HC Deb 08 July 1991 vol 194 cc641-2
29. Mr. Carrington

To ask the Attorney-General to what extent the Crown prosecuting service continues to rely on outside agents for the conduct of prosecution work in the magistrates courts.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)

In the first three months of 1991, the proportion of cases handled by agents fell to 31 per cent. of sittings and I hope that it will fall further in the remainder of the year.

Mr. Carrington

The reduction in the reliance on agents is greatly to be welcomed. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that that is caused at least partly by the satisfactory increase in recruitment to the Crown prosecution service?

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend is right. It is much more satisfactory for the Crown prosecution service to be able to handle a higher proportion of cases itself. That is more satisfactory for the lawyers in the Crown prosecution service and raises their morale. My hon. Friend is right that the reduction in the use of agents stems substantially from the improved recruitment of the past year. During the past four years, there has been an increase of 604 legal staff in the Crown prosecution service, with a net increase of 212 in the past year alone.

30. Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the Attorney-General what percentage of cases referred to the Crown prosecution service resulted in criminal proceedings being commenced, during each year since the creation of the Crown prosecution service.

The Solicitor-General

The commencement of cases is normally for the police. In the four years to 1990–91, the proportion of cases in which the Crown prosecution service, in the exercise of its review function, decided not to proceed in the magistrates court was 7.3, 8, 8.9 and 9.4 per cent.

Mr. Hughes

The Solicitor-General will be aware that there is often distress for the families of people who have died or for those who have been the victims of an accident or an injury when no proceedings follow. We have all encountered such cases and the aggrieved relatives. Is there any way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman could formalise the review procedure or institute an appeals procedure at the behest of the families so that they can know that their case is being looked at again and can be involved more publicly in the procedure?

The Solicitor-General

I think that that would be a dangerous course to pursue. However, I fully understand the sensitivity with which any case that involves death has to be treated. The Crown prosecution service takes immense care when considering whether it is right to bring a prosecution in such cases. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, in a free society, it is essential that the prosecution decision should ultimately be taken entirely independently—as it is.