HC Deb 13 January 2000 vol 342 cc418-9
27. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

If he will make a statement on rights of access to prosecuting lawyers by victims of crime. [R] [103802]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston)

There are professional rules of conduct that govern how much communication a prosecution advocate can have with a witness in a criminal case. In some circumstances, however, direct contact between the victim and the prosecutor is both important and necessary either before or after the trial. The Crown Prosecution Service and the Law Officers are committed to ensuring that direct contact does take place in appropriate circumstances.

Dr. Lewis

I declare an interest because I was a witness in a case in which the conditions were skewed greatly toward the defendant because he had direct access to his lawyers, whereas I, as the alleged victim, had little or no access to the lawyers bringing the prosecution case. If the Solicitor-General is saying that he is satisfied with the present situation, I must tell him that many victims of crime are not. Will he consider more closely ensuring access by victims of crime to the lawyers who are supposed to be bringing the prosecution, with a view to evening up that unjust imbalance?

The Solicitor-General

The House will know that we take very seriously the position of victims, and we are considering a range of measures to improve that. There has been extensive discussion with the hon. Gentleman, who was the subject of untrue and scurrilous allegations. A prosecution was undertaken, but unfortunately that failed for technical reasons on appeal. I explained in my answer, and it has been explained to the hon. Gentleman, that the prosecutor is acting not for the victim, but in the public interest. There has to be some access to those lawyers, but the situation is not the same as with defence counsel, who represent a particular person.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) has a good point. One way to open a channel of communication with victims would be through the use of victim impact statements. If we could avoid the excesses of the American system of using statements, they would be a valuable tool to enable the courts and prosecutors to understand the victims' point of view and the effect of the crime on them. Are any discussions taking place to try to introduce a reasonable system for using victim impact statements in British courts?

The Solicitor-General

The Home Office is considering a range of measures, including victim impact statements. There has been a pilot project and a report was produced shortly before Christmas. There are difficulties, but they are not insuperable. The Home Office is considering those and other measures.