HC Deb 09 November 1972 vol 845 cc1179-80
21. Dame Joan Vickers

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many women who have been sent to prison for prostitution received legal aid.

Mr. Carlisle

I regret that this information is not immediately available and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. When Section 37 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1972, comes into force, a court will not be able to pass a first custodial sentence on an unrepresented defendant unless he or she appears to have adequate means or has refused or failed to apply for legal aid after being informed of its availability.

Dame Joan Vickers

When the Street Offences Act was introduced by a Conservative Government it was suggested that the welfare services would be very much better concentrated. In view of a recent reply about the large number of people being put in prison for prostitution, how are the welfare services working to stop them being put into prison unless absolutely necessary?

Mr. Carlisle

I should make it clear that, in the last two years, of the 2,347 and 2,871 people, respectively, who have been found guilty of these offences, only 264 and 286 were sentenced to immediate imprisonment. There is a system of cautioning which has to be gone through before a person appears charged with this offence. I am prepared to consider how the system is working in practice.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

May I raise the question of legal aid more generally? At the end of the proceedings on the Criminal Justice Act, 1972, the hon. and learned Gentleman said that he would make arrangements for all courts to be circulated with the Widgery Rules. As far as we know, that has not been done. When is it going to be done? This is extremely important.

Mr. Carlisle

If it has not been done, I apologise. It is going to be done very shortly. We have gone further. By Section 37 of the Criminal Justice Act no one can be sent to prison for the first time unless specifically given the opportunity of being represented before the court. I stand by what I said about recommending the Widgery criteria to the courts.

22. Mr. Peter Archer

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many letters he has received on the prospect of extending the Legal Aid and Advice Scheme to applicants for awards from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

Mr. Carlisle

None that I can trace.

Mr. Archer

Is that not a pity? The hon. and learned Gentleman said on 14th July last: … it should be open to an applicant to bring a friend or legal adviser to assist him in putting his case …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1972; Vol. 841, c. 462.] Does not that entail recognition that some people may have difficulty in putting their case without assistance? Is that assistance to be denied to all except the rich?

Mr. Carlisle

Whether the answer is a pity depends on whether the Home Office has failed to trace cases which exist, or whether, as I suspect, there have been no complaints on the matter. On the wider question, I would point out that this is still an experimental scheme. We hope shortly to institute a review, and this is one of the matters which we shall keep in mind. But I do not hold out high hope that this would be an appropriate use of legal aid.

Forward to