HC Deb 12 July 1993 vol 228 cc661-2
27. Mr. Booth

To ask the Attorney-General what proportion of cases pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service in magistrates courts in the last 12 months have resulted in a conviction.

The Attorney-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)

For the year ending 31 March 1993, 97.6 per cent. of cases that proceeded to a hearing in the magistrates court resulted in either a guilty plea or a conviction.

Mr. Booth

Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that those excellent figures have been achieved by the Crown Prosecution Service adopting the test of a reasonable prospect of conviction, not some higher esoteric standard?

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am satisfied of that. It is extremely important to make it clear that when the CPS reviews the evidence to determine whether there is a sufficiency of admissible, substantial and reliable evidence, it applies the test of a realistic prospect of conviction—not, as is sometimes suggested, a higher test.

Mr. John Morris

Is the Attorney-General aware that, despite a 50 per cent. increase in recorded crime since 1987, the number of cases that the police are instructed by the CPS to drop has nearly doubled? What role has the Treasury had in creating a situation in which arrested people are allowed to walk free because of the cost of bringing them to trial? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that 32 per cent. of cases are dropped on public interest grounds? Has he agreed to that? Will he define it in the context of decisions taken by CPS officers? Will he publish the instructions given to them; and what is the lowest grade of officer allowed to take such a decision on public interest grounds?

The Attorney-General

I am not aware of any case that has been dropped on the ground of cost. The shadow Home Secretary has visited the Crown Prosecution Service this morning, I am glad to say, and has been able to hold discussions and form his own views on these very matters. Meanwhile, I am glad to have been able to answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman clearly in this regard.

When cases are discontinued on public interest grounds, cost is not the reason. It will be well understood by the House that it is not in the public interest to prosecute every elderly person or every frail person or everyone suffering from some injury or every case for which there is sufficient evidence.

Mr. John Greenway

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that our magistrates courts are capable of dealing with a great many more cases, especially those that go to the Crown court? Does he agree that the recommendation by the royal commission to end the right to trial by jury would end the scandal of 83 per cent. of those electing trial by jury pleading guilty? Is not the reason for that the fact that policemen are spending too much time writing up reports and preparing cases for court, which keeps them off the streets?

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the 83 per cent. of defendants who choose to go to the Crown court and then to plead guilty once they get there. That imposes what the royal commission has suggested are unreasonable costs and a waste of resources on the system.