HC Deb 10 July 1974 vol 876 cc1353-4
46. Mr. Ancram

asked the Lord Advocate whether he is satisfied with the present relationship between the Crown Office and the general public.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)

The Crown Office is not an office which normally has direct contact with the general public. Most of its functions are carried out by the procurator fiscal who, of course, operate in all areas of Scotland. Such outside relations as it has are with the legal profession and the courts.

Mr. Ancram

I appreciate the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point about the Crown Office having contact with other members of the legal profession. Is he aware that sometimes in Scotland a decision is taken by the Crown Office not to prosecute prima facie cases without the people of Scotland being told why? Does he think that it would be a good idea, when that sort of thing happens, to alleviate suspicion about what goes on in the Crown Office by the Crown Office's explaining why no proceedings were taken?

The Lord Advocate

If the hon. Gentleman has any case in mind, no doubt he will write to me about it or table a specific Question. Most Crown Office decisions are taken on evidence that is supplied by the police and by the procurators fiscal. That information obviously must be treated as confidential by the Crown, otherwise the investigation of crime would be hopelessly impeded. It is normally not possible to give reasons, but reasons are not refused by the Crown Office if it is felt that they can properly be given.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

May I put a _general proposition to the Lord Advocate? There is no definition of the powers of the Lord Advocate. Too often in the recent past Lord Advocates have been too keen to say "This is not my responsibility" or "I do not have power over this." Would not it be a good proposition, in the interests of justice generally in Scotland, if the Lord Advocate were a bit more of an empire builder, and if he were inclined to say, "This may well be within my powers, because my powers are not too well defined"?

The Lord Advocate

I think that the hon. Lady is trying to encourage me in imperialist tendencies, which I must repudiate. The office of Lord Advocate is, as the hon. Lady knows, an ancient one, and its powers have been developed through the ages in a pragmatic and empirical way. The result is a flexible and useful office, which would be greatly reduced in value if we tried to define and outline any specific function.