HC Deb 19 December 1979 vol 976 cc187-8W
Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

asked the Attorney-General what alterations, if any, there have been in recent years in the responsibility of the Attorney-General for the actions and decisions of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Attorney-General

My responsibility for the Director of Public Prosecutions is governed by statute and the position now is the same as it has always been since 1879 when the Prosecution of Offences Act of that year provided that the director was to exercise his dutiesunder the superintendence of the Attorney-General and that the Attorney-General may give him directions in a special case. The current statutory position is now set out in section 2(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1979, a consolidation measure which has made no change to the previous position.

Under regulations made under the primary legislation, provision has been made to prescribe the cases in which the director is to institute proceedings and the cases on which it is his duty to give advice to chief officers of police. The regulations made to that effect in 1946 provided that the director was to be in all matters subject to the direction of the Attorney-General. That provision was not repeated in the recent Prosecution of Offences Regulations 1978 which replace the 1946 regulations, because the view was taken that it added nothing to the statutory position set out in the primary legislation and accordingly was unnecessary. Any contention that the subordinate regulations altered the statutory position referred to above is mistaken because such regulations would be ultra vires if they purported to alter the position set out in the statute itself. The omission, therefore, of the 1946 provision in the current regulations has in no way affected the statutory relationship between the director and myself. The director still carries out his duties under my superintendence and I still have the power to direct in particular cases.

My responsibility for superintendence of the duties of the director does not require me to exercise a day-today control and to give specific approval of every decision he takes. The director makes many decisions in the course of his duties which he does not refer to me, but nevertheless I am still responsible for his actions in the sense that I am answerable in the House for what he does. Superintendence means that I must have regard to the overall prosecution policy which he pursues. My relationship with him is such that I require to be told in advance of the major, difficult, and, from the public interest point of view, the more important matters so that should the need arise I am in the position to exercise my power of direction.