HC Deb 18 October 1993 vol 230 cc14-5
34. Mrs. Angela Knight

To ask the Attorney-General, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) of 21 June, Official Report, column 41, in what proportion of cases the CPS does not consult the police before a case is discontinued.

The Attorney-General

That information is not centrally recorded, but the Crown Prosecution Service policy is to consult the police in all cases unless it is impracticable to do so.

Mrs. Knight

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his answer. He will be aware that, too often, both the victim and the investigating officer are not informed of why a case has been discontinued. Will he make it his policy to review the practice so that the victims of crime are not left in the dark, which happens too often at the moment?

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend makes an important point. In my discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service, it has made it clear to me and I shall make it clear to the House that its policy is to consult the police before discontinuing any case on every occasion where it is practicable. I emphasise that it is not just a question of consulting the administrative support unit or the crime support unit of the police, but that the different agencies such as the police, prosecutors and others in the criminal justice system, while performing their different functions, need to work as a team. It is essential that the information gets back from the CPS to the police, whom it consults, and back to the officer on the case or the officer on the beat so that he or she can refer to the victim and each person involved can understand what is going on, therefore ensuring a better appreciation of the decision in the case.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Attorney-General investigate the concern of the police that, under what I understand are called the criteria for consistent quality, if the papers of a case are out of order in any respect when they reach the CPS, it does not proceed with the prosecution? If that is the case, will he ensure as a matter of urgency that the criteria are reviewed and that all well-founded cases are prosecuted?

The Attorney-General

I will certainly look into that matter, which I have not heard described under that nomenclature or in such jargon. It ties in closely with what I have been saying. If there is some apparent lacuna in the evidence or in the handling of the case, the Crown Prosecution Service should go back to the police to see whether it can fill the gap and so that the police have the opportunity to go back to the officer on the case so that the gap can be filled.

35. Mr. Butler

To ask the Attorney-General what is the complement of the Crown Prosecution Service; and what is the number of staff in post.

The Attorney-General

The CPS has a current total manpower requirement of 2,281 lawyers, of whom 2,181 were in post on 30 September this year, and 4,386 administrative staff, of whom 4,335 were in post on the same date.

Mr. Butler

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer, which should be reassuring in that the figures show nearly a full complement of staff. Does he believe, however, that the CPS is as effective as it might be, even if it is as well staffed as it might be? I draw his attention to the disturbing rise in the number of discontinued cases revealed in the annual report of the Director of Public Prosecutions in the summer. Will my right hon. and learned Friend draw that concern, which I know is widely shared in the House and among the public, to the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions before next year's report is prepared so that some explanations may be given?

The Attorney-General

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who highlights a point that causes much public concern and which the Director and I have considered very closely. The Crown Prosecution Service is a great deal more effective than it is given credit for. The statistics are often looked at extremely crudely. They represent in part the fact that the CPS is now up to strength and is performing the function of weeding out cases that should not go before the courts, either on evidential grounds or because it is not in the public interest to pursue them, much more effectively than it was able to do in its early days. Equally, I have looked personally at a significant number of cases. I invite hon. Members to look in detail at such cases and, indeed, invite me to do so, because although mistakes are sometimes made—it is a good thing if they are discovered—there is often a good explanation for them which satisfies people. That is why the good liaison, about which I spoke before, is so important.

Mr. Rooker

Given the large number of legal and administrative staff in the Crown Prosecution Service, why is it necessary to ask a police officer to explain to a victim why a case has been discontinued, when in many cases the officer also has to tell the victim that he does not agree with the case being discontinued? Why cannot the Crown Prosecution Service contact victims direct in such circumstances so that a proper explanation can be given?

The Attorney-General

If the hon. Gentleman reflects on the numbers involved, the answer will become clear. Police officers investigate a case and meet the victim in the first place. There are 128,000 police officers, backed by 49,000 civilians in the service. There are 2,000 prosecutors, who handle 100,000 cases in the Crown courts and 1.5 million cases overall. The police obviously should liaise with the victim, but we need good feedback between the prosecutor and officer in the case. That is how we shall achieve what the hon. Gentleman and I want.