HC Deb 24 June 1977 vol 933 cc603-5W
Mr. Gould

asked the Prime Minister what proposals the Government have for instituting an authoritative and wide-ranging inquiry into the present state of the law and practice relating to the investigation of crime and the prosecution and trial of offenders.

The Prime Minister

The Queen has been pleased to approve a recommendation that a Royal Commission should be set up with the following terms of referenceTo examine, having regard both to the interests of the community in bringing offenders to justice and to the rights and liberties of persons suspected or accused of crime, and taking into account also the need for the efficient and economical use of resources, whether changes are needed in England and Wales in

  1. (i) the powers and duties of the police in respect of the investigation of criminal offences and the rights and duties of suspect and accused persons, including the means by which these are secured;
  2. (ii) the process of and responsibility for the prosecution of criminal offences; and
  3. (iii) such other features of criminal procedure and evidence as relate to the above;
and to make recommendations.

In recent years there have been a number of reforms adopted or proposed with the object of improving the safeguards for individuals accused of criminal offences. The pressure for changes in this direction continues. On the other hand there has been a continuing rise in the level of crime, and it is increasingly being argued that the job of the police in fighting crime and of seeing that offenders, and particularly dangerous professional criminals, are brought to justice, is being made unwarrantably difficult by the restraints of criminal procedure. There is a balance to be struck here between the interest of the whole community and the rights and liberties of the individual citizen. The Government consider that the time has come for the whole criminal process, from investigation to trial, to be reviewed with that fundamental balance in mind. This will be the central task of this Royal Commission. We believe that such a review is made all the more important by the need to find more economic and efficient ways of enabling the police and courts to meet the burden of business that presses upon them.

The Government do not, however, intend the establishment of the Royal Commission, which will be concerned essentially with matters of principle, to hold up the improvements we are making within the existing framework. As part of this process of improvement within the existing structure my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will as a matter of urgent study be reviewing the arrangements for prosecutions and inter-relationships between the Director of Public Prosecutions and other prosecutors. This review will include the amendment of the Prosecution of Offences Regulations 1946, which govern the offences that have to be referred by the police to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the implementation, within available resources, of the recommendation of the 1962 Royal Commission on the Police that every police force in England and Wales should have a prosecuting solicitors' department.

The Commission will have all the usual powers to call for evidence, to make inquiries and visits, and to submit interim reports.

An announcement will be made in due course about the chairman and membership of the Commission.

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