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Lord Henley: We all share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, about the government amendments. If this amendment is to be accepted by the Committee, I hope that the Government will very seriously consider accepting the noble Lord's amendment or something on its lines. As has been made very clear, decisions on whether or not to prosecute are among some of the most difficult that a prosecutor will have to make. They require very difficult assessments of the legal sufficiency of the evidence, its reliability and calibre, together with the application of factors which are relevant to the public interest including the nature of the defendant's record, the effect on the behaviour of the victim and other public considerations.
I also share the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, my noble friend Lord Windlesham and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, as regards the motives behind the government amendments and the reasons for them. Are they merely about cost and administrative convenience? We are also concerned about what training will be offered to those who will be affected by the government amendments, whether that training will be sufficient and what experience of court work will those involved have.
My noble friend Lord Windlesham also made the very valid point that the report commissioned from the former Lord Justice, Sir Iain Glidewell, has not yet been produced and therefore the government amendment was possibly premature. I agree with my noble friend on that point, and it seems to be something with which the Government themselves agree. When the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, moved his amendment earlier relating to an extension of rights of audience for solicitors, it was resisted by the noble and learned Lord the Lord
For much the same reason, in advance of the report of Lord Justice Glidewell, it would also be premature for the Government to press ahead with their Amendment No. 212. As my noble friend Lord Windlesham argued, it may be that the Government will argue that this is a suitable legislative opportunity. I have not noticed the Home Office being slow in coming forward with legislation. I am fairly sure that there will be further legislation next year. If the Government are looking for a suitable opportunity they will have no difficulty in finding one. For that reason I very much hope that, if the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General is not prepared to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, he will consider very seriously whether he ought to press ahead with his amendment at the moment or whether it might be better to leave that to another Bill in another year.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am very grateful to Members of the Committee for their various contributions to this significant debate. I hope that I shall be able to put their minds at rest as to what the Government propose. I shall deal first with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Meston. He referred to the Philips Royal Commission which emphasised the need for lawyers to consider whether or not people should be prosecuted. That was said, but it also considered whether in the less complicated guilty plea it would be appropriate for lay presenters to be used. The report said that there had been wide consultation on the issue and found no objection to the point in principle, but that the problem was a practical one, it being that in the magistrates' court there was not a simple, uncontested case list. Therefore, there was not much point in using lay presenters because one could never isolate a list in the court that they could deal with. In his proposals Narey seeks to deal with that by proposing that, in order to speed up justice, there should be co-ordination with the magistrates' courts and the police whereby one can identify guilty pleas in moderately straightforward cases. They would be dealt with in a very short time on the basis of an abbreviated file, which could be reviewed by a lay presenter. If the appropriate co-operation could be obtained then the objections that Philips identified, which were practical and not of principle, could be overcome. I share, as do the Government and Narey, the belief that if these practical difficulties can be overcome then, subject to appropriate safeguards, there is no reason why one should not have lay presenters dealing with that kind of case. This is not the thin end of the wedge, but a sensible use of resources.
Lord Henley: Does the noble and learned Lord imply from that answer to my noble friend that he would consider amendments to the new clause that the Government are adding to the Bill, but might limit the powers of the director in terms of whom he could or could not designate?
It may be helpful to answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, by going through the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, because they broadly overlap. Will the staff be trained? Yes, they will be. No staff member will be involved who has not had appropriate training. Will they be qualified? Not in the sense of being legally qualified, but they will be used only once they have had appropriate training. However, there will be no formal qualification of any sort. Will the staff belong to any external professional organisation? There is no requirement at present, but we shall consider whether or not there should be some external force. Will they be acting under supervision? Yes, they will--the supervision of the chief Crown prosecutor. Will they deal with guilty pleas only? Yes, they will. Indeed, the wording of Amendment No. 212 specifically restricts their activities to guilty pleas. Will they be working at premises separate from police stations? The answer to that is, "Not completely necessarily" because the Narey proposals specifically involve possible arrangements whereby presenters, both qualified and unqualified, could be present at police stations in order to assist the process. If a lay member of staff is at a police station, he will always work alongside a chief Crown prosecutor. I emphasise the Government's intention that the presenters should not in any way compromise the independence of the Crown Prosecution Service--that is, independence inter alia from the police.
I genuinely hope that my answers deal with all of the understandable anxieties that noble Lords have mentioned in relation to this proposal. I should add that the system will be piloted before it is rolled out throughout the country, so there will be opportunities to see how it works and what changes or amendments need to be made.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, asked why we do not wait until Sir Iain Glidewell has produced his report on the Crown Prosecution Service. The answer is that in July 1997 my right honourable friend the Home Secretary indicated in another place that we were accepting Narey's recommendations in his report on
Finally, I come to the point that underlay both the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, and the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Meston--the question of why we do not use the existing 1990 Act procedure which provides all the protections. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor indicated how that works. It grinds extremely slowly and it would literally take years before any progress was made. In the Government's view, there are genuine and legitimate concerns about the speed with which criminal justice moves in this country. Resolving those legitimate concerns should not have to await the extremely cumbersome process of the 1990 Act. That is why we do not accede to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Meston. In the circumstances, I respectfully ask the Committee to accept my amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Meston, to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Belstead: Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, I wonder whether I might put a suggestion to the Government. As far as I am concerned, the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General has been very informative and persuasive, but what he has said does not appear on the face of the government amendment. If it is impossible for that to happen and impossible also for the Government to accept the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, have the Government considered the desirability of making the amendment subject to order by affirmative or even, if the Government prefer, by negative resolution? That would be a way of tackling some of the criticisms that have been made and it would not require further primary legislation.
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