HL Deb 29 November 1984 vol 457 cc1013-25

3.25 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill proposes three important innovations. The first of these is set out in Part I of the Bill and offers a fundamental reform of the prosecution service in England and Wales.

At present and in most police force areas, criminal prosecution is in the hands of the prosecuting solicitor's department of the locally responsible police force. High standards have been achieved under that system, and under it prosecutors have normally maintained a proper independence of judgment. Our decision to bring about the changes proposed in this Bill is in no way a rebuke to those at present responsible for criminal prosecutions and I take this opportunity of placing on record our regard for the value of the work which they do.

This idea of an independent prosecution service is new neither to the Government nor to this House. Your Lordships are very familiar with the report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. Our debates on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act have made us all not only familiar but even expert in Chapters 1 to 6 and Chapter 10 of that profoundly important work. The remaining three chapters were devoted mainly to the commissioners' review of our prosecution system and to their proposed reform of it. They are the origin of this Bill and it is therefore out of the same stable as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. With that Act it forms an integral part of our approach to the criminal justice system as a whole. In the Act we sought, and in this Bill we continue to seek, to secure both improvements in the way the system works and an increase in public confidence in its various parts.

A major part of our efforts in drafting the Police and Criminal Evidence Act was to secure a balanced system. The central balance was between, on the one hand, the needs and rights—and especially the public order rights—of society as a whole, and, on the other, the needs and rights—and especially the civil rights—of private citizens suspected or accused of crime. That balance is inescapably demanded by natural justice. It is also fundamentally necessary for public confidence in the criminal justice system. In striking it we had to be certain that the powers and functions we gave to the police were adequate to their task. We also had to be sure that we neither gave, nor appeared to give them, either the means or the motive for pursuing a suspect beyond what was reasonably justified by the information at their disposal. That balance was equally sought by the Royal Commission, and with the commission we feel that it is best struck by separating the power of prosecuting offenders from the power of investigating offences.

In this we are I believe on common ground. The spokesmen of the three opposition parties all declared themselves in favour of this separation when the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, asked an Unstarred Question about our intentions on 26th July 1982 and told us then, I recall, that it was time for action rather than words.

These are views which I believe we all share with the Royal Commission. I should however also mention a point on which the Government differ from the Royal Commission. Having proposed an independent prosecuting authority on a national basis, the Royal Commission considered and rejected the idea of its being centrally directed. We also have been into this matter and in some detail. We have come to the conclusion that a national system is definitely to be preferred. What is needed is a service that avoids rigid uniformity; that applies consistent standards throughout the country; that is free of undue local influence, but makes efficient use of public money; that is accountable through established channels to Parliament; and that provides an attractive and fulfilling career structure for its members. Many of those requirements could, indeed, be met by locally-based services, but if we are to meet all of them, as we must, then we can see no way of doing so except by setting up a service on a national scale. Your Lordships will doubtless wish to test both the principle and the detail of this in Committee and I shall not therefore spend too long on this now.

I should, however, acknowledge that consultation has revealed to us a number of anxieties which we do not wish to ignore. Of these, the chief consists of a fear of over-centralisation and excessive bureaucratic control. That is a perfectly understandable fear, and we do not intend to disregard it. It springs from an expectation that cases will be referred unnecessarily to London. No one is more concerned than my right honourable friend the Attorney-General to prevent unnecessary referral of cases to London. For the purposes of this debate I hope that that assurance will suffice. But my right honourable friend recognises that concern about unnecessary referral to London and discussion about how to avoid it will continue. He therefore proposes shortly to publish a White Paper describing how he intends business to be distributed between the local offices of the new service and its headquarters at the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

From the White Paper, which your Lordships will have before the Committee stage, your Lordships will see that what we propose is not rigid uniformity, but a sensible degree of consistency. We simply wish to ensure that there are no inexplicable variations in the decisions taken in different areas. Naturally, if local circumstances affect the decision whether a prosecution should proceed, the Crown prosecutor for the area concerned will wish to take account of them. The police, too, will take account of relevant circumstances in making their decisions (which, under the Bill, they still have to take) as to whether to initiate proceedings.

The second of the three principal innovations to be brought about by the Bill goes back once more to the need to promote and maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system. Your Lordships will be aware of a number of occasions over recent years when there has been an outcry at what has appeared to the public to be an inexcusably lenient sentence passed upon a very serious offender. That outcry may have been ill-informed; it may rest upon ignorance of vital considerations; but it does represent a source of genuine disquiet among those who live under the law and who believe that they have been inadequately protected by it. And there are occasions, my Lords, when that disquiet is not absolutely without foundation. We believe that we must be able not only to prevent those few doubtful decisions setting a precedent, but also to demonstrate that this is being done.

The means by which we propose to do this is embodied in Clause 22 of the Bill. This clause empowers the Attorney-General to refer Crown Court sentences to the Court of Appeal—not for revision, but so that the court can pronounce an opinion. Some people have suggested that this proposal in some way gives the prosecution a right of appeal. That is not so. The convicted person will not be exposed to double jeopardy and the sentence will stand unaltered. The purpose is not to change the sentence in the case referred; it is to secure, from the appeal court, a statement of the principles involved and the length of sentence appropriate in any similar cases that may be brought to judgment in the future. We believe that that will be a useful procedure in its own right and that it will provide valuable reassurance to the public that sentences which appear to them to be idiosyncratic will not be allowed to weaken the general force of protection and the punishment offered by the law.

The third of the principal innovations to be brought about by the Bill gives effect to our commitment to move towards a system of statutory time limits in criminal proceedings. Your Lordships will remember how, throughout the proceedings on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, we considered a great many difficulties and anomalies, many of which concerned the way in which a suspected offender is taken into the criminal justice system and how he is handled thereafter.

We gave each of these questions our close and detailed attention in turn. But behind all our considerations hung a general awareness of how slowly the machinery could turn once the suspect had been drawn into it.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor—who much regrets that he is unable to be here today but who, your Lordships will be glad to hear, will take an effective and large part in our later proceedings—has each been working consistently and with effect to reduce delays in criminal justice. We believe that the measures we now propose will be able to improve upon what they have so far achieved.

Our proposal is to prepare for the development, trial and improvement of a set of statutory limits to the length of time that can be spent on the preliminary (that is to say, the pre-trial) stages of criminal prosecutions. These stages are fairly complex and the considerations can vary widely from case to case. Moreover, the concept that we wish to apply is new to English law. It is not new to Scottish law and I am sure that I shall be reminded that—and it is interesting to hear a Welsh cheer in support of that prediction. Scottish law is very different from English and(if I may so term it) Welsh Law, and that institutions that administer Scottish law are very different from the institutions which we have south of the Border. We do not therefore believe that we know enough about how this idea will work in practice to embody it directly in statute.

What the Bill does therefore is to set up an order-making power and a framework within which it can be exercised. When that framework is in place, the Home Secretary will use the power in the light of the results of the field trials which he will conduct. These trials may be limited in both duration and area and will make it possible to test out the effects of different patterns of statutory requirements and compare the results. By that means we expect to discover, with the help of all branches of the legal profession, what best serves the public interest and what ought therefore to be the requirements of the law.

The institution of the independent Crown Prosecution Service, the provision of a means of bringing apparently over-lenient sentences before the Appeal Court for comment, and the setting up of the framework within which we can establish statutory limits on the length of time taken by the prosecution to bring a criminal case to trial are the principal effects of the Bill. Before commending them finally to your Lordships a useful convention requires me to recite very briefly the provisions within the Bill by which they are brought about.

Clauses 1 to 3 in Part I of the Bill set up the national Crown Prosecution Service. The head of the service will be the Director of Public Prosecutions. As head of the service, he will work, as he does now, under the superintendence of the Attorney-General.

The duties of the service are set out in Clause 3. They will be broadly as the Royal Commission recommended; that is, to take over and conduct all cases where proceedings have been instituted by the police and to advise the police on criminal matters. Your Lordships will note that we do not propose that it should take over the prosecution functions of others who prosecute on behalf of the public—local authorities and government departments, for instance. But it will cover cases instituted by police forces other than the civil police, such as the British Transport Police.

Legally qualified officers of the service who are designated by the Director will, under Clause 4, have the rights of audience that practising solicitors currently have. It is clearly right that all the lawyers employed in the service, whether they are solicitors or barristers, should have equal rights to appear in court in cases which they have a statutory duty to conduct. In the Crown Court the service will brief counsel to appear on their behalf. I should emphasise that the Government hold strongly to the view that rights of audience in Crown Court trials should continue to be confined to an independent Bar which both prosecutes and defends.

The right of private prosecution, which we regard as an important safeguard, is preserved in Clause 6. It is subject to the continuance of the Director's power to take over the conduct of any case. Clause 7 reproduces certain provisions of the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1979. Accountability for the operation of the service is established in Clauses 8 and 9. Clause 8 provides for chief officers of police to be required to report to the Director every case of specified kinds occurring in his area for which there appear to be grounds for proceeding. The regulations making this requirement can specify what information must be included in the report. This will give the Director a proper overview of the operation of the service for which he is responsible. He in turn is required by Clause 9 to report annually to the Attorney-General on the discharge of his duties; and that report will, by virtue of subsection (2), be laid before Parliament.

This system of reporting is based on a familiar and tested pattern. Together with the Attorney-General's answerability to Parliament, it avoids interference with individual decisions while they are under consideration but it does provide, soon after they are made, the means and the opportunity to require an explanation of the legal and policy considerations on which they were based.

Clause 10 of the Bill enables the Attorney-General to transfer into the new service staff currently engaged on prosecution work in prosecuting solicitors' departments and in the Metropolitan Police Solicitor's Department. A staff commission will be set up under Clause 11 to safeguard the interests of staff affected by the transfer. The Bill also makes provision in Clause 12 for the continuing use, where appropriate, of the accommodation at present being used by prosecuting solicitors' departments, and for authorities making such accommodation available to receive appropriate reimbursement.

Part II of the Bill adjusts the system of dealing with costs in criminal cases to take account of the new system. It also takes the opportunity to rectify some existing anomalies. Thus Clause 15 enlarges the powers of the courts to enable them, where the circumstances warrant it, to make awards to defendants acquitted on some charges but not on all. Clause 19 also enables the courts to make awards against a party whose improper and unnecessary acts have caused his opponent to incur unnecessary expenditure.

The main effect of this part of the Bill, however, is to adapt current arrangements for costs to reflect the fact that the new service will be centrally funded. It will not therefore need to seek awards of costs to pay for individual cases. Other public prosecutors are also funded from public monies, and we feel that there is no real justification for such awards to be available to them, either. In future, therefore, the prosecution function of public bodies will be funded in the same way as their other functions, and Clause 16 accordingly limits awards from central funds to indictable cases brought by private prosecutors.

I now turn to Part III of the Bill. Clauses 22 and 23 provide respectively for reference of some Crown Court sentences to the Court of Appeal and for the institution of time limits on the preliminary stages of criminal cases. I have already spoken to both these clauses, which, with Part I, provide the principal substance of the Bill. We now come, therefore, to Clause 24. This clause introduces a new check on vexatious prosecutors. It is designed to cope with the exceptional case where it would be wrong even to allow proceedings to be started. If it seems a little familiar to your Lordships, that is because it follows quite closely procedures which are now well established for dealing with vexatious litigants in civil proceedings.

I hope I have said enough to give your Lordships a clear idea of what is proposed in the Bill. I will expand on the remaining clauses in Committee if I am required so to do. Your Lordships will also wish to have an idea of what the Bill will cost. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum shows that it will take about 2,500 civil servants to run the new service. Management consultants are at present helping us to refine this estimate by assessing how many staff would be needed on different organisational assumptions so that we can make a more accurate estimate of costs. The transfer of work from local government to the Crown Prosecution Service will of course permit a saving of some 1,700 civilian staff and of the order of 600 police officers. "Saving" is, of course, a relative term, as the 1,700 civilian staff are expected to transfer into the new service. However, the police officers will be redeployed to other duties.

Our earlier work suggests that the staff costs of the prosecution function, exclusive of support costs such as accommodation, would be about £3 million less than at present, although that reduction would be offset by the continuing cost of police manpower released from prosecution work to other duties.

Some people have suggested that a national service will cost considerably more than a local one would have done. Certainly the national system will involve some extra costs because of the need for national administration. The working party, whose report was annexed to the White Paper, estimated that this might provide work for 45 extra staff in the Director's office. That is not a very large number; but, then, the Crown Prosecution Service will not, looked at nationally, be a very large service. The figure of 2,500 staff which I mentioned a moment ago is a total both of lawyers and of support staff; there is nothing to add to it. We believe that the costs of the small national administration are well worth paying for in view of the benefits which we expect the new system to achieve.

Your Lordships now know what we propose in the Bill and what we expect it to cost. The final question I shall be asked is when, if your Lordships approve it, it will come into effect. Our general intention is to have the Crown Prosecution Service fully operational in England and Wales from October 1986. The provisions in Part II, as to costs in criminal cases, will be brought into operation at the same time. In the six police force areas covered by the metropolitan county councils we would propose to bring the new service into operation as the successor bodies to those councils take over their functions under the legislation at present in another place in April 1986—that is, a little earlier than the others. The provisions on referring certain sentences to the Court of Appeal and on time limits will be brought into operation as soon as may be feasible. This will depend on the need to set up any necessary procedural machinery, which includes, for the time limits provisions, the making of rules of court, and after the successful completion of the field trials.

I commend this Bill to your Lordships as a useful and a reassuring measure. As I have said, it does three principal things. It separates the power of prosecution from the powers of investigation and arrest. I believe that is a small but reassuring and useful constitutional change. It is reassuring to know that an independent view will be taken of the merits of doubtful cases before they are brought to court; and it is useful because the police will have some 600 of their officers restored to operational service.

It also provides for a sentence that appears to fall seriously short of fitting a serious crime to be reviewed by the Court of Appeal. This is no threat to the convict in question because the sentence cannot be changed, but it does enable the court to say something important; and it is important, not only to judges but to the public, whose anxiety may have been very sharply aroused. What the court will be asked to do is to give an opinion on what, in similar cases involving similar principles, a proper sentence would be. That, also, is useful and reassuring, and I believe it will on occasion allay a great deal of public anxiety which is often, but not always, needlessly aroused.

Finally, the Bill enables us to try out and, when we have got them right, to impose precise limits on the length of time the prosecution can take in bringing a case to trial. Those limits will be strict, because they will be embodied in subordinate legislation; but they will not be absolute since they can be extended by the court, but only if due cause is shown. It is useful to speed up the processes of justice. Justice delayed, as The Times reminded us this morning, is justice denied; and it is reassuring for those suspected of crime to know that they cannot be kept indefinitely awaiting trial at the whim of the prosecution.

Your Lordships will wish to test the detail of this useful and reassuring measure, but I look forward to the help of noble Lords in moving it towards the statute book. I therefore beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Elton.)

3.49 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for highlighting the important issues which arise on this Bill and for doing so, if he will permit me to say so, with his usual competence. I want to say at the outset that we on this side of the House and, I suspect. Members in all quarters of the House, welcome the decision to transfer the control of prosecutions from the police to independent Crown prosecutors. The aim must surely be for total independence in which the relationship between the police officer and the prosecutor will be one of mutual respect and acknowledgment that each is doing a separate but related task. The model of the procurator fiscal in Scotland shows that a relationship can be created which is effective and in the interests of justice.

What is proposed in the Bill in this regard has, as the noble Lord has indicated, been urged for a very long time by those concerned in the administration of justice. The decisive step was the setting up in 1978 of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure, which, in its report three years later, concluded that, in the interests of fairness, greater efficiency and better accountability, the prosecution arrangements should recognise the importance of independent legal expertise in the decision to prosecute and to conduct proceedings. We were glad to hear an assurance from the noble Lord in his speech today on that latter point in particular.

The Royal Commission found that the present arrangements were defective and, in particular, failed to provide a filter to avoid bringing to court cases which are unmeritorious, either evidentially or otherwise. It proposed that the function of the chief officer of police should end with the decision to prosecute. The Crown prosecutors would then take over responsibility for the subsequent stages of the process and have a discretion to discontinue proceedings if they thought that that was right.

However, the Bill departs in one important respect from the Royal Commission's proposals, which suggested that a centrally directed national prosecution service was neither desirable nor necessary. The matter is. dealt with pungently in the report in Chapter 7, paragraph 7.22, where, after indicating the case for a national service and pointing out that one member of the Royal Commission supported it, which is significant, it went on to analyse, the disadvantages that are likely to accrue from the bureaucratic nature of a large national organisation working in this area. In order to transmit policies from the centre into effective practice at the local level and to ensure adequate accountability to the Minister, elaborate reporting and other supervisory systems would be required; this might create pressure for management to be in the hands of professional administrators rather than of solicitors. All would be at the cost of substantial resources". It went on to say: Furthermore there would be powerful forces at work tending to promote the interests of those at the centre rather than of those on the periphery whom the organisation is, in fact, there to serve and to work with—the local police courts and community". Then, as a matter of interest, it added in the next paragraph: We know of no common law jurisdiction in which the equivalent of a national prosecution system of the type we are discussing either covers an area with anything approaching the population of England and Wales"— and, if I may say so in passing, where there are such differences between England and Wales and not only in the linguistic fields— or deals with a crime load of anything like the same order of magnitude". These are very important reservations which we shall pursue in detail when we come to the Committee stage.

There is clearly a danger of over-centralisation in the new prosecution service. To some extent, this was traversed in the debate on the Address and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, dealt with it at that time by indicating that it is intended to devolve decision-taking to the local level to the maximum extent possible. We shall await with great interest the publication of the White Paper dealing with this part of the matter and I am glad to hear, as I understand, that we shall certainly have that before the Committee stage is concluded. At least, I hope that that will be so, because it will clearly be quite crucial to the consideration of this issue of over-centralisation.

What has troubled me and others in regard to the degree of decentralisation which can be possible is the position of the Crown prosecutor. As it stands, Clause 1(4) merely seems to give power to the Director to bestow a courtesy title of Crown prosecutor, without in any way setting out the exact position of such a person. What is being done or proposed to raise his status; for instance, his status vis-è-vis the chief constable of the area? What is to be the tenure of his office? What are to be his qualifications? Can the DPP hire and fire him? Is he a civil servant more or less? In our view, it is essential if some reality is to be given to this important office that the status of the Crown prosecutor should be specifically provided for and raised as far as is possible.

According to Clause 1(4) of the Bill, The Director may, for any area specified by him, designate a prosecuting officer". What area has the Home Office in mind in regard to this matter? Will it be circuit areas, counties or police areas? How many are we to have of these important officers? This is a question that is left completely at large in the Bill as it now stands. In the important Clause 1 of the Bill, subsection (6) states: Where any enactment&

  1. (a) prevents any step from being taken without the consent of the Director or without his consent or the consent of another; or
  2. (b) requires any step to be taken by or in relation to the Director",
any consent given by a prosecuting officer may be taken as given by, or in relation to, the Director. We shall require some detail about that very open-handed provision, for we certainly feel that some decisions should be taken at a very high level; for instance, prosecutions of political importance and significance or those dealing with sensitive issues. The importance of the Director of Public Prosecutions being in control of such important matters, which will determine prosecution policy, is great. I hope that no dilution of that responsibility is intended by Clause 1(6).

Clause 3(2) states: It shall be the duty of the Director—

  1. (a) to take over the conduct of all criminal proceedings . . . instituted on behalf of a police force".
Is it not intended that prosecutions should not be instituted on behalf of the police? Their function should be to prevent and investigate crime. We should like to have further information about the significance of subsection (2) of Clause 3.

Turning to the staffing of the prosecution service, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister how much consultation has taken place between the Home Office and the staff who will be affected by Clause 10 of the Bill? I am informed that the amount of consultation has been quite inadequate and that the morale of those running the prosecution service is at a very low ebb. They feel hardly and badly done by. Perhaps we could have an assurance at the end of the debate about that complaint.

Difficulty arises over rights of audience. It may be that noble Lords who are more directly involved will address the House on that issue in due course. Clause 6 contains a provision that nothing shall preclude any person from instituting any criminal proceedings that the director can take over. I am not sure whether the right of private prosecution needs to be maintained; but should an attempt be made to specify cases in which there could be private prosecutions there may be no great harm in it, because the number of private prosecutions represents only about 1 per cent. of the total number of prosecutions.

Lord Renton

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has raised a matter of very considerable principle. Is it not one of our fundamental rights and freedoms that there should be the right of prosecution as a safeguard against concealment or abuse by authority, with the exceptions provided by statute whereby the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions must give his consent?

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I see the force of that point. What I said about it was couched in very reserved terms. I should like to consider the matter. Private prosecutions are brought principally about shop stealing and assault. There would be no great harm in the courts hearing such cases. Perhaps therefore my initial idea is met by the counter-advantage which the noble Lord indicated of the occasional case where there may be a reluctance to prosecute—a reluctance which has not been marked, I am bound to say, in my experience.

I turn next to what is bound to be a very controversial part of the Bill; namely, Clause 22 which allows the Attorney General to refer to the Court of Appeal any case in which he believes that the sentence passed by a Crown Court judge ought to have been different. That, being translated, means thought to be too lenient. The proposal is, I submit, wrong in principle. I ventured to refer to this point during the debate on the gracious Speech. The principle is that those who prosecute an offender should have no say in sentencing. This is expressly provided for by the Bar code of practice which states: Prosecuting counsel should not attempt by advocacy to influence the court in regard to sentence". This clause will empower the Attorney General, the leader of the Bar, to attempt by advocacy to influence the Court of Appeal in regard to what the sentence should have been in a particular case and in regard to future sentences for comparable offences. The class of case is to be specified in an order. Perhaps the noble Lord could indicate what he has in mind about that matter.

As the noble Lord pointed out, it is quite true that the sentence of a particular offender will not be increased if the Attorney General argues successfully that it was over-lenient. The Court of Appeal has to state what the sentence should have been. The result will be that the trial judge will be thwarted in the exercise of his discretion. Sentencing is almost entirely a discretionary matter. The offender will be told publicly what the sentence ought to have been. There seems to me to be no great concern about the preservation of anonymity. Perhaps that will emerge in rules that we know not of at the moment. However, the offender will receive a public rebuke and public condemnation.

Who at the hearing will speak for the defendant in the stated case? Who indeed will speak for the judge and justify the judge's exercise of discretion? Sentencing is essentially a matter for the judge who is provided with information. He can seek help from all kinds of sources—the police, social security, schools. To depart from the principle of the power and duty of the judge to decide the matter, subject to any errors of law which can be remedied in the Court of Appeal, is, in our view, wrong. We submit that prosecution neutrality is and has always been an important feature of our system. I fear that the Attorney General will be subjected to increasing pressure from the press, from party, from Parliament. Enough pressure is already exerted upon him. I have had some years of experience of it.

Therefore we view the proposal with apprehension. That there are cases when it is right for the Court of Appeal to give indications on policy about sentencing is abundantly clear, but that is being done already. Frequent policy declarations are uttered by the Lord Chief Justice, in particular by the present Lord Chief Justice. He has rightly made declarations about sentencing when he has believed it to be necessary. He has made such declarations in firearms cases, in possession and supply of drugs cases, in causing death by reckless driving and other cases. This is one of the functions of the Court of Appeal. It is energetically exercised by the Lord Chief Justice. In some cases, earlier guidelines, as happened in the case of armed robbery, have been carefully reviewed. It is not therefore as though there is a blank here which is not filled or which is not capable of being filled. The machinery is there and it is being exercised.

It is not surprising that at a seminar attended by 75 judges and recorders in January of this year there was a strong argument against giving the prosecution the right to appeal against sentences and against the Attorney General having the power to refer sentences. Therefore, I hope that this matter will be seriously reconsidered during the proceedings on the Bill.

Turning to the proposal to impose statutory time limits upon the detention of those awaiting trial, we fully support what is suggested. A 110-day rule already exists in Scotland for serious offences. We welcome the power given to the Secretary of State to set time limits in relation to preliminary stages of criminal proceedings, but why is there a distinction included in Clause 23(2)(a) and (b)? The subsection states: (2) The regulations may, in particular—

  1. (a) be made so as to apply only in relation to proceedings instituted in specified areas;
  2. (b) make different provision with respect to proceedings instituted in different areas".
Why is there that distinction? Why do the regulations not apply across the country as a whole?

It is perhaps regrettable that the opportunity was not taken to specify the proposed time limits in the Bill itself, but it may be that a trial period—or whatever it is—is the explanation of that. There is room for a little concern over whether there are not too many loopholes and opportunities for extending the time.

Clause 23(3) states: The appropriate court may, at any time before the expiry of a time limit imposed by the regulations, extend, or further extend, that limit if it is satisfied—

  1. (a) that there is good and sufficient cause for doing so; and
  2. (b) that the prosecution has acted with all due expedition".
We shall have to look at that aspect, too, in a little detail.

I do not want to rely too much on the patience of the House, but there is one further matter I should like to mention. It has been raised with me by more than one Member of this House and by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in particular; no doubt she will be elaborating on this point herself. It concerns the fact that—apart from the provision in Clause 27 regarding care proceedings alleging commission of an offence by a child or young person as to which, in proceedings brought by a constable, the Director of Public Prosecutions has to consent to the allegation being made—the Bill makes no provision for special measures for dealing with juvenile offenders in the criminal process. Yet, unhappily, juveniles make up a substantial proportion of those who are brought before the criminal courts.

There is general agreement that offending children should, as far as possible, be spared the formal procedures of the criminal law. The acknowledged need to consider the welfare of children and young persons has long been recognised as a necessity in dealing with children. Has consideration been given to adopting for England and Wales the system of children's hearings established by the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968? These hearings are divorced from the system of criminal justice for adults. In dealing with grave crimes, of course, the DPP and the Attorney General would indicate what class of offence should attract a reference to the prosecutor rather than the children's welfare official, who in Scotland is I believe called the reporter.

It is significant that other parts of the criminal justice and penal systems accept the desirability of specialisation work with juveniles. For example, there are police juvenile bureaux, juvenile courts, junior attendance centres and junior detention centres. Is not the case for such specialisation among prosecution personnel also very strong?

It is clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has himself indicated in identifying some of the issues here that this House will have an important responsibility—one that it is so well fitted to perform, as an examination of those whose names appear on the list of speakers for today (apart from my own, perhaps) indicates. We look forward to the willingness and readiness of the Government to listen to our submissions on a matter where party politics do not enter into consideration, but where questions of great importance to the citizen and to the administration of justice arise.

Back to