HC Deb 05 April 2001 vol 366 cc495-6
30. Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

What impact the Narey reforms have had on the speeding up of the outcome of serious cases before the Crown court. [155708]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston)

The new Narey indictable-only procedures that came into force on 15 January this year abolished committal proceedings for the most serious cases. Instead, following a single, brief magistrates court appearance, defendants charged with offences such as murder, rape and serious firearms or drug offences appear before a Crown court judge slightly more than a week after charge. Early indications suggest that there has been a tremendous change of culture, with some defendants in such cases wishing to indicate a guilty plea at the first Crown court hearing. In that way, even in cases such as armed robbery, sentences are being passed only nine days after charge.

Shona McIsaac

How will the Narey reforms specifically benefit the victims of serious crime or the families who are left behind? All too often, victims perceive that it takes far too long for cases to come to court; they feel neglected and that they do not know what is happening. The justice system is designed to deal with crooks and criminals, and victims often feel that crooks and criminals have more rights than they do.

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Obviously, the early completion of serious cases removes the upset caused to victims, witnesses and relatives and so reduces the stress and anxiety that they might otherwise feel. There is also an advantage for defendants: if they plead early, there are quite considerable sentencing discounts. The Labour Government inherited a system under which it took about 12 weeks to get such cases committed to the Crown court, and another four weeks—often more—for an indication of plea to be given, whereas these cases are now being resolved extremely quickly.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I welcome the Minister's answer. I recall the changes that took place in 1967, when I was a serving police officer; they, too, speeded up the system. The line that he is taking is the right one. Further to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), does he agree that that accelerated process now provides a golden opportunity to ensure that every victim has a Crown Prosecution Service official as a specific contact point in the handling of their case?

The Solicitor-General

That is very much our policy. As I have said on previous occasions, we are introducing a system whereby the CPS will be the first point of contact with victims. We have just received an evaluation report on the pilots and we are considering it, but later this year we will roll out exactly the sort of system that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.