HC Deb 27 January 1964 vol 688 cc25-7
37. Mr. John Hall

asked the Attorney-General what estimate he has made of the cost of the prosecution of the defendants in the train robbery trial to be held at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire; and whether the cost will be met by the Crown or by the Buckinghamshire County Council.

The Solicitor General

No, Sir. It is not possible to make any useful estimate at this stage of the proceedings. The incidence of the costs of the prosecution will depend upon the orders made by the court at the conclusion of the trials.

Mr. Hall

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that various estimates have been made of the cost as being between £50,000 and £100,000? Whether it is one or the other, is not this a tremendous burden to be carried by the ratepayers of Buckinghamshire? Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is completely illogical that, whereas the cost of defence borne by legal aid is carried by a central fund, the cost of criminal prosecution in dealing with a national problem of crime should, by sheer geographical accident, have to be borne by one county authority? Will not my right hon. and learned Friend take into account the representations made by the County Councils Association and take steps to change this arrangement?

The Solicitor-General

As my hon. Friend appreciates, concerning the extent of the costs, it is quite impossible at this stage to say who would bear them because of the order that the court might make at the conclusion of the trial. Under the law as it stands, the local funds bear the cost of what the court thinks is reasonably sufficient to compensate the prosecutor—that is, the taxed costs. The difference between the taxed costs and the actual costs in this case would be borne by public funds, because the prosecution is by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The other matter suggested by my hon. Friend would involve a change in the law. The criterion has always been the venue of the trial. Depending on certain matters, the place where the court is held has borne this cost. The question of a change in the law is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Woodburn

Will the Solicitor-General draw the Government's attention to the necessity of bringing the law of England into harmony with that of Scotland and making the Crown responsible for all such prosecutions? This would get rid of a great many of the anomalies and hardships and would also co-ordinate prosecutions and render them more uniform in their procedure.

The Solicitor-General

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the differences between the laws of Scotland and of England are a debatable matter, but I will certainly bear in mind what he has said.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that Scotland Yard is often called in in serious, major cases such as this? Would it not be much fairer for the cost of any resulting prosecution to be shared nationally?

The Solicitor-General

There is a distinction between the stage when Scotland Yard is called in and the costs incurred in connection with the actual trial. If a trial takes place at a certain assizes, it is by that local area, according to the present law, that the bulk of the cost is borne. If my hon. Friend is suggesting a change in the law, I can only repeat that that is not a matter for me.

Mr. Paget

While, in the present case, there may be some reason for feeling that some of the accused may be able to contribute, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the very gross injustice resulting from the fact that the Crown, which selects the venue, can charge the place where the trial occurs with the full costs in spite of the fact that it has nothing to do with the area? In fact, a crime which was committed in Buckinghamshire was, by the selection of the Crown, tried at Northampton, where it cost us more than a 1d. rate.

Mr. Speaker

There appears to be a difficulty about this Question. Some proceedings relating to the matter seem to be going on, and presumably the contribution would depend on some order of the court to be given hereafter. In the circumstands, we ought not to discuss this now.