HC Deb 19 June 1997 vol 296 cc451-2
29. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Attorney-General what measures he plans to introduce to reduce the time taken by the Crown Prosecution Service to bring cases to court. [2920]

The Attorney-General (Mr. John Morris)

The Narey report put forward a number of proposals for reducing delay in the courts. The public consultation ended on 31 May and the Government are now looking closely at the proposals in light of the responses that they have received.

Mr. Bruce

I welcome the Attorney-General to his post. He faces a difficult situation in ensuring that the bottlenecks that have been identified in the CPS are sorted out. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be surprised to know that his colleagues in the Home Office told me, when I stressed to them that resources should go from the Home Office to his Department to get the CPS moving, that they believe that the CPS has sufficient resources and that all that is needed is good management. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree?

The Attorney-General

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. I have to disappoint him, because there are no additional resources. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have set up an independent review, whose terms of reference have been made known to the House. That may deal with some of the anxieties expressed by the hon. Gentleman in the latter part of his question.

Dr. Iddon

Will my right hon. and learned Friend please assure the House that the CPS will inform victims or relatives of victims when serious charges are downgraded, and give reasons for such downgrading?

The Attorney-General

The first part of my hon. Friend's suggestion, which I regard as particularly important, is under active consideration. As for the assertion that there has been undue downgrading, that will be considered, among other matters, by the independent review. I welcome my hon. Friend's observations.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his appointment, and the Solicitor-General, in another place, on his. In that context, however, I note that, even with 418 Members, new Labour cannot find two Law Officers in this House.

In seeking to reduce the time that cases take to come to court—which the Opposition support—the Labour party has pledged to halve the time for persistent young offenders. What is the average current time that the right hon. and learned Gentleman proposes to halve?

On the proposal that the CPS, rather than the police, informs victims of prosecuting decisions—extra work, of course—who will do that work, and has the Attorney-General been promised the necessary resources by the Home Secretary or the Chancellor?

The Attorney-General

First, I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his kind words. In all the time that he held the office that I now have the honour to hold, he was unfailing in his courtesy and in the assistance that he gave me over the years, for which I thank him.

As regards the absence of another Law Officer, I am confident that the other place will be exceedingly well served by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General—[Interruption.] I hear the comment from below the Gangway that one of ours is better than two of theirs. It would be very immodest of me to subscribe to that view, and I do not do so.

Much concern has been expressed about young offenders. I have expressed concern, as have my colleagues who take part in Home Affairs debates. The problem at the moment is that young offender cases may be referred to multi-agency panels or juvenile liaison bureaux before a decision on charging is made. That undoubtedly takes a lot of time. We want to shorten the time considerably to ensure that those against whom allegations of offending are made are brought to court speedily. The Government have set up a ministerial group on the fast-tracking of youth offenders. We will consider exceedingly urgently what can be done.