HC Deb 13 November 1978 vol 958 cc24-6
49. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Attorney-General if he is satisfied with the time it takes criminal cases to reach court.

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Peter Archer)

No. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is deeply concerned about the delays in the Crown court caused by the continuing increase in the number of criminal cases coming before the court. He has already taken a number of steps to contain the situation and will be continuing to treat the matter as one of urgency.

Mr. Watkinson

I am grateful for that reply. Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the length of delays is rising in the provinces and rising dramatically in London? How advanced are the plans to extend the number of courts, particularly in London, and has consideration been given to the possibility of extending the number of hours that courts sit each day?

The Solicitor-General

There has been a substantial increase in waiting time, taking the country as a whole. The average waiting time in 1972 was 11.2 weeks, and at the end of June 1978 it was 13.7 weeks. My hon. Friend is right when he says that the situation is rather more serious in London, where the average waiting time is 25.2 weeks, than in the rest of the country.

There is a substantial court building programme and, in addition, a crash programme in London which will, it is hoped, provide an additional 20 court rooms within the next two years.

Mr. Powell

While the circumstances in Northern Ireland differ in some respects from those in other areas also within the responsibility of the Law Officers, will they keep up the pressure to reduce in that Province the excessive period referred to in the Question?

The Solicitor-General

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Courts Bill will shortly be coming into operation, and we shall be able to see its effect in the Province. The matter is being watched carefully.

Mr. Litterick

Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the criteria on which custodial remands are granted are clear and satisfactory, in the light of recent cases of people who had been imprisoned on remand on charges of a quasi-political character suddenly and without explanation being released after long periods of imprisonment?

The Solicitor-General

I have no reason to believe that courts are dealing with cases of a quasi-political character differently from any other case. If my hon. Friend has any specific case in mind, perhaps he will bring it to my attention.

Sir M. Havers

Has the Criminal Law Act yet made a substantial contribution to this problem?

The Solicitor-General

It is difficult to say specifically whether that factor has made a contribution. Even within magistrates' courts—and I imagine that this is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind—there is a problem of delays. It may be that, having attempted to solve the problem at the Crown court level, we have exacerbated the problem in magistrates' courts.