HC Deb 20 May 1999 vol 331 cc1207-10
29. Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

If he will make it the policy of the Crown Prosecution Service to disclose to the victims of crime the reasons for deciding in any case not to prosecute. [83876]

The Attorney-General (Mr. John Morris)

The Crown Prosecution Service provides to the police information about casework decisions so that the police may forward it to victims. How much information can be given may depend on the circumstances of individual cases. The CPS must balance openness with victims with the interests of others involved in cases. As to the future, the Crown Prosecution Service is considering whether or not to take over from the police the responsibility for informing victims of the reasons for CPS casework decisions. I intend to make a statement on this in June.

Mr. Chope

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that reply. My question was, as he knows, prompted by a constituency case, involving Mr. Ellis, the author of a book entitled, "Thoth: The Architect of the Universe". After it was published, the book was subject to massive plagiarism by Random House, one of the world's largest publishers. No fewer than 70 pages and some diagrams from his book were reproduced word for word in a Random House book. The publishers were put on notice that Mr. Ellis objected, and they undertook not to carry out publication. However, they did publish, taking advantage of their position in the market as one of the largest publishers. My constituent went to the police to seek redress under section 107 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Many months later, Mr. Ellis received a letter from the CPS saying that it would not prosecute but giving no reason. That is most unsatisfactory, and I hope that the Attorney-General can explain to Mr. Ellis why—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is raising a constituency case across the Floor of the House. He might do better to make proper written representations to the Attorney-General, which would give the right hon and learned Gentleman an opportunity to consider it.

Mr. Chope

Further to your remarks, Madam Speaker, I have written to the Attorney-General, and I have had no reply.

Madam Speaker

Well, the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows about it now.

The Attorney-General

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice this morning of the matters in which he is interested. He wrote to me as recently as 30 April concerning his constituent, Mr. Ellis, about whom he is obviously concerned. The hon. Gentleman's letter has been transferred to the Home Office for an answer. As I understand matters from the hurried inquiries that I have been able to make, the case is at present a matter for the police. So far as I know—and I shall have to make further inquiries following what the hon. Gentleman said—the CPS is not involved. I may be wrong on that point, but I have been unable to make further progress on it during the past two hours. I will write to the hon. Gentleman as the situation develops.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

In cases involving death, what is the policy of the CPS towards keeping bereaved families informed of casework decisions, which cause much concern to many people?

The Attorney-General

I share my hon. Friend's concern. In cases involving death, a senior CPS lawyer will be available to meet bereaved families to explain CPS casework decisions and relevant criminal law procedures. That is the long-established policy of the CPS, and it is reflected in its commitments to the victims charter. The policy recognises the special sensitivity that must be given to handling homicide cases.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

On the broader issue of communicating with victims, is not the real problem the continuing lack of effective communication between the prosecutor and the officer in the case and, through him, the victim? Is that because the Crown Prosecution Service does not explain matters to the police administration support units, or is it because the message does not get from those units back to the officer and the victim? Does the Attorney-General recall that in his report, Sir lain Glidewell made a number of recommendations both for research and action in that area? Will he please tell us what is happening?

The Attorney-General

The right hon. and learned Gentleman and I know from long experience that the system is not perfect—hence Sir Iain Glidewell's recommendations. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will recall from my earlier answer, the CPS is considering the matter to find out how the situation can be improved, given that there are two inputs—initially the police and, secondly, the CPS. I intend to make a statement because I know of the concern about the matter—it was registered by Sir Iain—when I make a further statement on his recommendations in June.

30. Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)

What progress has been made in implementing the Glidewell report in London. [83877]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston)

Sir Iain Glidewell's review of the CPS made three recommendations specific to London. First, that CPS London should be organised broadly along the same lines as other CPS areas covering large conurbations. This has been accepted. A new chief Crown prosecutor for London has been appointed, supported by an area business manager. Secondly, Sir kin recommended that assistant chief Crown prosecutors be appointed. That has been implemented. Thirdly, he recommended that the special problems of London required greater co-operation between all the criminal justice agencies. The detail of that recommendation, especially in relation to trial issues groups, remains under consideration. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will make a statement in June, as he said a moment ago.

Mr. Beard

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Is he aware of the long-standing concern among police and magistrates in Bexley at the avoidable delays and inefficiencies that have arisen because the nearest office of the Crown Prosecution Service is at the Cooperage, London Bridge, rather than local? For that reason, the Glidewell report was welcome: it promised an integration of the police, the magistrates and the CPS and definite benefits arising from that. Indeed, space was reserved in the new Bexleyheath police station for a CPS unit.

Now those who were previously encouraged are dismayed at the way in which they believe the Glidewell report is being implemented. The dismay arises on three counts. One is the understanding that the nearest CPS office to Bexley will be in Croydon—the journey there is more difficult than it is to the Cooperage at London Bridge. The second count is that information technology arrangements are poor and reflect the lack of resources that are being put into the arrangement. The third is that the present reorganisation of magistrates courts in London is not being taken into account.

Will my hon. and learned Friend please review the arrangements in south-east London with a view to bringing the CPS as near as possible to the police and magistrates?

Madam Speaker

Order. Questions should be brisk and to the point. The hon. Gentleman is raising an Adjournment debate. I hope that the Minister will not take as long in his response, or we shall never move down the Order Paper.

The Solicitor-General

I would not dare, Madam Speaker, given what you have said.

I can tell my hon. Friend who is assiduous in pursuing criminal justice issues in his area, that there are no plans at present to transfer work that is being undertaken by the Bexley team at London Bridge to Croydon. Also, as a result of an earlier review, the branch has already implemented a system whereby a dedicated team of staff work at Bexley magistrates court. [HON. MEMBERS: "Write!"] Following that suggestion from Opposition Members, I will write to my hon. Friend with full details of the matter.