HC Deb 13 January 1988 vol 125 cc264-5W
Mr. John Morris

To ask the Attorney-General whether he will make a statement on the Crown Prosecution Service proposal to use civil servants with no legal qualifications to review charge and evidence in order to determine whether a case will be prosecuted after police investigation; and whether there will be any cases that will not go before a legally qualified person before determination.

The Attorney-General

The Crown Prosecution Service has for some time relied upon certain members of its staff who may have no legal qualifications to carry out an initial screening of a range of less serious cases referred to the CPS by the police, and it is intended that this practice should continue.

Those concerned have all received a period of relevant training and work under the supervision of a Crown prosecutor. The screening which they conduct is for the purpose of ensuring that there are no deficiencies in the evidence or other matters arising, including matters which may be relevant to questions of public interest, which might prevent the case proceedings to a first hearing before a magistrates' court. If their screening discloses no such obstacle, then that prosecution will proceed to its first hearing, where it will be presented before the court by a qualified lawyer. Should the defendant then plead guilty, that case will thus be disposed of. But should he not do so, so that the case is adjourned to a later date, then it will be referred to a Crown prosecutor who will conduct his or her own review.

If, on the other hand, on the initial screening it should appear that the case cannot or should not proceed, then again it will be referred to a Crown prosecutor for further consideration. In particular, no proceedings may be discontinued by a member of staff who is not a Crown prosecutor and at all times it is the Crown prosecutor who is responsible for the process of review.

The Crown Prosecution Service regards this system as a useful and efficient deployment of its staff which presents no risk whatsoever to the interests of justice; and considers that it does not represent any failure by the service to fulfil the responsibilities imposed on it by the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985.