HC Deb 25 October 2001 vol 373 cc407-8
31. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

What assessment she has made of the success of the efforts of the CPS in implementing the youth justice pledge. [6719]

33. Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

What progress has been made towards the Government's target of bringing persistent young offenders before court more speedily. [6721]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman)

The Crown Prosecution Service has cut down the time taken in prosecuting persistent young offenders. It has done that by recruiting more lawyers and case workers, by tracking and chasing up cases through its own system, and by working closely with the police and the courts.

Linda Gilroy

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. She will know that Devon was one of the first areas to cut significantly the amount of time taken to bring young offenders to court. Will she join me in congratulating the staff in Plymouth and across Devon who have achieved that? Will she also thank them on behalf of my constituents, whose communities it is hoped will have fewer hardened criminals in future as a result of the Government's determination to deal with young offenders?

The Solicitor-General

I thank my hon. Friend for her generous remarks about the CPS in Devon and Cornwall. I spoke this week to the chief Crown prosecutor in that area, Andrew Cresswell, about the situation in the county, and the service has made a great deal of progress. In 1997, it took 109 days to bring a young offender to justice in Devon and Cornwall. That has been reduced substantially, as my hon. Friend has said, to somewhere between 59 and 60 days. However, there is no complacency about what is still a major problem. We must get young offenders before the courts quickly, to ensure that they take matters seriously. It is demoralising for police, magistrates and victims if justice is not done swiftly.

Ms Oona King

I welcome the Government's efforts and their success in reducing the overall amount of time that it takes to get young offender; before the court, but will my right hon. and learned Friend say what will be done about the problem in London? My constituents want me to impress on the Government very strongly how much plague and misery has been heaped on Tower Hamlets, for example, because it is taking too long to get young offenders before the courts. What measures will she take to deal with that?

The Solicitor-General

I understand very well the issues that my hon. Friend raises. They are very much the same in my own constituency of Camberwell and Peckham. I was talking recently to a magistrate, who described how demoralising it was to find that an offence could sometimes be more than a year old by the time that it came to court. We must sort that out.

There have been particular problems in London, although the London prosecuting service has made substantial progress. The average time has been cut from 175 days to 92, but more work remains to be done. More resources have been put in, and there has been a substantial and justifiable pay increase for lawyers, case workers and others in the London service.

We know what a problem youth crime is. We want the young people themselves to understand that society takes the matter seriously. There is no let-up on the problem.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

Surely the success in implementing the youth justice pledge depends on the CPS having adequate resources, personnel and morale to cope with the task. On morale, will the Solicitor-General give the House her views on the Denman report, which was published during the summer recess? What is her opinion of the impact of that report on the CPS? Which of the recommendations in that report will the Government implement?

The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the question of morale in ensuring that we have an effective prosecution system. The Denman report found that there was not equality of opportunity for ethnic minority staff in the CPS, and that there was institutional racism. The report has been accepted by the Director of Public Prosecutions, by the Attorney-General, and by me. Sylvia Denman made various recommendations to ensure equality in the service, that targets are set and positive action is taken to achieve them, and that grievances are dealt with promptly, and steps are being taken to put them into effect. It is important for any public sector employer to be an equal opportunity employer, but that is especially important in the criminal justice system. If the CPS is to command the confidence of the multicultural communities that it serves, it must abide by fairness. We will continue to keep a very close eye on the matter.