HC Deb 25 November 1999 vol 339 cc749-50
30. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

If he will make a statement on the current performance of the Crown Prosecution Service. [98867]

The Solicitor-General

During the year ending September 1999, the Crown Prosecution Service secured convictions in respect of 9,700—no, 9,000, or rather, that figure should be 972,518—defendants in magistrates courts, amounting to—[Interruption.] Let me continue. That means that 98.3 per cent. of defendants had their cases proceed to a hearing. Convictions were also secured in respect of a further 67,509 defendants in the Crown court, amounting to 88.5 per cent. of hearings.

Mr. Paterson

I am most grateful for that muddled answer. The Government propose to take away the British citizen's ancestral right to trial by jury, ostensibly in the name of efficiency and modernity. How much money will be saved for the Crown Prosecution Service?

The Solicitor-General

These changes are not being introduced primarily with financial considerations in mind. The figures that I read out were not muddled at all, but demonstrate that the CPS achieves a very high conviction rate: even among contested cases, 73.5 per cent. achieve convictions in magistrates courts. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the changes that we have introduced since 1997 to join up the criminal justice system. Under the previous Government, the different agencies in the system operated separately. We are joining them up, and the system is operating more efficiently.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

How are we to measure the performance of the Crown Prosecution Service in the treatment of the case of the so-called Lord Archer, who now stands accused of perverting the course of justice? Surely the CPS has a role in dealing with such matters. When will a statement be made?

The Solicitor-General

In every case, it is for the police to investigate matters. Once an investigation is made, the matter will come to the CPS which, of course, provides advice to the police if requested. I am sure that that is happening in the case to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I was a little surprised that the Solicitor-General's comments on the performance of the CPS contained not a word about the speed at which the service is bringing people to trial. The Labour party election manifesto insisted that people would be brought to trial more quickly. Are young people being fast tracked by the CPS? How is the service performing under this Government?

The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman refers to one of the Government's five key election pledges, on which we have achieved a great deal. Before this Government came to office, the national average for bringing persistent young offenders to trial was 142 days. That figure is coming down very substantially. We have said that we will reduce it to 71 days, but in some areas we have in fact achieved better than that.