HC Deb 19 October 1982 vol 29 cc234-5



  1. '(1) The following subsection shall be substituted for section 7(1) of the Explosive Substances Act I883.
    1. "(1) Proceedings for a crime under this Act shall not be instituted except by or with the consent of the Attorney-General.".
    2. (2) In section 9(2) of that Act (application to Scotland) the following paragraph shall be inserted before the paragraph relating to the expression "Attorney-General"—

"Section 7(1) shall be omitted.".'.—[The Attorney-General.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Attorney-General

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This is a minor and technical change to the Explosive Substances Act 1883. At present, in a rather strange manner, my consent to prosecution is circumscribed by section 7 of the Act so that it can be given only after a charge before the justices has been brought. That leads to a cumbersome procedure between myself and the Director of Public Prosecutions in explosives cases, which may cause delay, because neither the police nor the DPP wish to institute proceedings under the Act before knowing whether I am likely to consent to their continuance. If I do not consent the proceedings must be withdrawn and abandoned.

Therefore, the police report the alleged offence to the DPP, who, if he thinks it appropriate, seeks guidance from me on whether I would consent if proceedings were instituted. If I say that I would consent, the DPP arranges for the police to charge the defendant and bring him before the court.

When that has been done the police report back to the DPP, who has to submit forms of fiat to me for my signature. Those are sent back to the DPP and, from his Department, to the police, who are then able to ask magistrates to commit the defendant to the Crown court for trial.

That shows the unnecessary waste of time and expense spent of messages and all the paperwork involved going between the police, the DPP and myself. It can lead to delays between the time when a defendant is first brought before the court and the time when the Crown is able to seek his committal. In recent proceedings involving petrol bombers that has resulted in harsh criticism of the DPP and myself by the magistrates concerned, who did not appreciate the rather silly formalities that had to be gone through.

3.45 pm

The new clause brings the consent provision into line with other provisions where my consent to a prosecution is required. In future, where I am satisfied that it is proper to institute proceedings, I shall be able to consent to them immediately, rather than having to wait until the man has

been charged and brought before a court. That will help to reduce delays by avoidng the need to make two separate approaches.

The present wording of section 7 requires my consent where a person has been charged before the justices and there is an argument that the need for my consent could be avoided by adding counts under the Explosive Substances Act to the indictment after committal on other charges. Subsection (1) of the new clause puts it beyond doubt that my consent is required for all offences under the Act, at whatever stage the proceedings are instituted. Subsection (2) applies to Scotland and makes sense of the consent requirement there.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

The Attorney-General has outlined a procedure which will surprise most people. It is clearly cumbersome and unnecessary and by bringing his consent requirements into line with those in other cases, particularly other important cases, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is doing a service to justice. We on this side of the House commend him.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

The hon. and learned Gentleman should not say "on this side of the House".

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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