect of judicial appointments, but public appointments in general. As I have told the House before, we all think it is unacceptable that there has been no increase in womens appointments to public office in the past 10 years. The independence of the Judicial Appointments Commission, and its target for increasing the number of women at the top level of the judiciary, has yet to bear fruit. I expect to meet the heads of the JAC and the Appointments Commission to see what further can be done soon.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con):
As has already been said, one continuing form of discrimination against women in the workplace is the gender pay gap. Last night at the Fawcett Society reception to celebrate 90 years of womens suffrage, the right hon. and learned Lady reiterated her desire to do something about that, but also confirmed that we will not have an equalities
Bill until the next Queens Speech. The Government could act now on the gender pay gap by adopting my proposals. Why will she not do that?
Ms Harman: We will have an equality Bill in the next Queens Speech; that is when it was scheduled for. We want it to be a radical and effective Bill that makes a difference. I remind the right hon. Lady that Labour women have struggled over the decades to make a difference for women in this country, and that Conservative women have simply sided with Conservative men against that aim.
The Minister for Equality (Barbara Follett): The Ministers for women hosted a reception with the Fawcett Society on 6 February to mark the 90th anniversary of womens qualified suffrage. The event brought together about 200 parliamentarians, including the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), and stakeholders from a wide range of sectors to celebrate the achievement of womens suffrage and to highlight the need for a more representative democracy. I was pleased that the Prime Minister said yesterday that the Government would consider erecting a statue in Parliament square to honour the suffragette movement; that would be the first statue of a woman in Parliament square.
Lynda Waltho: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Despite all the progress, there are still only 97 Labour, 17 Conservative and 9 Liberal Democrat women MPs, and the Fawcett Society estimates that it will take at least 200 years to get anywhere close to having 50:50 representation. All-women shortlists have helped in our case, but those provisions contains a sunset clause and are due to end. What more can we do to ensure that we get closer to having 50:50 representation in my lifetime, rather than in the lifetime of my great-granddaughters?
Barbara Follett: I thank my hon. Friend for that question and for her work in this vital matter. There is no doubt that the 98 Labour women MPs vastly outnumber the women on the Opposition Benches. I would like to see more on the Opposition Benches [Interruption.] I said more, not enough, and that means some of the men have to move off those Benches. [Interruption.] There is no point in getting into an argument about that. We need the Opposition parties to take the issue seriously and to put their votes where their mouths are. We will
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab):
There is an area of public life where womens representation is even worse than it is in Parliamentlocal government. Following the Councillors Commission report, have the Ministers responsible for women and equality had any conversations with their colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government about what action will be taken
to promote more women councillors, given that every piece of evidence shows that they are the most effective councillors in representing their communities?
Barbara Follett: This matter is very close to the Governments heart. We are doing what we can to increase the number of women councillors, in particular the number of black and Asian women councillors. We hosted the largest annual gathering in the Houses of Parliament for regional black and Asian ethnic minority women, which focused on the need for more women from different communities to become councillors; the Women Take Part campaign, which was launched by Ministers in October, is working on the same issue; and the Prime Minister has launched the National Muslim Womens Advisory Group. We are trying to ensure that more women come through in local government, because that is the seedcorn for Parliament.
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