§ 32. Mr. Michael
To ask the Attorney-General what fresh initiatives he is taking to increase the contribution made by his Department and agencies and procedures falling under his jurisdiction to minimise delay in dealing with young people accused of criminal offences.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)
Minimising unnecessary delay, particularly in cases involving young people, has always been given high priority by the Crown prosection service. The new statutory time limits in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 have in practice been operated by the CPS in the juvenile courts since June 1990. The report of the working group on pre-trial issues provides further evidence of the Crown prosecution service's continuing commitment to reducing delay.
§ Mr. Michael
Does the Minister accept that many involved in the juvenile justice system would be suprised at his complacency? Does he accept that justice delayed is very often bad justice? Does he also accept that very often, in the juvenile system, justice delayed involves young people not being diverted away from criminal activity? Does he accept that there is a need, in our fragmented system, for a lead to be taken in bringing all agencies together to speed up the way in which crime is dealt with, both in the interests of justice and in the interests of the victims of crime? Will the Minister undertake now to take the initiative to bring together all the Departments and organisations concerned to speed up juvenile justice?
§ The Solicitor-General
I accept that, in the juvenile system, as in the rest of the justice system, justice delayed is justice denied. But I think that people would be very surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who has considerable experience of the juvenile courts system, having once been the chairman of a juvenile court, should not be up to date with what has been going on in the past two years. The working group on pre-trial issues and the juvenile liaison panels have been working in their different ways to cut down delays and to implement strict timetables, so that once the investigation is completed, there is a maximum, if possible, of four weeks before decision. There should be 15 only three weeks before first listing and, as soon as one has decided to prosecute, one should go ahead straight away and seek any additional evidence. All those are important initiatives in speeding up the system.
§ Mr. Devlin
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that often delay is not the main problem? In Stockton-on-Tees, for example, one young man aged 14 has this year been convicted 17 times of car theft, involving vehicles worth more than £2 million. That young man has committed a number of the offences while on bail or in the care of the local authority, and the local police tell me that, while they cannot deal with him in an effective way, about 75 per cent. of all burglaries and car thefts in the borough are committed by about 50 to 60 young people aged between 13 and 17. What is really needed is an effective way of dealing with them, not an effective way of dealing with any alleged delays in the system.
§ The Solicitor-General
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is widely recognised that, not only in Stockton-on-Tees but in other parts of the country, a substantial proportion of the crime committed involves multiple offences committed by a comparatively small number of people. Getting them brought to trial quickly, getting the cases brought together so that the courts can deal with them at once and finding sufficient secure accommodation for those who cannot be granted bail are all part of the problem.