HC Deb 28 July 1982 vol 28 cc1056-7
40. Mr. David Marshall

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he is satisfied with the procedures in the Crown Office before decisions not to prosecute are taken in cases of serious crime.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

In general, I am satisfied with procedures in the Crown Office. However, my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and I do instruct changes in procedures from time to time.

Mr. Marshall

The Solicitor-General may be satisfied, but does he accept that several cases recently have caused public concern? Some of those cases have involved an individual accused, but others have involved the increasing practice of indicting large groups of accused persons. Will he reconsider those procedures carefully and report more fully at a later date?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

Regrettably, that is the result of the pattern of crime in Scotland. Several incidents recently have resulted in the indictment of many accused. It certainly presents problems for the Crown, the defence, the police and members of the public. I shall certainly look at the problem.

Mr. Ancram

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, however good the procedures, there will always be borderline cases where the public interest has to be weighed against the chances of a successful prosecution and the use of public funds? Ultimately, it must be a matter for the discretion and experience of highly qualified advocates depute. Decisions can never be made by a hard and fast rule.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

There are great difficulties, where a large number of people are intitially accused of a crime, in determining whether some or all of them should be indicted in court. As my hon. Friend said, it is a matter for discretion, and there may be occasions upon which it is difficult to determine immediately just where that discretion should lie.

Mr. Maclennan

Have there been any further changes since the statement about the rape case in the categories of offence that now require the personal consideration of the Lord Advocate before a decision not to prosecute is taken?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

No. The last occasion on which any change in procedure with regard to decisions to be taken personally by the Law Officers was made was the statement to which the hon. Gentleman referred. There are several types of crime where, if the recommendation is not to prosecute, the Law Officers must personally be involved.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Does the Crown Office take any special part in decisions not to prosecute when the only witnesses involved are police or prison officers and the person who makes the complaint? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman pay attention to that matter of public concern?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am not aware of any particular statistics on that aspect of the matter, but I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. If there are any figures that might be of assistance, I shall certainly provide them to him.


The Solicitor-General will be aware that, at the time of the original statement about the Glasgow rape case, considerable concern was expressed about procedures in the Crown Office. I understand the difficulties and do not wish to go into the merits of that case until it is finally disposed of, but we would like to have a more considered statement about the procedures after that event. We have not been able to pursue the matter since then. I should be grateful if the Solicitor-General would consider it and make a statement later, when it is appropriate.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

As the right hon. Gentleman clearly recognises, it would be inopportune and inappropriate at this time to make a full statement. One change in Crown Office procedure was immediately announced. If other changes are to be introduced, I shall certainly undertake to make them known to the House.