HC Deb 01 February 1988 vol 126 cc695-6
76. Mr. Janner

To ask the Attorney-General when he last met the Director of Public Prosecutions; and what subjects were discussed.

The Attorney-General

I last met the director on Friday 29 January. We discussed matters relating to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr. Janner

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman expect to discuss with the director that peculiarly offensive and evil document known as Holocaust News? In particular, has he considered counsel's opinion that the perpetrators of this document are in breach of the law and should be prosecuted? Can we expect action from the Attorney or the director, or from both, and if not, why not?

The Attorney-General

It so happens that that extremely unpleasant publication to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers was among the subjects that I discussed with the director on Friday. He and I have both considered the opinions of Mr. Beloff QC, and also of first senior prosecuting counsel to the Treasury. The director and I remain of the view that there should be no prosecution.

Mr. Aitken

When my right hon. and learned Friend advises the Director of Public Prosecutions that a prosecution is not in the public interest, what, precisely, are the criteria on which he bases his advice? May I ask him to expand on his statement to the House on Monday by saying how he decides on priority between, say, the public interest in maintaining the operational secrets of MI5, the public interest in avoiding a breakdown in Anglo-Irish relations and the public interest in upholding the rule of law? How and why does he choose?

The Attorney-General

I shall answer in general terms the question about my general criteria, but I do not think that the question about Holocaust News relates to Ireland. Having satisfied myself that the evidence is sufficient to justify proceedings, I then consider whether in any particular cases the public interest requires a prosecution. Each case is judged on its own facts and with special regard to the circumstances, both of the alleged offence and of the alleged offender, and to any other considerations affecting public policy. This is simply an application of long-established principles previously endorsed by the Attorney-General's guidelines on the criteria for prosecution now reproduced in the code for Crown prosecutors issued pursuant to the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985.

Mr. John Morris

Will the Attorney-General clarify the statement that he made last Monday concerning the responsibility for the decision on whether it is in the national interest to prosecute? Will he confirm that that decision is for him alone, and that if, in his view, it is not in the national interest to prosecute, that is the end of the matter and the DPP has no role other than to implement his decision?

The Attorney-General

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well that that is not the case. If he has studied the code for Crown prosecutors, he will know that, in every prosecution decision, it must be asked whether the public interest requires a prosecution, even if the evidence is sufficient and the other criteria are met. In cases in which the DPP is the prosecuting authority, and does not seek the consent of the Attorney-General, that process must be carried through by the DPP. In a case in which I must give my consent—for example, under the Race Relations Act 1976 — the responsibility is mine. The hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that the matter was fully dealt with by my predecessor in a written answer a year or two ago.