HC Deb 09 March 1981 vol 1000 c616
33. Mr. Soley

asked the Attorney-General to what extent the further reductions of waiting time in prison before trial or hearing mentioned in his hon. and learned friend the Solicitor-General's Answer on 5 February, Official Report, c, 185, are being realised.

The Attorney-General

The average waiting time in England and Wales between committal for trial and the start of the hearing for defendants in custody dealt with in the fourth quarter of 1979 was 11.8 weeks. The corresponding figure for 1980 was 10 weeks—a reduction of 15 per cent. In the South-East, the corresponding figures were 16.8 and 13.8 weeks, which amounted to a reduction of 18 per cent.

Mr. Soley

I welcome the reductions, However, is it not true that there are still a considerable number of people who have been in prison awaiting trial for more than a year? When can we expect that situation to end, or at least to be an extremely rare exception?

The Attorney-General

The problem is that, to take 1980 as an example, the number of cases committed for trial was up by 12 per cent. on the previous year, though the number of cases outstanding at the end of the year was 1,100 fewer. A number of new courts have been built and are planned to be built and will be staffed, but that cannot be done overnight.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the waiting time in Northern Ireland prisons is being reduced?

The Attorney-General

We are pleased with the consequences in Northern Ireland, because the waiting times have been reduced more markedly there than in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. John Morris

Since the Government are rightly anxious to lower the prison population, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consult and advise his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the effect of the case of the Queen v. Nottingham Justices, which has seriously undermined the scope of the Bail Act and significantly curtailed the ability of an accused person to have his remand in custody reviewed at frequent intervals? Does he agree that unless something is done, it will inevitably lead to an increase in the prison population?

The Attorney-General

As I understand it, this is a case in which an identical bail application was made on a number of occasions, and after the third application the justices refused to consider the case because there had been no change of circumstances. Apparently, that refusal was approved by the Divisional Court. It may go further, but in the meantime, I shall keep a close eye on the matter.