HC Deb 10 February 2000 vol 344 cc401-2
29. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

If he will make a statement on the role of police officers in dealing with victims of crime exclusively on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service. [R] [107911]

32. Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

What recent steps have been taken to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service has a greater role in dealing directly with victims of crime. [107916]

The Solicitor-General

Under the citizens charter, the police are responsible for keeping the victim informed of developments in the case.

The Government have accepted the Glidewell and Macpherson recommendations in relation to the CPS assuming a greater responsibility for direct communication with victims. Six pilot studies to assess the operational impact of such communication are now under way. Information from those pilot studies will help the planning of a wider options study, due to begin in April 2000.

Dr. Lewis

I am grateful for that constructive reply, but I urge the Solicitor-General to press on. Does he not agree that the system is skewed too much in favour of the defendant and against the victim, especially in complicated technical cases in which the defendant can directly consult the lawyers representing him, but the victim can only communicate what are sometimes precise, detailed, technical points to the Crown prosecution lawyers via the medium of a policeman who, with the best will in the world, will be untrained in detailed legal matters? I urge the Solicitor-General to act on the results of his pilot schemes with the utmost speed.

The Solicitor-General

I know that the hon. Gentleman has long been interested in this matter, and he is right to suggest that the approach of the police is sometimes not the right approach, in that they can get the message garbled. It is better for the prosecutors to be able to communicate directly with victims, but this will be a long process. The practice already exists in relation to homicide, but the aim of the pilot projects is to ensure that it can apply to offences more generally.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about victims' access to prosecutors, but by the same token, it is important for prosecutors to continue to act in the public interest, and in some cases that is not on all fours with the arrangements applying to defendants and their counsel.

Mr. Coaker

Will my hon. and learned Friend ensure that the CPS keeps victims of crime informed about the progress of prosecutions, and that the reasons for action taken by the CPS are explained to them?

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend is right. Victims need to be kept informed, and we are taking a number of steps to ensure that they have a more central place in the criminal justice system. Their views must be taken into account, and one aspect of that is ensuring that they are kept informed. My only regret is that one of the six pilot schemes is not located in my hon. Friend's constituency; but on the basis of the national roll-out, his area will benefit

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I wonder whether the Solicitor-General is satisfied that the amount of police resources available for co-operation between police and the CPS is sufficient. Has he made vigorous representations on the 5,000 police officers whom we all thought would be extra in the system—and whom the CPS requires for all the work that it is doing—or has he accepted that the number of police officers will continue to be reduced?

The Solicitor-General

The CPS of course depends on police—police investigate, and the CPS prosecutes. We have taken a number of steps to ensure that there are adequate numbers of police officers. However, we were faced, before May 1997, with a considerable decline in the numbers of police.