HC Deb 04 December 1995 vol 268 cc14-6
31. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Attorney-General what new proposals he has to improve the work of his Department.[1886]

The Attorney-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)

Current initiatives in my Department include the implementation of team work in the Crown Prosecution Service and the introduction of an information technology system, known as SCOPE, for CPS case management.

Mr. Flynn

Does the work of the Department currently include the study of three documents published by district auditor John Magill, proving that, in March 1987, Westminster council was well aware that flats on the Elgin estate were unfit for habitation? What action will the Department take to protect these and future families? Will the Attorney-General and the Department act to prosecute the people involved, including the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg)? Will action be taken to strip Lady Porter of the honours bestowed on her?

The Attorney-General

To the best of my knowledge, the answer to that is no. If I discover that the answer is in any way different, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Allason

Has my right hon. and learned Friend taken any initiatives with respect to public interest immunity certificates? Is he aware that there is widespread concern about how such certificates are presented to Ministers, and about the arguments made to Ministers before they sign? Is he going to wait for Lord Justice Scott, or is he already taking some initiatives in this area?

The Attorney-General

If my hon. Friend has followed the case law in the matter, he will appreciate that public interest immunity certificates play an important role in the administration of justice, in civil cases and—where necessary—criminal cases. Guidance on the matter was given by the House of Lords about 18 months ago in ex parte Wiley. If my hon. Friend reads the case he will find it profitable and see that such certificates have a real role to play.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Will the Attorney-General consider introducing a set of national standards to ensure that in appropriate cases the present condition and views of victims of crime are brought to the attention of the sentencing judge in every circumstance?

The Attorney-General

No, I cannot promise the hon. and learned Gentleman that, but I can tell him that the CPS makes a great deal of effort, with the assistance of the police, to know the views of victims, to understand their position and to try to cherish them so that they understand the nature of the proceedings. Moreover, when their views are relevant to the proper presentation of a case, they are looked at objectively to ensure that they are brought before the court.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Would it perhaps represent an improvement if the CPS considered cases such as that of a constituent of mine who is in deadly fear of an attacker who has been charged with grievous bodily harm, yet who has been released on bail? Under the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993, is not the Crown Prosecution Service able to help constituents like mine to overcome their real personal fear?

The Attorney-General

I shall certainly ask the director to have someone look at the case my hon. Friend mentions. He is right to say that, under the Bail (Amendment) Act, there are in certain circumstances—they are not very common—opportunities for the CPS to reopen the question of bail.

Mr. John Morris

May I welcome the Attorney-General's recent statement that he will have discussions with colleagues following the case of Regina v. West at Winchester about the considerable disquiet expressed about pre-trial agreements between witnesses and newspapers? Will he give us some idea of how long the discussions will take and whether he is contemplating legislation, if necessary? Will he widen the discussions to ensure that they cover circumstances in which trials are aborted because of newspaper publicity, thereby making it impossible to have a fair trial, as in a recent case at Harrow?

The Attorney-General

I shall take first the second part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question. If a trial is aborted because of publicity, I shall almost certainly consider the matter under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 to ascertain whether any publicity has given rise to a substantial risk of serious prejudice within the time when the proceedings are active. If I so consider, having given the newspaper an opportunity to comment, I normally bring criminal proceedings for contempt.

I welcome what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about cheque-book journalism. I can assure him that we are examining the matter most carefully. I shall be examining it with colleagues. I have already received a report from counsel in the case of West. I cannot speak for the Government now, but I see no reason why the matter should not be dealt with expeditiously. When we have considered it carefully, we can come to a conclusion, including a decision on whether legislation is appropriate.