HC Deb 25 November 1999 vol 339 cc751-2
32. Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes)

If he will make a statement on the application of the tests of public interest by the Crown Prosecution Service in respect of minor crimes. [98870]

The Solicitor-General

The code for Crown prosecutors is issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions as required by section 10 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. This public document sets out the fundamental principles to be applied by Crown prosecutors promoting fairness, consistency and independence.

The report of Sir Iain Glidewell expressed a concern that a literal reading of the code might incorrectly result in the public interest test being applied differently, depending on the seriousness of the case. Sir kin recommended that the code should be amended to prevent this misinterpretation. That recommendation has been accepted, and in August the Crown Prosecution Service issued to CPS staff a notice putting it into immediate effect.

Mr. Baker

I welcome that answer because there is a widespread belief in my constituency that so-called minor crimes are simply not carried through to prosecution. Vandalism, for example, may not be regarded as a serious crime, but it is a cause of intimidation and it underlines people's fear that other crimes are being committed, although that is not necessarily true. I understand that the police have not been passing on cases for prosecution because they believed that the CPS would not act on them. Does the Solicitor-General's answer mean that the CPS will now pursue prosecutions against minor crimes, which is what my constituents want?

The Solicitor-General

The CPS has always prosecuted minor offences. An ambiguity in the code might have led to a misconception that the service was not taking minor offences as seriously as the graver offences. However, the change in the code makes the position absolutely clear.

Many of the concerns are based on the broken windows theory that quite minor offences can be conducive to more serious offending. I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about minor offending in his constituency. He raised the matter of the number of recent offences in the Ringmer area recently. The chief Crown prosecutor for the area has prepared a report on that which he has sent to me, and I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with its details.

The report shows that of the 79 cases reported between 1 July 1998 and 30 June 1999, 15 were detected by the police. Eleven defendants were given cautions, four cases were written off under Home Office rules, and only one came to the CPS. It is not that the service is downgrading cases or not investigating them; when cases come to the CPS, they are taken seriously. The one case out of the 79 that came to the CPS did not result in a prosecution, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about why that occurred.

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