HC Deb 22 May 1995 vol 260 cc589-91
29. Mr. Hendry

To ask the Attorney-General what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the working relationship between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. [23908]

The Attorney-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)

It is of fundamental importance to the Crown Prosecution Service that there should be close co-operation between each of its 104 branches and the local police, usually via their crime support units, and that is becoming increasingly effective.

Mr. Hendry

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the relationship between the CPS and the police depends on openness and respect for the truth? Does he agree that, when the shadow Home Secretary makes a speech littered with half-truths and inaccuracies to the Police Federation conference, as he did last week, it cannot help that relationship? Is not that a disgrace, and should he not withdraw them at the earliest opportunity?

The Attorney-General

I must agree with my hon. Friend and deplore the thoroughly inaccurate, irresponsible and misleading speech made to the Police Federation by the shadow Home Secretary last week. I was astonished that, among other things, he sought to wind up his audience by criticising a judicial sentencing decision, and then failed to draw to the attention of that audience the fact that that sentence had been properly referred, as unduly lenient, to the Court of Appeal.

Mr. John Morris

The Attorney-General knows that I supported the setting up of the CPS and have always been anxious that both the CPS and the Serious Fraud Office are seen to be working well, but does he accept that there are continuing anxieties on the part of judges, lawyers and the police, and is not the disclosure by the Sunday Times of the CPS employing solicitors who have been disciplined for deliberately or recklessly deceiving clients or incompetence, a matter of grave concern?

In the proposed reorganisation of police force and local authority areas, has the assurance given by the then Home Secretary, in introducing the Prosecution of Offences Bill in 1985, that there would be chief Crown prosecutors for the most part covering a police area, been thrown overboard?

I suggested a review after five years to discover whether we had got it right. Would it not be valuable now to have an independent review to examine the effectiveness of the CPS?

The Attorney-General

I would be inclined to acquit the right hon. and learned Gentleman of any part in the speech by his hon. Friend last week, but I doubt whether it would have been made had there been close liaison between them. The speech was very unwise in suggesting that the service should be pulled—

Mr. Olner


Madam Speaker

Order. The question that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman has asked the Minister must be answered.

The Attorney-General

The speech was very unwise—[Interruption.] I am answering the question if hon. Members will listen. The speech was unwise to suggest that the service should be pulled up by the roots. As I made clear the following day, there are 104 branches in the Crown Prosecution Service, and they seek to keep a close liaison with their local police. It is important to ensure effective liaison over discontinuances, which have been coming down over the past two years.

To answer the second part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question, the CPS is careful about who it employs. The picture given in the recent press article was by no means complete. The CPS would certainly not keep on anyone whose conduct did not merit him being employed by a public service.

Mr. Jessel

On the role of both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to the War Crimes Act 1991, can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, in view of the stark enormity of the murder of 6 million people in concentration camps, the CPS and the police will not be inhibited by the passage of time?

The Attorney-General

Any prosecution decision in relation to war crimes will be taken on proper principles. But it will have regard to the will of the House as expressed in the War Crimes Act. This would not cause the mere fact of the passage of 50 years to be taken into account when deciding not to prosecute. I have answered a number of questions in writing recently on the progress of investigations, which are being carried forward with great care.