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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Before the Minister sits down, he was good enough to refer to me in the context of the doctrine of unripe time. Does he accept that neither the doctrine of unripe time, nor the slippery slope, nor the argument that the existing machinery works well, nor the argument of the wedge, or any of the other arguments for doing nothing apply in my opinion to this Bill, to this provision or to the other provisions that we shall discuss? In my view the doctrine of unripe time has no application because this should have been done 10 years ago. Judges from other

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countries, from the Continent and the rest of the Commonwealth, look with amazement at the fact that we have not done it before.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Many judges here look at this not only with amazement but with shame.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: The noble Lord makes my case for me that this clause is too widely drafted. He says that we should start. I agree with that as I do not wish to stand still. But let us also prioritise. As this Bill is drafted at present, the provisions could be used, for example, for supergrasses who would certainly be in fear and who would certainly have their evidence qualified by that fear. That is not the kind of case we want to start with. Let us go back to the provisions of Clause 16(1) and look at the people who are declared eligible for assistance in that subsection; namely, children and those suffering from a disability. Let us start with them. As experience of the use of video recording expands, we can move to other areas and to other defendants.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I shall reply briefly. In some supergrass cases the allegations are of serial murder and torture. I decline to accept the proposition that they are of less public interest and importance.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: Before the noble Lord completes his response can he say whether it is necessary that the special measures direction, which permits the examination-in-chief to be on video, need be the same as permits that for the cross-examination; in other words, may it not be desirable to allow for the possibility that as the procedure develops it may appear practicable--although it did not earlier--to have the cross-examination on video? It appears that the decision with regard to the cross-examination has to be made at the same time as the decision with regard to the examination-in-chief, if I have understood the position correctly. I am, of course, subject to correction. I thank the noble Lord for what he said about me earlier. That was kind of him.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I have made those remarks on many public occasions for the modest reason that I believe the reforms of the Children Act were correct. I shall consider the noble and learned Lord's question. My immediate impression is that a direction as to special measures can be capable of being altered as circumstances change. If I am wrong about that, I shall of course write to the noble and learned Lord. Even if I am correct, I shall write to confirm that.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: Assuming that that cannot be done in terms of the Bill, it would appear to me--from what I have heard so far--desirable that it should be done. In any event, if that is not the case, it may be wise to change the position.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I shall give that most careful attention, as always.

Clause 27 agreed to.

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Viscount Colville of Culross moved Amendment No. 84:

After Clause 27, insert the following new clause--

Time limits for video recorded evidence cases

(" . Where a court makes a special measures direction under section 26 or 27, it may, notwithstanding any time limits provided by regulations under section 12 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996, give and enforce such time limits as it thinks fit for the expeditious bringing to trial of the accused.").

The noble Viscount said: This amendment gives me an opportunity to comment briefly on the previous debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, mentioned the method whereby the special directions will be given. He is right in saying that there should be a provision enabling that to be done in separate stages according to what happens in a particular case.

What happens in existing trial cases is this. When the police decide that there is a case to be investigated, they take a statement from the child. It will in future be from a much wider selection of witnesses. It is not until much later, when the matter comes up for discussion--for instance, under Section 32A of the 1988 Act--that it has to be decided, usually by, the Crown Court, whether that statement will be admissible as part of the evidence in chief of the witness. That is the first time that the matter comes before the court, although the material has already been prepared--it is on tape by that time, and has been for a little while.

The point of this amendment is to take the noble Lord, Lord Williams--and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Lester--up on the whole issue of shaking everyone up and getting these cases hurried up. I could not resist drafting this clause. The Bill already includes (in Clause 22) screens, which we use now; evidence by live link (under Clause 23), which we use now; evidence given in private (under Clause 24) which we do now; and removal of wigs and gowns (under Clause 25) which we do now. I thought, therefore, that it would be following this very suitable trend if I tabled a new clause to allow judges to take charge of a case.

At Second Reading I made some suggestions as to how matters could be speeded up. So far as concerns the judiciary, they can certainly do that once the matter comes to the Crown Court. What they cannot control are the events that precede that stage. I suggested at Second Reading that when the CPS, or whoever it will be under the Access to Justice Bill, finds a case where a witness is likely to give evidence on video and will possibly have to be cross-examined, it should be given priority. The public defender service, or whatever that will be under the Access to Justice Bill, should make certain that the defence is alerted to the priority of the case, and that the magistrates are alerted so that the matter is given priority in the magistrates' court for committal purposes. Then, when the case comes to the Crown Court, of course the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is right: the listing system is a judicial one and something can be done about it. But nothing at all can be done about it until the matter arrives in the hands of the judicial system in the Crown Court. The magistrates have their own judicial system. They can do it if they are given the necessary encouragement. I have therefore tabled a proposal that can be done anyway. That is the trend in

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this Bill--to make statutory what everyone can do anyway. The only point I have added is that the time limits could be enforced. That we can do anyway, by means of wasted costs orders. If this provision were written into the Bill it might add a little punch to the views that are being expressed on all sides of the Committee.

The noble Lord is not expected to accept this amendment. I merely point out to him that it is not just the listing and judicial system that is involved; it is the entire scope of the criminal proceedings. All those involved in them must have a little spur to push them along faster than they go at present. One of the spurs is that the Crown Court should give the necessary directions.

When this matter was discussed in 1991, the noble Lord's predecessor as Minister of State, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, rejected this whole approach. He said that it was not practicable. I am glad that the Government and the Home Office have changed their mind.

I remember from my period as Minister of State, a very long time ago, that when a file became the subject of the attention of the parliamentary commissioner, the colour of its cover changed. It became dark red--maroon--and everyone knew that it was a very important file. I wonder whether we might use some colour-coding system of that kind which would enable these cases to receive the priority which I am sure they deserve. In the meantime, I wonder whether the noble Lord would like to follow his own lead and incorporate into the Bill things that we can do anyway but which perhaps ought to have some statutory backing. I beg to move.

9.45 pm

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am happy to be teased by the noble Viscount that we are simply putting into statute what he and his judicial colleagues do anyway. I do not believe that that is universally true about the Bill. We are talking in the context of the Crime and Disorder Act and its consequences. As your Lordships know, we are introducing a number of measures to reduce delay in the criminal justice system and are piloting the measures at present, mainly to do with straightforward guilty pleas, I agree, but also to do with enhanced case management in the magistrates' court, to which the noble Viscount referred, and starting indictable-only cases in the Crown Court.

I do not believe--and I do not think that the noble Viscount necessarily believes--that the new clause would help to address the problems that we have discussed on a number of occasions this evening. Under Section 12 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 and regulations, a time limit of 14 days is set for the preparation and service of defence statements once the prosecution has served primary prosecution disclosure, which in turn informs secondary disclosure by the prosecution of any matters which the prosecution considers might assist the defence. I agree with the noble Viscount. The conduct of the prosecution is entirely within the control of the Crown Prosecution Service, under the ultimate direction of the Director of

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Public Prosecutions, subject to anything that the Attorney-General may have to say. I agree with him that we can do things there. I do not think we ought to give the courts the power to disregard the time limit for defence statements prescribed by Parliament on this occasion because it applies in a limited range of cases.

In this context, I think that what I said earlier has virtue and weight. Unless practitioners are devoted to the scheme of things which I describe, unless judges are determined, and in particular unless there is a continuity of judicial approach in a particular case, preferably by a single judge managing the case, we shall not get anywhere. The Court Service is in the process of taking forward a project to improve the effectiveness of plea and direction hearings following a review of such hearings and I hope that the judiciary will feel the benefit. I agree with the noble Viscount that a firm judicial grip is needed at preliminary hearings and pleas and directions hearings. It can significantly minimise some of the delays. If one looks, as I do sometimes, at the charts of progress in fairly similar cases at different Crown Court centres, I feel that there is no real answer to the discrepancies other than that some judges are perhaps more focused on these problems than their colleagues in other court centres.

We intend in due course to act on the provision in the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, as amended by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, to enable the introduction of statutory time limits for the prosecution of criminal cases overall. I think that the tide has turned; I think that minds are now open to the more effective and efficient management of the system. I do not think that there is fundamentally much difference in approach between the noble Viscount and myself. I am not able to accept his amendment, as he rather foresaw, but I think that he and I share the common goals that he has identified.

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