HC Deb 25 October 2001 vol 373 cc408-10
32. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

When she expects to introduce legislation to allow courts to take account of the views of the victims of crime. [6720]

The Solicitor-General

The courts do now take into account the views of the victims of a crime of the effect of the crime on them. Victim personal statements have been introduced in a scheme that started on 1 October. The personal statement will stay with the case file throughout the prosecution, and will be taken into account in sentencing. A practice direct ion was issued by the Lord Chief Justice to that effect.

It is important that victims are clear that the effect of the crime on them is very much in the minds of judges when sentencing

Andrew Mackinlay

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Will she introduce legislation at an early opportunity that will place a duty on the police and the CPS to ensure that victims are kept abreast of the progress being made in regard to the crime perpetrated against them? I know that that is good practice, but the approach is not adopted consistently by the police or the CPS across the country. It is time for the problem to be addressed. People have a right to know whether progress is being made and, if not, why not.

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend is right. It is important that victims of crime know what is happening with their cases, and that they are not just left in the dark. It is especially important that victims are told and given an explanation if charges are to be downgraded In-dropped. We have introduced a new scheme, which is being rolled out now, under which different ways are being piloted to ensure the very best of communication with victims throughout the prosecution process. I am glad that my hon. Friend is concerned about victims and know that he will remain so, but we should see how the new schemes—the victim personal statements and the new ways of communicating, with victims—work out. By changing custom and practice, we may not need legislation. However, if that does not work, we should legislate.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Will the Solicitor-General tell the House what has happened to the enforceable Bell of Rights announced a few months ago by the present Foreign Secretary when he was Home Secretary? It was intended to provide for victims of crime, and was going to establish an ombudsman to deal with matters relating to complaints about the CPS and the probation service. What has happened to that proposed legislation?

The Solicitor-General

First, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment and welcome him to his position on the Front Bench? I genuinely look forward to working with him on the many issues that are ray responsibility that do not have party political or, I hope, European implications.

As for the matter that the hon. Gentleman raised, it is very important that all the bits of the machinery are working together. He made particular mention of complaints. The CPS does issue a complaints leaflet, and—without the service knowing—I have personally telephoned the complaints line to see whether the telephone was answered and whether there was someone there ready to help with complaints. I am sure that more can be done.

The hon. Gentleman raised some other matters, and I shall look into them in detail.

Mr. Cash


Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot have two bites today.