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Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what steps his Department plans to take in response to the recommendations of the Electoral Commissioner in the recent electoral court case in Slough. 
Bridget Prentice: We have noted the findings and comments in the judgment of the election court. Since 2005, the Government have introduced a range of new measures to strengthen the integrity of our electoral system, and there have been very few proven incidents of fraud since the new measures were brought into force. They include:
Electoral administrators write to everyone who has applied for a postal vote acknowledging receipt of their application and confirming the outcomethis will alert people to any applications for postal votes made falsely on their behalf.
Postal vote applicants have to specify a reason if they want their postal vote to be sent to an address other than that at which they are registered.
Administrators get more time to check postal vote applications because people have to apply for a postal vote a minimum of 11 working days before the close of poll (the previous minimum was six days).
New requirement for electors to provide personal identifiers (signature and date of birth) if they wish to have a postal vote. The identifiers must be replicated by elector when they subsequently cast their postal vote, and will be cross-checked with the original samples to ensure the postal vote is valid.
New offence of falsely applying for a postal or proxy vote.
After every election a list of all those who voted by post is published which will enable individuals to check that their vote was counted. In an investigation the police will be able to check up with any individual whether they did actually vote by post or whether their vote was stolen.
New criminal offence of supplying false information (or failing to supply information) to the electoral registration officer at any time.
Strengthened offence of undue influence, which will make it easier to prosecute, even if the undue influence does not affect the way someone votes.
Clear new powers for electoral administrators to cross check applications to register to vote against other information the council holds.
Maria Eagle: The Legal Services Commission is currently inviting applications for a new criminal legal aid contract due to take effect in July 2008. Applications are being returned at a steady rate but the final number will not be known until after the application period closes on 2 May 2008.
The previous tender exercise for the January 2008 General Criminal Contract resulted in 2,295 applications from firms that already had a contract and a further 90 applications from new providers, ensuring full coverage for publicly-funded defence services in police stations and courts across England and Wales.
Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many cases where defendants have been charged and appeared before a magistrates court but no further hearing has been held there were in each magistrates court in the south-west region, broken down by constabulary in each of the last five years; and what percentage this represented of all cases in each area in each year. 
Maria Eagle: The following tables show the annual number of completed charged criminal cases (adult and youth), and the estimated proportion disposed of at first hearing, for court groupings in the south-west region of HM Court Service for the years 2002 to 2006. Figures are not yet available for 2007.
Figures are provided based on the location of the magistrates court, as data broken down by police force are not available. However, magistrates courts typically hear cases drawn from their local area.
Figures for the number of cases disposed of at the first hearing are estimates taken from a quarterly survey of magistrates courts. These estimates are therefore subject to sample survey variability, with margins of error as shown in the table.
|Number of charged cases and estimated proportion disposed of in one hearing in the south- west region magistrates courts, 2002-06|
|Area( 1)||Number of cases( 2)||In one hearing( 3) (%)||Margin of error( 4) (+/- %)||Number of cases( 2)||In one hearing( 3)(%)||Margin of error( 4) (+/- %)||Number of cases( 2)||In one hearing( 3) (%)||Margin of error( 4) (+/- %)|
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