HL Deb 08 July 1987 vol 488 cc674-5

3 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any plans to reduce delay and inconvenience caused by the non-production or late arrival of prisoners at magistrates' courts in Greater London.

The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, we are taking steps to reduce the number of occasions on which defendants have to be produced in different courts to face different charges by setting up close links with the Crown Prosecution Service in Inner London. We are also taking forward the recommendation of the Court Escort Scrutiny on the more efficient deployment of manpower. Furthermore, a clause in the Criminal Justice Bill provides for defendants to be remanded in custody for periods of up to 28 days, subject to an experiment in some areas. This too will reduce the escorting commitment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister understand that this is a benign question? It is neither malignant nor malevolent. Can the Minister take on board, and does he fully appreciate, the frustration felt not only by magistrates but by the whole panoply of the courts when they assemble at 10 o'clock only to find, for instance, at the Highgate court, that prisoners—who have to come from Brixton—arrive very often as late as 11 o'clock? Even then they have to be seen by their solicitors. Is this not a waste not only of the good, voluntary services of men and women but also of public money?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, the responsibility for getting prisoners to magistrates' courts in London is a matter for the police. It is within their operational sphere that this has to take place, taking into account what they consider to be the most economical way to carry out the task. In view of the rapid rise in numbers of prisoners on remand, it has stretched police resources quite a lot. I take full note of what the noble Lord said, but perhaps this is also a matter that he might like to raise directly with the commissioner himself.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, one understands that this is very much a matter for the police. However, I hope the noble Earl is not saying that there has been a change of policy and that the Metropolitan Police are no longer uniquely directly responsible to the Secretary of State

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, no. I am not changing the position in any way whatsoever; but for operational matters such as this it is as well to consult the commissioner.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is it not desirable to enable prisoners on remand to have reasonable access to the courts during the time that they are awaiting trial? Would the noble Earl go down the road of denying such access?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I should like to study that question with a great deal more care when I see it in the printed word before I reply, if I am allowed to do so.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, when I visited Brixton Prison last week I was told—and was completely satisfied—that the prison vans leave at 8.30. However, I am also told by the Highgate magistrates—and I also accept it completely—that the vans invariably arrive as late as 11 o'clock. I understand the point about transfers and other stops which have to be made; but is not a two and a half hour delay highly unsatisfactory? I shall write to the commissioner but will the Minister not also agree that he has some responsibility to ensure that our courts are not frustrated, not least because people who could become magistrates might very well be put off and spend their time elsewhere?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that the courts should not be frustrated. That is why we are putting in the effort that we are. However, most of the prisoners going to magistrates' courts come from Wormwood Scrubs rather than Brixton. The police leave at 7 o'clock in the morning. The Brixton prisoners would be more likely to be going for trial at the Crown Court and at the Old Bailey.