HC Deb 27 July 2000 vol 354 cc1238-40
31. Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

If he will make a statement on the CPS's success rate in prosecutions in south Staffordshire. [131295]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston)

In the year ending March 2000, the south Staffordshire branch of the Crown Prosecution Service secured 11,228 convictions in magistrates courts, representing 98.7 per cent, of all cases proceeding to a hearing. A further 596 convictions were recorded in the Crown court, amounting to 87.8 per cent, of hearings. These figures indicate that the service is making a strong and effective contribution to criminal justice in that part of the country.

Mr. Fabricant

The Government are becoming renowned not only for their contempt for Parliament, but for their contempt for traditions. The Solicitor-General will be aware that the magistrates court in Lichfield closed a few months ago, after 600 years of progress. When will he meet the witness service in Staffordshire, which tells me that it is becoming increasingly difficulty to get witnesses to travel from Lichfield to Tamworth and other parts of Staffordshire and the west midlands to give evidence? When will he accept that his Government's decision to close Lichfield magistrates court was the wrong decision?

The Solicitor-General

I know that the hon. Gentleman has campaigned strongly on this matter, although the strength of the argument does not increase with repetition. There is a tension between efficiency and effectiveness in the processing of cases through the courts on the one hand and local justice on the other. A balance has to be struck and, in the case of Lichfield, the balance was struck by a decision to close the court. That was only after a careful evaluation of the need for witnesses to travel distances to other courts. I believe that the decision was a right one.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

Does my hon. Friend recall the times that I have pressed him to increase the funding for Staffordshire's CPS? Will he say how last week's magnificent settlement in the spending review will help the CPS to employ more prosecutors and be more effective in prosecuting offenders?

The Solicitor-General

I cannot disagree that the settlement was magnificent, and the result is a 12 per cent, real-terms increase for 2001–02, which will continue over the three years of the comprehensive spending review. The result for front-line services in Staffordshire, and elsewhere, is that the CPS will now be able to prosecute more cases. When the CPS was established by the previous Government, it was underfunded. We have redressed that problem.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

Presumably the success rate of the CPS in south Staffordshire is among the matters considered by the chief inspector of the CPS, will the Solicitor-Given arrange for the chief inspector to make an urgent report into CPS efficiency and morale, publish it as soon as possible?

The Solicitor-General

As a result spending on the CPS, morale has risen enormously. The CPS is now in a position to play its role in the criminal system.